Snow Testing the Ford Turbo Ranger

82Thunderbird

In the early 80’s Ford was going to put the 2.3L Turbo engine from the Thunderbird Turbo Coupe into a regular cab short bed Ranger. I was working at Roush Industries at the time and was assigned to this program. We had a half dozen development trucks and we were progressing through the testing required to put this into production.

It was scheduled for the 1985 model year. Since the Ranger was several hundred pounds lighter than the Thunderbird, these trucks were a riot to drive! And our development trucks had no indication that they were anything other than stock 4 banger trucks. They just hauled!

There was a new test under development at the time. Ford called it snow packing. If one were to drive in a severe blizzard the engine compartment could get filled with snow and cause problems. So Ford was developing a test to objectively determine how a vehicle would perform in those conditions.

We went to Baudette, Minnesota, right on the Canadian border. Lake of the Woods is there. It is frozen all winter and there are ice fishing “cities” on the lake. The local resort owners plowed roads and brought out fishing shanties. We talked to one of the owners and he happily plowed us a 3/8 mile oval on the lake. He told us how all of the resorts only had Ford trucks and he was happy to help us test new Fords.

To run the test we had a lead vehicle drag a section of chain link fence on the ice. I followed as close as I could as we made laps of the track. Following close and even keeping the truck on the ice instead of buried in the snow around the track proved rather difficult as the fence kicked up so much snow I usually couldn’t see out of the windshield! We spent at least as much time digging the Ranger out of the snow as we did running the test.

ford_ranger_1985

The next day with permission we just ran up and down the straight road. It was about two miles long and we got a lot more testing done with less digging. Except for that one spot where the road moved to the left about 10 feet. The guy in the lead truck just moved over, but all I saw was snow.

I hit a six foot high snow bank head on at 40 mph. He told me it looked like a stick of dynamite went off in the snow. We dug it out and resumed testing. Until we came to that same spot again, and BOOM! This time I asked him to move over early enough that the snow level covering my truck would drop and I could see the snow bank.

One time when I let off the accelerator the truck maintained speed like I had the cruise control engaged. This truck didn’t HAVE cruise control! I shut it off and we opened the hood. There was snow and ice everywhere! The throttle body, which was on top of the engine, had the cable attachment towards the front of the truck. Enough snow had hit the cable to completely coat it with a half inch of ice. It was frozen where I had been holding the pedal to maintain 40 mph.

So it you look at an 80’s four cylinder Ranger you will see a black plastic cover over the throttle body. That was added after our testing showed the throttle could stick with enough snow.

Unfortunately for reasons that were never shared with me Ford cancelled the Turbo Ranger program and none were ever produced. Except the one that my brother and I built with his Ranger….

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