Rare Rides: The 1981 Ford Durango is Neither a Dodge nor an El Camino

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
rare rides the 1981 ford durango is neither a dodge nor an el camino

Long before Dodge would apply the Durango name to its midsize SUV offering, Ford used it on a very limited production pickup as it considered a replacement for the Ranchero.

Come and check out a beige, two-tone, Ford [s]Fairmont Futura Hack-job[/s] Durango pickup.

Ford’s Ranchero started the sedan-based pickup segment in the United States, but was at the end of its life as the LTD II and its variants wrapped up for the 1979 model year. General Motors still produced its Ranchero competitor, the El Camino. Now in its fifth generation, the more modern El Camino was finding sales success ever since an updated (and downsized) model debuted for 1978. Ford needed to take action, maybe.

Not wanting to commit to a full production model, Ford started a joint venture with National Coach Works in Los Angeles, which is in western America.

Between 1979 and 1982, National Coach Works took Ford Fairmont Futura two-door sedans and converted them into the Durango you see before you. Production in Los Angeles was leisurely, and estimates say only 212 Durangos left the factory. All came equipped with Ford’s Thriftpower 3.3-liter inline-six engine, coupled to a three-speed automatic.

Removing the rear half of a regular Fairmont Futura coupe, a fiberglass bed and new rear window was installed. As part of the hastily modified nature of the Durango, all rear lighting and the license plate became a part of the tailgate. Because of this, the Durango included documentation warning against driving with the tailgate down, lest a driver incur an accident or roadside police stop.

Compared to other examples of the Ford Durango, this one (presently for sale in Texas) is decked out in a more broughamy, luxurious trim. Two-tone paint, whitewall tires, dressy wheel covers, and a sunroof are all part of the package.

The interior features an abundance of wood trim (carved by middle school shop students, from the looks of things). Ultimately, the Durango project didn’t really pan out, and the pickup never became an official part of Ford’s lineup. Pushed to the “little project” corner of the room, the Durango is often forgotten.

With 71,000 miles on the odometer, the dealer is asking $10,995. That seems like a big ask, especially given the condition shown in some of the photos. But the Durango is unequivocally a very rare vehicle, and one with different options than most. Even a Google Images search doesn’t really understand the inquiry. “You mean the Dodge Durango, right?”

A confused internet — all a part of a good Rare Rides.

[Images via seller]

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  • CRConrad CRConrad on Oct 25, 2017

    Oh, so that's where Los Angeles is! Thank you, I've been wondering so frightfully.

  • Dtremit Dtremit on Nov 08, 2017

    Odd bit of trivia: I believe Ford manufactured the dashboard for the original Dodge Durango.

  • Jeff S Corey--We know but we still want to give our support to you and let TTAC know that your articles are excellent and better than what the typical articles are.
  • Jeff S A sport utility vehicle or SUV is a car classification that combines elements of road-going passenger cars with features from off-road vehicles, such as raised ground clearance and four-wheel drive.There is no commonly agreed-upon definition of an SUV and usage of the term varies between countries. Thus, it is "a loose term that traditionally covers a broad range of vehicles with four-wheel drive." Some definitions claim that an SUV must be built on a light truck chassis; however, broader definitions consider any vehicle with off-road design features to be an SUV. A [url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossover_(automobile)]crossover SUV[/url] is often defined as an SUV built with a unibody construction (as with passenger cars), however, the designations are increasingly blurred because of the capabilities of the vehicles, the labelling by marketers, and electrification of new models.The predecessors to SUVs date back to military and low-volume models from the late 1930s, and the four-wheel drive station wagons and carryalls that began to be introduced in 1949. The 1984 [url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeep_Cherokee_(XJ)]Jeep Cherokee (XJ)[/url] is considered to be the first SUV in the modern style. Some SUVs produced today use unibody construction; however, in the past, more SUVs used body-on-frame construction. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, the popularity of SUVs greatly increased, often at the expense of the popularity of large [url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sedan_(automobile)]sedans[/url] and station wagons.More recently, smaller SUVs, mid-size, and crossovers have become increasingly popular. SUVs are currently the world's largest automotive segment and accounted for 45.9% of the world's passenger car market in 2021. SUVs have been criticized for a variety of environmental and safety-related reasons. They generally have poorer fuel efficiency and require more resources to manufacture than smaller vehicles, contributing more to climate change and environmental degradation. Between 2010 and 2018 SUVs were the second largest contributor to the global increase in carbon emissions worldwide. Their higher center of gravity increases their risk of rollovers. Their larger mass increases their stopping distance, reduces visibility, and increases damage to other road users in collisions. Their higher front-end profile makes them at least twice as likely to kill pedestrians they hit. Additionally, the psychological sense of security they provide influences drivers to drive less cautiously. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sport_utility_vehicleWith the above definition of SUV any vehicle that is not a pickup truck if it is enclosed, doesn't have a trunk, and is jacked up with bigger tires. If the green activists adhere to this definition of what an SUV is there will be millions of vehicles with flat tires which include HRVs, Rav4s, CRVs, Ford Escapes, Buick Encores, and many of compact and subcompact vehicles. The green movement is going to have to recruit millions of new followers and will be busy flattening millions of tires in the US and across the globe. Might be easier to protest.
  • Sckid213 I actually do agree that most Nissans are ultimately junk. (I also think many BMWs are also). I was talking challenging the 3 in terms of driving dynamics. Agree all were failures in sales.
  • THX1136 More accurately said, we are seeing exponential growth in the manufacturing capabilities in this market. Unless, of course, all those vehicles are sold with customers waiting until more a produced so they can buy. Indeed, there are certainly more EVs being purchased now than back in 2016. Is demand outstripping manufacturing? Maybe or maybe not. I sincerely don't know which is why I ask.
  • ToolGuy The page here (linked in the writeup) is ridiculously stupid https://www.tyreextinguishers.com/how-to-spot-an-suvLike, seriously stupid, e.g., A) Not sure that particular Volvo is killing the planet as quickly as some other vehicles we might choose. B) A Juke is "huge"??? C) The last picture shows a RAV4 Hybrid?