Being number one in sales doesn't guarantee a First Place popularity rating among modified pickups. Ford builds some excellent trucks and sells 'em by the millions. F-series trucks have outsold all other cars and trucks for so long it's hard to remember who used to be top dog. Ford's compact pickup, the Ranger, is also a sales superstar. Rangers consistently outsell all other compact pickups. Yet, Chevy S-10 pickups are far more popular for customizing.

If you're a Ford loyalist, the production versus popularity disparity can work to your advantage. There's a huge supply of Rangers, which makes it easier to find a nice one with the type of equipment you desire. Prices can be slightly lower than similar-year GM S-series pickups, but they're pretty close. Condition, mileage, and options are more of a price determinant than brand. Early Rangers seem to be slightly more expensive than S-10s, but when body styles changed in the '90s (1993 for the Ranger and 1994 for the S-10), Chevys took a slight price lead.

Like its big brother, the F-150, the Ranger suffers from I-beamitus. That suspension condition leads to nose bleeds. Trucks with I-beam front suspensions are far more difficult to lower than trucks with traditional upper and lower A-arm suspensions. Since a nice, low stance is a sport truck hallmark, lowering difficulties have obviously affected Ranger popularity in the modified realm.

Ford switched to a short/long arm front suspension in 1997 for the F-series and in 1998 for the Rangers. Instantly, it was easy to lower the redesigned Fords, and modified ones started appearing in far greater numbers than before. Ranger made the change so recently that you won't find much in the way of bargain-priced '98-'99 models. Your best hope might be a '98 that was on a short two-year lease.

Rangers were introduced in March 1982 as '83 models. Ford was half a year behind the new S-10, but the Ranger was a formidable competitor. It was a major improvement over Ford's previous compact pickup, the Mazda-built Courier. Unfortunately, Ranger engines were Courier carryovers, a 75hp 2.0L four-cylinder and the Big 4, a 2.3L that pumped out a tire-saving 80 hp.

Early engines were still small-truck stuff, but the slab-sided styling was very similar to the F-series. The simple, sharp lines were very pleasing. The early Rangers still look handsome today. The early trucks are from Ford's straight-line styling era, not the more rounded look that appeared in 1987 on the F-series and in 1989 on the Ranger. The F-150 really went for the rounded look in 1997, and the Ranger was restyled again in 1998.

Six-cylinder engines were added to the Ranger in the spring of 1983. The optional engine was a 2.8L V-6. The big 4.0L V-6 arrived for the '90 model year. Horsepower for the 4.0 engine topped out at 160 hp. Late-model Rangers are good performers.

Ranger cab and body styles share the F-150 designations. The wide beds are called Stylesides and the stepside beds are called Flaresides. Flareside beds are 6 feet long and were introduced with the Splash model in 1993; Styleside beds are available in 6-foot and 7-foot lengths. The extended cabs are called SuperCabs. Content level designations have included Custom, Sport, XL, XLT, XLS, STX, S, and Splash. SuperCab Rangers are very popular because of their spaciousness and added versatility. The addition of four-door SuperCabs in 1998 was very well received.