Today, I'll get right into it: Everyone who writes about the Matra-Simca Rancho seems to think that it was some sort of pioneer that paved the way for car-based SUVs and crossovers.
Based on a compact hatchback, it's loaded with things that many modern crossovers offer. Fog lights, beefed-up styling, thoughtful and consumer-focused features—the sort of crossovervehicle SUV purists like to look down on.
It's also enticing to draw parallels to it. So much of what it offered has been replicated today that I can't list it all—and this is in 1977! Surely, other automakers were paying attention and wanted a slice of the crossover pie.
I'm not so sure. Think of automakers who offer popular crossovers today and their trajectories at the time—Honda, a blip in Europe; Volkswagen, who had introduced the Golf only three years before; Ford, with Escort, Cortina, Transit, and Capri as their big sellers—and it's clear the thought of a Rancho-style vehicle was far from mainstream. To put a point on it: the European Car of the Year was a Rover 3500! The Rancho was fourth.
And would automakers have instinctively looked to the past to inform their challenges in the present? Again, I'm not so sure.
Maybe crossovers are just a vehicle style that was inevitable. Maybe hipsters, as in the Rancho's marketing, were inevitable.
The Rancho featured many things that, today, are quite pedestrian. Here's a few:
- Chassis and engine from the Simca 1100 small car
- Only offered in front-wheel-drive
- Options included a winch, bull bar, and sleeping accommodation
- Rear "stadium" seating, removable top, and split tailgate
- Four-cylinder engine and up to seven seats
- Priced based on its space and style, not capabilities
- Special editions to help stoke consumer interest
All things that should sound familiar if you've been shopping for a mainstream vehicle in the last decade, right?
I love the Rancho because it's a rare lightning strike of circumstances that produced a truly different machine. Not ahead of its time but unique for its time.
Some of the vehicles that spawned after the Rancho—in the primordial ooze of the crossover market—were just as unique as today's Car of the Day.
But that's a story for another day.