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

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

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 Fairmont Futura Hack-job 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]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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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.

  • Geozinger Put in the veggie garden (Western Michigan, we still can get frost this late in the year) finished the remainder of the landscaping updates and hand washed both my beater Pontiac and the Town and Country! Going to the beach today...
  • Rochester I wouldn't obsess over the rate of change, it's happening whether we want it or not.
  • EBFlex At the summer property putting boats in the water, leveling boat lifts, cleaning the lots for summer, etc. Typical cabin stuff in the most beautiful place on the planet
  • Lou_BC I've I spent the past few days in what we refer to as "the lower mainland". I see Tesla's everywhere and virtually every other brand of EV. I was in downtown Vancouver along side a Rivian R1T. A Rivian R1S came off as side street and was following it. I saw one other R1S. 18% of new vehicles in BC are EV'S. It tends to match what I saw out my windshield. I only saw 2 fullsized pickups. One was a cool '91 3/4 ton regular cab. I ran across 2 Tacoma's. Not many Jeeps. There were plenty of Porches, Mercedes, and BMW's. I saw 2 Aston Martin DBX707's. It's been fun car watching other than the stress of driving in big city urban traffic. I'd rather dodge 146,000 pound 9 axle logging trucks on one lane roads.
  • IBx1 Never got the appeal of these; it looks like there was a Soviet mandate to create a car with two doors and a roof that could be configured in different ways.