If there’s one thing that General Motors seems to love more than anything, it’s car brands. Even more than cars themselves, GM has always held a special delight for the individual marques. Remember, this is the company that somehow found shades of marketing difference between Buick and Oldsmobile for decades, the brand that came up with Saturn and Geo and Asuna all in the same few years just for the love of it all. So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that there’s a GM brand I’d never heard of, but still am surprised. Because even for GM’s strange, obsessive brand-granularity, it’s weird.
Before I tell you this obscure GM brand, let’s just see how many GM brands, alive or dead, can you name? Most Americans, if you could get them to give a shit for five minutes, would have no problem with the basics: Chevrolet, Pontiac, Buick, Oldsmobile, Cadillac, Saturn, Geo, and GMC. Harder-core gearheads likely know Vauxhall, Opel, Holden, and if they’re really geeky, maybe Wuling or Daewoo.
I mean, if they’re really really geeky they might go all the way back to the early 20th century and start going on and on about Cartercars and Elmores, but you’re not going to stick around for that, are you?
But hopefully you’ve stuck around to learn a bit about the GM brand known as Ranger.
Yep, Ranger. Ranger was a GM marque, just like Chevrolet or Cadillac, from 1968 to 1978. The Ranger brand was only used in three main markets, markets that, generally, I don’t think people think about all that much together, or, possibly even at all: South Africa, Belgium, and Switzerland.
It’s not really clear why GM thought that Belgium, Switzerland, and South Africa all needed to share some new brand of car, especially since GM was already selling Opels and Vauxhalls in those markets. With the way GM was so brand-crazy, though, they probably didn’t need a good reason.
They probably just threw three darts at a globe and started giggling at the idea that, yes, yes, yes, they could come up with a whole new brand.
The cars sold as Rangers were sort of a Frankenstein mix of parts from Opels, Holdens, and Vauxhalls, though they were always fairly close to local-market Chevrolets and Opels. They had bodies similar to the Opel Rekord, with Vauxhall grilles, and what I think were unique quad-headlamp bezels.
The coupé versions especially I think are quite handsome, especially with some period-correct stripes and driving lights.
GM didn’t really work that hard when it came to naming the models, which were just called the Ranger A and Ranger B, though South Africa just got the Ranger A, and for some baffling reason Belgium’s Ranger B was marketed as the Ranger II.
Both the Ranger A and Ranger B/II came in two-door coupés, two-door sedans, four-door sedans, though the South African ones also offered a three- or five-door wagon.
There were a good array of four- and six-cylinder engines available for the cars, ranging from a 1.7-liter four to a 2.8-liter twin-carb making about 140 horsepower, pretty decent for the time.
The cars were built in all of their respective countries—the Ranger A was built in GM factories in Biel-Bienne, Switzerland, Antwerp, Belgium, and Port Elizabeth South Africa, but only Antwerp built the Ranger B.
The locally-built nature of the Ranger led it to being marketed in South Africa as “South Africa’s Own Car,” though it was by no means the only car to be built in the country.
Like so much else about this brand, the marketing was pretty confusing, since the brand’s entire reason for existing seems to have been GM’s policy that they should compete with themselves at every available opportunity. That led to ads like this, where the Ranger was compared and contrasted to very-similar Vauxhalls:
I guess GM got money either way, so they really couldn’t lose?
One source I found suggests that the Ranger brand was born to give an extra something to sell to Swiss Vauxhall dealers, who were having a rough time. This sources suggests that production had already sort of started in South Africa, for the As, and then they added the Bs from Opel production in Belgium, forming the European Ranger lineup.
They also describe a launch event for the ranger, where everyone attending was given a big box of booze that was supposed to represent the origins of the brand. Here’s what was in the box:
- Wine from South Africa (because the name Ranger was registered there and the sheet metal parts came from)
- Wine from France (the automatic gearbox came from Strasbourg)
- Kirsch from Switzerland (because the idea for the Ranger came from)
- Beer from Germany (because of the Opel technique and body - Rekord and Commodore)
- Beer from Belgium (because in Antwerp the Ranger was assembled and from there distribution to the Benelux countries was provided)
- Whiskey from England (because of the Vauxhall Victor front and the Lucas headlights)
- And finally Bols gin from the Netherlands (as ‘supplementary food’ for the Dutch Vauxhall dealers, who sold the Opel competitor alongside the Vauxhall)
That’s a lot of hooch. Nice to know traditions haven’t changed for manufacturer brand launches and keeping the press nice and drunk.
Really, though, nobody really knew exactly what to do with the Ranger, or who it was really targeted to, or why it existed at all. This isn’t just hindsight—period reviews of the car were confused about why the brand existed at all as well.
Even without a good, clear reason to exist, the Ranger brand plodded along, sometimes actually selling decent numbers, for a solid decade, until GM finally put the brand down and began to market Opels in its place.
As you can imagine, Rangers are all but unknown in America, which I think makes them incredibly desirable to have, because there’s no greater feeling than watching that glorious mix of delight and confusion on a gearhead’s face when they see something they simply cannot place or understand.
Rolling up to any Cars and Coffee in a mint Ranger A coupé seems like an endlessly amusing way to spend a day, if you ask me.