Two decades before Ford ever released the go-anywhere Ranger Raptor dual-cab ute it was working on a concept that previewed the future of go-anywhere utes.
In fact, despite the concepts having since been largely forgotten, Ford played with the idea of a sporty off-road utility not once, but twice, with two design studies.
The blue oval first dabbled in the idea with a concept based on the XH Falcon ute that was developed in partnership with RMIT design students, and made its debut at the Melbourne motor show in 1997.
Using a standard 4.0-litre six-cylinder ute as a blank canvas, the Terra had its suspension raised by 40mm and was given a set of 15-inch alloy wheels dressed in massive Yokohama mud tyres.
It might have had the looks, ground clearance, and rubber for some serious off-road action but, like the ute on which it was based, the Terra was rear-drive only, which limited just how far into the bush Ford’s all-terrain tradie would actually be able to go.
Up front was a chrome-plated nudge bar with incorporated underbody bash plate for ungainly wildlife and ill-placed rocks, while the skeleton tailgate mimicked the construction with more bar work.
Overhead, a sports bar, also in chrome, supported massive driving lamps that look decidedly dated in today’s world of slim LED light bars, but on the inside, its sat-nav was front-line tech.
While it is hard to equate the value of any concept that doesn’t make it into production, it’s safe to say the XH Terra was a bit of fun and little more than an opportunity for some good publicity, but for its go-anywhere ute revisit, Ford got a little more serious.
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Debuting at the 2000 Sydney motor show, the Ford R5 again used the underpinnings of the Falcon as its basis (this time the AU XR8 sedan - not the ute) but added more significant changes, including a completely new body from the B-pillar back to accommodate a second row of seating as well as a tray.
A dual-cab ute with off-road promise – sound familiar? For its second ute concept, Ford was even closer to the recipe that would go on to make the Ranger such a hit with Australian customers.
Like the XH Terra, the R5 was also rear-drive with a raised ride height and knobbly tyres, but boosted its all-terrain ability with an electronic traction control system that was tailored for loose surfaces rather than asphalt. It also had its 5.0 litres of V8 power sent through a manual gearbox for maximum grunt.
At the time of its launch, Ford Australia’s chief designer Rob Strong said the tough truck was far more than a show pony, and wasn’t far from production, if given the green light.
“It’s not out there to just titillate show-goers,” he said. “It’s a credible idea.”
Race car side-exit exhausts would never have made it from show floor to show room, but there were other features that showed real promise, including the 240-volt charge socket built into the rear bumper, as was a 50-litre water tank and an electric winch at the front – items that are prized by hardcore off-road enthusiasts today.
Access to the second row of seating was made easier via a suicide-opening rear door on the driver’s side; instead of having to scramble past the front row. If the load tray capacity of the two-seater AU ute was needed, a clever 60/40 folding hatch allowed items to be loaded into the cab from the back.
The concept’s development cost of $250,000 was minimised, in part, by poaching components from other models such as the air vents from a Ka, a steering wheel sourced from the Mondeo, and tailgate hinges from an F150 truck.
There were glimpses of future design however, including the faired-in quad headlights that would feature later in the Falcon’s lifecycle.
But more importantly, both the Terra and R5 were prophetically close to the blue oval we know today with the Ranger sitting at the top of Ford’s sales pile and as Australia’s second favourite car overall, while the Falcon, which offered the basis for both concepts, has been put out to pasture.