Welcome to the latest installment in our “Will She Dig It?” series. Here, we take a look at cars and trends from the past that were, for better or worse, perceived to be chick magnets. This month, we chip the decals off of the Ford Ranger Splash.
When I think of the Ford Ranger Splash–more commonly known as just the Ford Splash–I find it hard not to also think of Lisa Frank.
For about a dozen years when our most ubiquitous art form was apparently borne of some neon netherworld where using primary colors was a capital offense, Lisa Frank patrolled the school supplies aisle with an assassin’s airbrush. I distinctly remember a Valentine’s Day when I got more cards with obnoxious bears and unicorns than there were actual girls in the class to give them. Such was the power of Lisa Frank.
The Ford Splash was a similarly confounding 90s touchstone. It was a mid-year addition to what was then the most popular mid-size pickup (and which is no longer in production), the Ford Ranger. It was all Clinton-era bluster, a loose interpretation of what boardrooms probably assume focus groups think suburban stepdads will buy for the stepkids who hate them. Naturally, it was a roaring success, until it wasn’t.
The connection between Lisa Frank and the Ford Splash is important for two reasons. First, Lisa Frank’s Disney-on-acid Trapper Keepers coincided perfectly with Ford’s foray into assembly-line expressionism, and they both exemplified the overproduced aesthetic that defined the decade. And second, both Lisa Frank and the Ford Ranger are reportedly on the cusp of a comeback.
Ford’s Splash experiment began in 1993 with a two-pronged assault on the nation’s high school smokers’ lots. There were the “Splash sides,” a bed with flaresides and steps to get into the box. These were (and are) pretty okay. But then there were the “Splash graphics,” prefabricated paint splatter apparently intended to spare our eyes from the monotony of an unfussy paintjob. And, just in case you were unaware that you were in the company of some serious soakage, they helpfully slapped “Splash” on there too, in a font best left to the era’s Motley Crue liner notes.
How do we resolve the deliberate form-meets-function of the Splash sides with the sloppy nonsense of the Splash decals? Is this just another example of signature 90s excess, the automotive equal of the now-awkward canned laughter of every sitcom, or of Left Eye’s shitty rapping on every TLC song?
By 1997, Ford already knew the answer. Rather than discontinue the Splash, they began offering the flaresides on Ranger models other than the Splash. Ranger drivers could enjoy the finer points of the Splash without dealing with the excess; TLC fans wouldn’t experience a similar market correction until 2002.
As for the Splash, Ford smothered it for good in 1999. We could argue that the effervescence that created it had worn off, and that buyers had more practical concerns heading into the 2000s. More likely, however, Ford just realized it was really stupid-looking.
Which brings us back to Lisa Frank. After years of open mockery and waning sales, the unicorns and bears with fucking eyelashes recently began appearing again at Urban Outfitters, and just last month, it was announced that Lisa Frank would take her blinding bag of adorable into the lucrative world of children’s bedding. What’s old is new again, and all that shit.
Meanwhile, there’s also been a groundswell of support for the return of the Ranger, with sales already beginning overseas. All of the tea leaves indicate that it’ll make its way stateside in time to ferry some really stupid bedding home from Macy’s, if you get my meaning.
The Splash, however, isn’t so lucky. Despite its many charms, and the flaresides that we truly hope to see again in some form, getting out from under that Jackson Pollock-inspired wet heave is harder than you’d think.
So, when it comes to the mid-90s Ford Splash, Will she dig it? That truly depends on the person, so here’s what we suggest: ask her how she feels about Lisa Frank, and you’ll probably get your answer.
Next time on “Will She Dig It?” — The El Camino