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Jurassic Park & Beyond: The First Gen Explorer is an SUV Icon & Could Be Considered the Model T of the 1990s

When you think of the most important and influential cars in Ford's history, the Model T is surely worthy of the top spot, being the car that helped bring motoring to the masses and revolutionized the auto manufacturing process.

Later on the 1960s, the '64 1/2 Mustang became a smash hit, established the Pony Car segment and launched a production run that's now topped 55 years. In that same decade, the GT-40 helped secure a place for both Ford and America on the list of international racing greats.

Ford Explorer First Gen in Mountains

But in more recent history there's another Ford which has had a seismic impact on the auto industry and the state of the car market itself—the first generation Ford Explorer.

Ford Explorer First Gen Green

A Simple, But Extremely Effective Formula

Released for the 1991 model year, the Explorer wasn't the first sport utility vehicle, but it reinvented the segment and put the SUV on a path to become the dominant segment in the American car market—something that's continued on to this day.

Ford Explorer First Gen in Snow

What's interesting about the original Explorer is that it wasn't some ultra-ambitious, moonshot project for Ford, it was a fair simple formula actually. The 1991 Explorer's underpinnings (and much of its styling) were shared with the existing Ranger pickup. In fact, it wasn't even the first SUV to be built off the Ranger platform (the Bronco II had already done that).

Ford Explorer First Gen Rear View

But what set the Explorer apart from other existing pickup-based SUVs like the Bronco II, the Chevy Blazer, Jeep Cherokee and Toyota 4Runner was its emphasis on comfort and family-friendly appeal.

Reinventing the Family Wagon

Ford worked hard to make the Explorer spacious and modern feeling than its pickup-underpinnings would suggest. It was wider, had a larger cargo area,  and more rear-seat space—though Ford still offered a two-door version to capture the old Bronco II market.

Ford Explorer First Gen Two-Door

For most buyers though, the Explorer was a perfect mix of car-like comfort with truck-like capability. The practicality and manners of a Taurus but with plenty of ground clearance, towing capability and optional 4x4 traction.

Ford Explorer First Gen Rear View

It was also the right size, falling in a nice sweet spot between the aforementioned Blazer and 4Runner and larger full-size rigs like the Chevy Suburban. 

The first gen Explorer had just one engine option, Ford's 4.0 liter "Cologne" V6 mated to either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic. RWD was standard, while the optional part-time 4x4 setup included a two-speed transfer case to deliver relatively good off-road capability. 

Ford Explorer First Gen Cut Away illustration

Cultural Icon

The Explorer appealed to many types of buyers, from the inexpensive base two-door to a fully-loaded Eddie Bauer model, the Explorer managed to be both affordable and aspirational, much like the Mustang of the '60s.

Ford Explorer First Gen Off-Roading

If you were around the 1990s, there's almost no doubt you knew someone who owned a first generation Explorer. They were everywhere.

Ford Explorer 1993 Jurassic Park Version

The Explorer even became a silver screen legend as the tour vehicle in Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park, with the brightly painted SUVs getting prominent screen time during the iconic T-Rex night scene.

Jurassic Park 1993 Ford Explorer

As for its impact on the auto market, the success of the Explorer can't be understated. Again, it wasn't the first SUV, and there were plenty of equally successful SUVs that came after, but the arrival of the Explorer is the vehicle that really began moving Americans out of their full-size sedans and station wagons and into SUVs.

Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer Side View

And while the first-gen Explorer was a more traditional truck-based SUV, even today's ubiquitous car-based crossovers owe a lot of their existence to the mainstream success of the Explorer.

Up & Coming Collector Vehicle?

Given its age and its iconic status, one might expect clean examples of the first generation Explorer to have some collector appeal today, especially given the rising demand for all things 1990s.

Ford Explorer Two-Door First Gen

But a bit of auction site and used-car classifieds searching suggests that even fairly mint examples can still be had in the $5,000-$6,000 range, making them quite reasonable. 

Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer First Gen

Unlike other "real" enthusiast vehicles, the Explorer may have been sold in too large of numbers to really become a truly desirable classic, but in terms of its impact it's not just one of the most important Fords of all time, but one of most important American vehicles of the last 30 years.

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