The Ford Explorer is one of its best-established nameplates, having been around in SUV form since 1990. But Ford’s first use of the Explorer name on a standalone model dates back further—all the way back to the 1970s—when Ford tried to ride the hype of a popular custom Dodge truck but couldn’t capture the same magic.
Said Dodge was called the Deora, an A100 van-based custom vehicle with a low, sleek cab and a long bed. So popular was the Deora that Mattel recreated it in die-cast as one of its 16 original Hot Wheels, an honor that the highly competitive late-1960s Ford no doubt wanted for itself. And so, the Blue Oval set out to do a Deora derivative of its own, which it positioned as a possible variant of the F-series.
Ford’s attempt was a parts-bin concept called the Explorer, which it built on the base of an F-100. Mounted behind the cabin, five feet aft of usual, was a 7.0-liter (429-cubic-inch) V8, of Mustang or Thunderbird spec according to Pickup Trucks, which if it were a Boss V8, could’ve produced up to 375 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque. What transmission connected this to the rear wheels was not mentioned in Ford’s period releases, though the two pedals seen in interior photos suggest it was some variety of automatic.
Its interior was intensely ’70s, with burnt orange shag carpet, upholstery in ginger and orange cloth and vinyl, and a four-speaker AM/FM radio. Out back was a bed measuring 110.7 inches long and 65 wide—larger than a modern Super Duty—from which a poplin “parawing” tent could spring. It wouldn’t have looked out of place on Jabba the Hutt’s sail barge, even though Return of the Jedi didn’t hit theaters for another decade.
Introduced at the 1973 Chicago Auto Show, the Explorer concept was years late to the party the Deora started, and apparently never received quite the acclaim of the original. If it had, one wonders if Ford would’ve pushed it into production, and given us the one ute to rule them all—until someone finally ute-ifies a Charger SRT Hellcat, that is.
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