Hey LG, for future reference, all 1980-1981 Ranger Lariats had the brushed aluminum tailgate panel with a black stripe. The 1980-1981 Ranger XLT trucks had a brushed aluminum tailgate panel with no black stripe. The FORD letters are different too IIRC. 1982-1984 Lariat trucks also had the same brushed aluminum tailgate panel with black stripe as the 80-81 Lariat. I'm not sure if the 82-84 XLT's even got a tailgate panel.
In 1985, Ford re-designed the Tailgate panel, which completely covered the indent in our tailgates. This is when the red stripe was added. The red stripe continued until about 1991, when I think Ford switched to black for the 92-96 trucks. Again, i'm not too sure, but in general, that's how it went.
The red "stripe" remained on the 1987 - 1991 version, but the panel itself was totally different.
The 1985 - 1986 panel had a red ribbed reflector, whereas the 1987 - 1991 was smooth. The 1985 - 1986 panel had the tailgate handle cut out, but the 1987 - 1991 version did not because the tailgate handle itself was relocated higher up on the tailgate. Also, "FORD" was spelled out in a block style lettering on the 1985 - 1986 version, whereas the 1987 - 1991 used the distinct curved 1987 - 1991 F-Series and Bronco script.
The 1992 - 1996 was just like the 1987 - 1991 version, except the 1992 - 1996 had a smooth black reflector, and the "FORD" script was changed yet again to a blockier style.
I've actually always wondered the same thing. Any 80-84 Lariat owners care to take a look for us?
I haven't taken pics yet but it definitely isn't painted on. You can see where the vinyl (or whatever the stripe material is) is gouged and torn. It isn't a scratch. I was hoping there might be somewhere that offers a pre-cut decal to apply on the panel. I'll just have to take it to a decal shop here in town and have them measure and cut me one for it. The decal also goes all around the border of the panel in a thin stripe as well. I'm not sure it'd look very good painted. I guess I could paint it and if it looks like @ss then I could go the decal route. Thoughts anyone?
Pics fixed. After I posted them, I moved albums which made them not show up. Rookie mistake.
Looks like the same stuff as what the side moldings are made of. My 1980 brochure lists them as vinyl inserts, so the strip on the tailgate panel is probably vinyl too. Thanks for posting those pics LG! Now I know why so many are cracked, when I used to think they were painted.