In the December ’82 issue of Four Wheeler we ran this story on the then-new ’83 Ford Ranger. The small truck was actually quite groundbreaking for the time, and it was Ford’s counterattack to high fuel prices that were assaulting the truck-driving consumer (sound familiar?).
The Ranger 4x4 had a base price of under $6,000 and our short wheelbase, regular cab tester had an as-tested price of $8,105 with options including air conditioning, power steering, and a 13-gallon auxiliary fuel tank. Under the hood was a carbureted 140ci Four that made 79 horsepower at 3,800 rpm and 124 lb-ft of torque at 2,200 rpm. In regards to the engine’s performance, we said, “Acceleration is adequate through the gears, but not overly brisk, unless you really put the pedal to the metal.” The engine in our tester was mated to a four-speed manual transmission and power was routed to the axles via a lever-shift Borg-Warner 1350 two-speed transfer case. Up front was a smaller version of Ford’s twin I-beam semi-independent coil-spring suspension that debuted on the F-Series fullsize trucks in 1980. This frontend had a Dana 28 differential with reverse-cut gears and manual lockout hubs came standard. Out back, the Ranger had a leaf spring suspension and Ford’s 7.5-inch Sterling axle with 28-spline axleshafts. The truck had an approach angle of 28 degrees and a departure angle of 21 degrees and it tipped the scales at 2,834 pounds. The Ranger was a homerun for Ford and the nameplate had an impressive four-generation run of 28 years until the last Ranger rolled off the assembly line December 16, 2011.
Reading this story forced us to ponder how much things have changed from a tech standpoint in the 30 years since we reviewed the ’83 Ranger. In the review we were very excited that the truck returned 21 mpg. But wait. Since we’re talking about Fords, compare that to the 3.7L V-6-powered fullsize ’12 Ford F-150, which has an EPA rating of 21 mpg highway. This number is impressive, especially considering the regular cab F-150 is almost double the weight and quite a bit larger in size than the ’83 Ranger. And with 302 horsepower and 278 lb-ft of torque, the base 3.7L engine has a much better power-to-weight ratio than the little 140ci four-cylinder engine that was found in the Ranger. Further, when it comes to work, there’s no comparison as the larger truck will tow and haul substantially more weight.
In the end, we’re left with a warm and fuzzy feeling knowing that thanks to modern technology we can drive a larger, faster truck that can haul and tow more than a substantially smaller truck from days gone by—and we can get decent fuel economy while we do it.