It started out as a dream, a dare I made to myself that I could make what Ford could have made.
Ford based their Ranchero models on a station wagon chassis. There were Edsel station wagons. But FMC never took the next small step to make an Edsel Ranchero. The closest they came was repainting Ford trucks for Edsel dealers to use as service vehicles. They were pictured in a booklet made available to Edsel dealers as a guide to setting up their dealership.
It was left to crazy hobbyists, like myself, to take the next step and make a '58 Edsel Ranchero. So, I began looking for the cars that would be combined to make one; a '58 Edsel Villager wagon, and a '57 Ford Ranchero.
The first was a 1958 Edsel Villager. This had sat outside in San Francisco for years, and had rusted wherever water would sit (like the roof gutter, the windshield frame, etc.) I bought it in 1984. It ran and stopped, but not at the same time. Its main virtue was that it was complete - it would wind up serving as a parts car for the Ranchero project.
The second car was a 1957 Ford Ranchero, which I purchased in 1986. It had sat for years in Washington State rains and had travelled close to 200,000 miles over salted roads. The engine and transmission had been replaced once, and would need replacing again soon - the engine (a 312) was OK for a while, using a quart of oil every 600 miles, but gradually got to a point where it was drinking a quart every 100 miles (leaving a white haze wherever I went). The automatic tranny would allow the car to roll when shifted into "park", so I always made sure the emergency brakes were good. I put 14,000 miles on this engine/tranny combo, even with these problems (it always started well and shifted strong) before installing the Edsel powerplant. The body would need a lot of TLC when the time came - it had been repainted four times, and the metal beneath was a mix of rust, dust and plastic. This car would become an Edsel Ranchero, one piece at a time.
While maintaining the Ranchero as a "driver", I changed the following:
Then came the body work. After having the pickup bed sandblasted, I drove the Ranchero to the body shop where it sat as a "spare time project" for a year. (See the photos of work in progress.) We fitted up newly-primed Edsel front fenders, hood, and one rear fender from the Villager. We also replaced the doors, the rear bed floor, and the tailgate, as these were rusty and/or dented - spares for these came from a '58 Ranchero in a local wrecking yard (and, yes, the trim holes in the '58 door were welded shut and filed smooth). The floor and rocker panels were refitted with new metal. And then came the paint. Luckily, we painted this car before the EPA mandated changes in paint formulas. Everything turned out beautifully.
I tweaked the car after it came out of the body shop: besides installing the glass, always a treat with these cars, I installed the re-upholstered front seat and door finish panels as well as the exterior chrome (the rear quarter trim, from a '58 Roundup wagon, came from a guy in the Midwest who advertised in Hemmings; that saved me from having to silver-solder the Villager trim together to fit the longer rear panels). When I got it out on the road, it was a solid and dependable car. I drove it down to Cambria for the North-South California Edsel Meet, where it was ruthlessly inspected by fellow hobbyists. Other than a few minor details (like lack of chrome trim on the roof gutter), there were many positive comments. It was a minor hit there, and also at the National Edsel Meet in San Ramon, California. It looked great alongside another recent construction project, a '58 Edsel retractible hardtop (somebody's got pictures of the two cars side by side - not me, though).
The only bad thing that ever happened with this car was a minor carburetor fire; I say "minor" because the fire was limited to the carburetor itself and did not involve the rest of the car. I simply replaced the carburetor and it ran fine again.
The dream had been fulfilled. And, oddly enough, building it was all I really felt a need to do. When my life changed I let the Edsel Ranchero go. It sold to a fellow in Napa, and I have no idea what happened to it after that. I hope it's still being enjoyed, wherever it is.
This was a fun project - one that I am glad that I tackled at that time and place. It would cost a lot more now than it did then, and both Fords and Edsels of that vintage are getting scarce as time goes on. If there's a moral to this story, it would be this: when the dream comes to you, act on it right then - don't wait. Time only gets away from you if you let it.
If anyone has any questions about technical aspects of this project, please feel free to e-mail me.