The Forgotten Ford Explorer Surf Truck Built For The Beach

If at first glance, you think this Ford concept Explorer from 1990 belongs in the garage at Barbie's Beach Bungalow, you would not be wrong. It's so rad(ical) because it unabashedly embraces the era's vibe for all its worth. So what was Ford thinking?

Over the years, Ford has designed and built hundreds (if not thousands) of concept cars that only made it as far as a one-off display at a car show. The whole point is to provide an idea that something — from advanced high-tech doodads to wild and crazy styling — can actually be made into a functional ride the public will like and the automaker can produce. Many concept cars never make it past this phase, however, and are either destroyed, displayed at a car museum, or sold to a car collector for a pretty penny.

Throughout most of the 1980s, car companies were producing boxy beasts of burden. As Motor Trend put it, they "brought us some real crap." As the dawning of a new decade approached, Ford wanted to shake things up, so it reached into its bag of tricks and took a radical, bold approach with a new Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) — the Explorer.

The first one rolled off the production floor in 1991, and alongside the Jeep Grand Cherokee, are credited with spurring the "modern SUV craze." These newfangled vehicles would soon make us forget about the stodgy family truckster station wagons that had come before.

Cowabunga dude!

In the runup to production, Ford wasn't satisfied with just the one Explorer rolling out to the general public. At the 1990 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, it showed people a whole different Explorer called the "Surf." By looking at it, you knew it was aimed at a much younger crowd.

In fact, it was quite literally marketed by Ford as a "leisure vehicle" that would be "a fun way to get to the beach." This beachrunner version of the Explorer came with a removable roof, but the tailgate wouldn't open. Nothing covered the back half of the vehicle, so it was genuinely open air. It had four high-intensity moveable spotlights on a top bar, with another four centered in the grill in an odd and not entirely helpful formation. The massive 15-inch wide wheels came with spherical covers that kept sand and grit out of the hub, while swing-out speakers completed the far-out features of this Ford.

A lusciously lavender lacquer, which Ford Truck Enthusiasts aptly referred to as "Pepto Bismal pink," wrapped the front half of this beachy vehicle. The color changes midship, wherein the words "Surf" are stenciled on the door amidst what can best be described as a graphic depicting waves and bubbly surf. The back half of the SUV was awash in a seafoam green color, perhaps meant to represent the ocean.

Ford never released any specs about the car, and very few images or videos exist. As far as anyone knows, it was only shown at the one Detroit show in 1990 and sunk below the waves never to be seen again.