From 1968 to 1986, Ford offered a unique trim package on their F-100 pickup trucks, as well as some Bronco and Ranchero models. Known as the “Explorer Special,” the actual features of this trim would vary heavily from year to year, but the marketing tactic remained unchanged at its core. The idea was to combine visually attractive styling with a bundle of popular features to make a widely-appealing truck, and then offer substantial discounts to get them selling like hotcakes. The enhanced styling and flashy trim even led Ford to refer to them as “luxury pickups.”
The Explorer Special Package: Discounted Popular Options Designed to Drive Sales
Today, these special variants of the fifth, sixth, and seventh-generation Ford F-series pickups stand out due to their bold styling and uniqueness; apart from the extremely uncommon Bicentennial Option Group trucks from 1976, the oddball “Free Wheeling” package, and the more run-of-the-mill “Job-Engineered” editions like the Contractor Special, there were no other true special edition Ford pickups during this time period of nearly two decades.
The program was a success and was offered during only part of each model year cycle, typically in the springtime of each year. A 1968 ad for the Explorer Special notes that it was available only in April and May, for example. This was most likely to help clear inventory and capitalize on a prime car-buying season. Because the Explorer Special was never a part of the regular trim line-up, it was not featured in the normal brochure. Instead, there was a host of special marketing literature that would be distributed, focusing heavily on the price discounts that the Explorer Special provided. The amounts shown in these brochures, ads, and postcards represent the cost savings from selecting an Explorer Special package versus adding each of the retail price options individually to a regular F-100 truck. The Explorer Special package was often available on the F-250 as well, including on the F-250 Camper Special (which featured both the “B” and “D” packages in 1970).
Ford usually offered four different option groupings for the Explorer Special, Packages A, B, C, and D, though sometimes there were only three on tap. Package A was the most bare-bones, while Package D was closer in spec to the line-topping Ranger XLT. The packages were of a “stacking” nature, so Package B, for example, would include everything from Package A, plus a handful of additional features. The three options that were most often featured were air conditioning, the Cruise-o-Matic automatic transmission, and power steering. Despite commonly being called out in marketing literature and TV ads, they were usually only available in the highest packages (Package D, and sometimes Package C), and still had to be tacked on as extras for most trucks.
Ford F-100 Explorer Special Exterior
Apart from their sometimes unique paint colors and striping, one way to differentiate an F-100 Explorer Special is by the badging. Both a rectangular hood emblem and rear bedside badging were included on most F-100 Explorers.
Also common on the Explorer Special trucks were a full-length side tape stripe, often in a bright, bold color. This was sometimes paired with a similarly vibrant paint color that was unique to the Explorer Special line, but regular F-100 exterior shades were available as well. Examples of these vibrant colors include 1970’s “Explorer Green” and 1972’s “Avocado Metallic.” Other years (especially those during the ‘70s) brought even more dazzling colors, including a familiar fan favorite, Grabber Blue! As we’ll see shortly, the interior upholstery was color-matched to the exterior paint.
Different wheel covers also separated the Explorer Special from the normal F-series pickups. Finally, there was usually some brightening of the exterior with chrome accents, such as the box rails. Notice that all of these upgrades are visual in nature, so despite its rugged name, the Explorer package didn’t offer any additional capability in terms of power, hauling, or off-roading.
The first model year of availability for the F-100 Explorer Special offered the following features in its package. It noted that these options would be $139 if purchased separately, but that the suggested sale price of the package was just $65.
- Bright metal grille/headlamps
- Bright body side moulding
- Bright hub caps
- Tool storage box
- Flex-O-Matic rear springs
- Convenience lighting package
- Choice of two special paints (in addition to regular paints)
Ford F-100 Explorer Special Interior
The most interesting design element incorporated into the Ford F-100 Explorer Special’s cabin is surely the “random-striped” upholstery. These extravagant patterns were color-matched to the exterior paint color of the truck, leading to a cohesive and striking overall style.
There were sometimes a handful of other interior upgrades, such as the 1975 Explorer Special’s color-keyed headliner, sun visors, crash pad, floor mats, door trim panels, armrests, and seat belts. As mentioned earlier, sometimes the higher-level Explorer packages would offer power steering, a Cruise-o-Matic automatic transmission, or air conditioning (the latter was a true luxury back then, and typically only came on the highest level package). However, these features were optional on every F-series pickup and were not exclusive to the special editions.
Value of the Ford F-100 Explorer Special
The Explorer Special offered consumers three primary upgrade areas versus the regular F100 or F250: Unique exterior trim, a more stylish and luxurious interior, and the option to add special paint colors. While the rarity of these trucks can make them nominally more valuable on the collectors’ market today, most would argue that the actual condition of the truck is a much more important factor in resale value. The funky, bold interior upholstery and nifty exterior details can the special editions more eye-catching, especially at car shows, but we would not recommend paying a large premium for these trucks unless you’re really into the Explorer Special line-up for sentimental reasons.
Ford F-100 Explorer Special Parts
If you’re looking to restore, spruce up, or upgrade your F-100 truck, CJ’s has everything that you need to make it happen. Browse our variety of parts and accessories for your classic Ford F-100, no matter what trim it is, to revitalize and enhance your vintage pickup.
Image Credit: Ford | Fordification | Owls Head Transportation Museum
Sources: Ford | Fordification