Way back in the Clinton Era, two compact pickups battled each other to an inch of their amortized sheetmetal. The Ford Ranger, which had been the ruler of the small truck roost since 1983, and the Chevy S-10 which fought equally valiantly with rebates, market incentives, a branded clone in the form of the GMC Sonoma, and even a rare-for-America four door configuration.
Not to say the Ranger didn’t resort to many of the exact same tactics. Ford was just as busy trying to crank out the supersized and super-profitable trucks and SUV’s as the General did at the time. These compact pickups were considered a bridge to what both automakers sought for their respective brands; to attract the long-term loyalist who would forever buy the ever higher profit vehicles… preferably on a lease or finance deal.
Price competition became fierce in this segment and profits were minimal. Was it even possible to have big profits for small pickups? Not in most cases as far as the manufacturer was concerned. You could price the top of the line models right near the cost of a base Explorer or Blazer by the late 90′s. But only a salesman with the talent of a Jack Baruth could routinely push them out the door.
By the time America started to head towards the ‘ bigger is better’ buffet line, both vehicles offered very similar… well… everything.
Wheelbases were within a couple of inches from each other in regular or extended cab form. The four and six cylinder engines were also neck to neck competitors with both brands utilizing their manufacturer’s well-amortized powertrains. The S-10′s offered a good enough for the Cavalier 2.2 Liter four cylinder and the forget-about-fuel-economy Vortec 4.3 Liter V6.
Rangers offered a substantially better 4.0 Liter V6 by 2001 when it became a 207 horsepower SOHC instead of the boat anchor slow Cologne 4.0 Liter. The 3.0 Liter V6, 2.5 Liter and 2.3 Liter 4-cylinders were nothing to sneeze at either. But neither did they give much grunt on the open road. All of the engines used for the Rangers were pretty much in the midst of million plus runs that would typify Ford’s penny pinching penchant for manufacturing engines that long outlasted their market competitiveness.
Oh, and you wanted parts bin components to keep the costs down even further? No problem there. Ford and GM even saw fit to include their automotive partners into the mix with Mazda marketing their B-Series and Isuzu offering the paradoxically named Hombre and serialized i-Series.
Truth be told, both trucks represented the very last small vehicles that combined decade plus long model runs with cost containment redesigns. Millions were made. Millions since have been crushed. There is just one gnawing question that doesn’t seem to find an easy answer.
Why are there so many Ranger enthusiasts out there… and so few S-10 aficionados?
I have my theories. But I want to hear from the Best and Brightest first. Were there durability issues? Are the S-10 and their ilk merely liked while the Ranger is loved? Or was it the quality of their redesigns?
Remember that there are usually no right answers in the comments section. Just SWAG’s, anecdotal evidence, and the unyielding march of logic towards a biased opinion.