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Retrospective: 1981 Ford Montana Lobo Concept Truck

Article-Retrospective: 1981 Ford Montana Lobo Concept Truck

Ford Motor Co. 1980 Ford Montana Lobo concept car neg CN27380-7.jpg
1981 Ford Montana Lobo concept car.
The Montana Lobo concept truck’s space-age fiberglass styling never made it to production, but some features did.

Ford’s decades-long leadership position in truck sales is hard-won, as the company has continually worked to develop concepts that could appeal to drivers.

This is how the F-150 has gained a steady stream of new features, and it is how Ford has pioneered new market segments with best-sellers like the four-door Ford Explorer SUV in 1991 and the recent budget-priced, hybrid-electric Maverick unibody minitruck.

At the 1981 Detroit Auto Show, Ford displayed a concept for an exciting compact pickup with futuristic styling that would have looked at home in a science-fiction movie of the era. This was the Montana Lobo, a vehicle Ford billed as a “glimpse of the future of off-road vehicles.”

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If that future resembled the movie Death Race 2000, perhaps.

The concept was developed by Ford’s Advanced International Design Center and the Ghia Construction Studios in Turin, Italy. Before Ford spoiled the studio’s name by applying to hideous baroque barges designed in Dearborn, Ghia was a respected Italian design house bought by Henry Ford II, who you may recall from the Ford Versus Ferrari movie.

Ford Motor Co.1980 Ford Montana Lobo concept car neg CN27380-6.jpg

Rear view of the Montana Lobo in the snow.

The zoomy fiberglass two-seat cab and bed with rakish buttresses incorporated tinted plastic bubble doors and Plexiglas T-top roof. Both the doors and the roof panels were removable, and designers included nylon webbing in the openings for safer doors-off operation. The Montana Lobo’s press release describes this as “helicopter-style” webbing, but today it recalls the window nets in Nascar race cars.

Ford Motor Co.1980 Ford Thunderbird-IP.jpeg

Ford's sales brochure for the 1980 Thunderbird shows that car's digital display that was used in the Montana Lobo concept truck.

In the cockpit, designers repurposed the instrument panel from a 1980 Thunderbird. It also included an overhead console with more instruments, a clock, and “an advisory warning system.” Whatever that means.

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This avant-garde bodywork sat atop a first-generation 1966-’77 Bronco frame and chassis with running boards, a roll bar, a winch, and off-road tires. It had a 107.3-inch wheelbase, length of 188.9 inches, width of 75.4 inches, and height of 77.4 inches. This makes it close to the same size as a four-door Bronco today.

Ford Motor Co.1966 Ford Bronco Engine Compartment CN3808-068.jpg

This 289 small block V8 in the 1966 Bronco is effectively the same as the slightly larger 302 V8 from the '77 Bronco that was used in the Montana Lobo.

Power was Ford’s beloved small block V8, which it described as 302 cubic inches and 5.0 liters for marketing purposes, but which was actually 301 cubic inches and 4.9 liters. It was backed by  Ford’s C4 light-duty three-speed automatic transmission driving the Bronco’s four-wheel-drive system.

Ford Motor Co.1966 Ford Bronco Dunes Duster concept car neg CN3808-60.jpg

Ford designers had creative interpretations from the Bronco's very beginning, starting with this 1966 Bronco Dunes Duster concept vehicle.

Ford pointed to the Lobo’s loading-ramp tailgate, side panel storage areas, and vented seats as potential future production items, and indeed, today we see storage compartments in the sides of pickup truck beds and seats that are heated and cooled are commonplace.

Ford Motor Co.1992 Ford Bronco Boss CN63022-062.jpg

Ford's 1992 Bronco Boss concept revisited the Montana Lobo's yellow paint and flying buttresses, but it was based on the much larger 1978-1996 Bronco chassis.

“The Lobo represents more than a show vehicle,” said William H. Cramer, manager of the Advanced International Design Center at the time. “It’s a collection of ideas and designs that may be used in future Ford four-wheel vehicles.

In fact, Ford never did put anything resembling the Montana Lobo into production, but if you squint, the Chevrolet Avalanche wasn’t too far off.

General Motors Co.2010-avalanche1.jpg

The 2010 Chevrolet Avalanche employs roof buttresses and various innovations such as a pass-through from the bed to the cab in the spirit of the Montana Lobo concept.

TAGS: Auto Design
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