Derek McCowan’s Racy Home-Built Falcon Ranchero is the Result of Helping Out a Friend – and Following Up with a Lot of Fabrication
When a friend buys another project car and finds out when he gets home that it’s one car too many (because his spouse vetoes the plan), you’re just helping out when you take it off his hands, right?
That’s how a ’63 Falcon Ranchero ended up in Derek McCowan’s garage in Visalia, California. After years of building polished cars and striving to create perfection, Derek says he decided to go a different route with the Ranchero and keep the original paint, enhance the patina, and give it a tough, track-ready look.
Nearly 60 years ago Ford produced around 18,000 ’63 Rancheros. For comparison, the company sold nearly 10 times as many full-size F100 pickups that year. In the heyday of the Ranchero and El Camino models, Chevys consistently outsold Fords, especially when Ford shifted to using the compact Falcon model as the basis for the car/truck hybrid. However, the lower production numbers don’t seem to hinder the appeal of surviving examples. “The ’63 Falcon Ranchero is getting great response from people,” Derek says.
“I kept the paint as original and went with the patina theme,” Derek continues. “Racing has always been in my blood, from motorcycles, boats and off-road trucks, so I decided to put all of that into this style of truck.”
From the 500-horsepower engine to the hand-built chassis and suspension, the Ranchero looks like a track stormer. And it could be, though Derek plans to primarily street drive this car. Case in point: he piloted the Ranchero three and a half hours to attend the West Coast Nationals this year.
In addition to being a car-and-truck hybrid, the Ranchero blends parts from different manufacturers with a 376c.i. GM LS3 engine for power. Built by Class A Performance in Hayward, the potent V8 features 243 heads, a Williams throttle body with a K&N air filter, and a Holley HP ignition. Valve covers are from Motion Race Works, headers from TCI, and there’s a Class A Performance accessory drive system. Three-inch stainless exhaust pipes exhale through Flowmaster HP2 mufflers.
Behind the engine, a Tremec six-speed manual transmission directs power to a Currie Fab9 rearend filled with 3.70 gears. Other components on the custom 2×3-inch tube chassis built by Derek include a TCI Mustang II-style air spring front suspension with rack-and-pinion steering, a four bar rear suspension riding on RideTech Shockwaves, and a Fuel Safe gas tank mounted between the rear frame rails. Wilwood Dyno Pro discs reside on all four corners behind 15×6- and 15×8.5-inch Budnik Gasser wheels wrapped with 195/50/15 and 225/50/15 Toyo Proxes tires.
Derek built the floors, transmission tunnel, and inner fender wells to fit the body to its new frame. He also hand-formed the full roll cage from 1.5-inch 4130 chromoly tubing. He raised the bed floor (which is partially open) to accommodate the rear suspension and low stance, and performed the needed rust repair, coating the bed and under-hood areas in a custom-mixed brown metallic finish that coordinates well with the weathered green exterior paint.
On the outside, a spoiler was added beneath the front bumper and the rear bumper was reworked into a contemporary-style air splitter. Derek also hand-formed custom air outlets on the hood.
Doing all the fabrication work in his home shop presented its challenges, especially with the roll cage and routing it through the dash to tie the body together, Derek says. Achieving the extra-low ride height while maintaining driving comfort were some of the other challenges.
Beyond the cage, other interior modifications included incorporating a Holley 7-inch Pro Dash gauge assembly and custom air conditioning ducts in the factory dash and installing an Ididit tilt column topped with an OMP Racing steering wheel. Corbeau seats are covered in leather and Derek built the door panels and other interior panels using aluminum. Ron Francis wiring keeps the electric components connected.
Derek’s Ranchero is a true home-built ride. With the help of family and friends he completed the work in about 18 months in his home garage. Regardless of how your dream ride comes to life, building it yourself is always rewarding. Derek says the best part of the experience building everything himself and then being able to go for the first ride with his son.
Based on the finished appearance, we couldn’t help but ask Derek if there was any racing planned for the Ranchero’s future. “No, I’m not planning to race autocross,” he says. “But the truck is capable of doing so with some tuning of the chassis and larger wheels and tires.”
Taking a buddy’s cast-off rusty Falcon Ranchero to help maintain domestic tranquility and turning it into an eye-catching cruiser is certainly more than just helping a friend. For Derek, there’s the additional payoff of not only rescuing a relic but creating a ride that Ranchero admirers and custom fabrication fans everywhere can appreciate.
Photos by John Jackson