Ford F-Series Pickup
1953 Ford F-100. Click image to enlarge

Story and photo by Bill Vance

The Ford F-Series pickup truck, which will celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2008, carries on a long tradition of Ford trucks. After its formation in 1903, the Ford Motor Company didn’t take long to get into the commercial vehicle field. Its first was the 1905 “delivery car,” a panel truck body on a Model C Ford car chassis.

But Ford was concentrating on passenger cars, and the delivery car was discontinued after just one year and a production run of only 10. Those wanting a Ford truck had to make arrangements to have a commercial body constructed on a Ford car chassis, or purchase an aftermarket conversion.

Ford re-entered the pickup business in 1912 with the return of the delivery car based on the Model T. As commerce and roads improved, Ford saw the potential for a production pickup truck. Ford’s first factory production pickup came in 1925, and it was basically a Ford runabout with a cargo box behind the cab.

During the 1930s pickups gradually became more utilitarian, evolving away from their car-based roots. Ford’s new 1938 pickup, for example, was more functional and rugged looking than the 1938 Ford car. Although this independent truck trend reversed for a couple of years in the early forties, Ford returned to distinctive pickups in 1942. Apart from the sedan-pickup Ranchero beginning in the 1950s, Ford cars and trucks continued to travel divergent paths.

With the intervention of the Second World War it was 10 years before Ford updated its pickup. In 1948 it introduced its soon-to-be-famous Ford F-Series trucks, F-1 for 1 ton pickup, F-2 for 2 ton, up to the F-7 and F-8 heavy duty trucks. The F-Series was Ford’s first new post-war model; its newly designed car didn’t come until 1949.

To accommodate its different dealer structure, Ford of Canada introduced a “badge engineered” Mercury version of the Ford pickup in 1946, which continued until 1968. Other than name and badging, it was virtually identical to the Ford.

The new and thoroughly modern 1948 Ford pickup had a one-piece windshield, a horizontal bar grille, and a no-nonsense appearance. It was restyled in 1951 with a wider grille with the headlamps integrated into it.

Then, for 1953, Ford’s 50th anniversary, the new Golden Anniversary F-100 appeared. Although even more rugged looking than the F1, it was starting the trend to more car-like comfort as convenience features like automatic transmissions, and power steering and brakes appeared. Its higher, roomier cab had a curved windshield and 50 percent greater glass area.

Moving the front axle back 102 mm (4.0 in.) shortened the turning radius and improved weight distribution, but gave the F-100 a somewhat nose-heavy aspect. The cargo box was longer and taller. The F-100 stayed largely unchanged for four years. The ’55 received ignition key starting and tubeless tires, and in 1956, a wraparound windshield and optional “panoramic” rear window.

The redesigned 1957 F-100 was more squared up, with integrated front fenders and hood. In the Styleside model a full width cargo box eliminated the rear fenders and running boards.

For 1961 The F-100 Styleside got a blended cab and cargo box. While it looked more stylish, it was abandoned in 1964 apparently because it was more prone to rust. The Flareside continued with traditional rear fenders.

In 1965 Ford introduced its twin I-beam front suspension with the wheels mounted on long axles pivoting at opposite sides of the frame. Radius rods maintained axle location, and springing was by coils. Ford claimed it was more rugged, while giving a ride comparable to regular A-arm independent suspension. Pickups being less style-driven than cars, Ford carried on with only detail improvements for many years. A facelift came in 1967. In 1974 it introduced the extended “Super Cab” with passenger capacity behind the regular seat. More aerodynamic styling was adopted for 1980, and in 1984 the F-100 name was replaced by F-150 as Ford’s basic light duty truck, reflecting greater payload capacity.

Ford’s latest iterations of its F-150 came for 1997 and 2004. It reflected the market forces that have been acting on pickups since the 1950s when they started to be used for other than commercial purposes.

The current F-150 is powered by an overhead cam V-8, capping a line of Ford engine types including the early side-valve four and the 1932 V-8 (the first V-8 truck). Diesels are available for heavier installations, as is four-wheel drive. Replacing the twin I-beam suspension recently with a conventional A-arm type allowed lower engine placement.

The new cab is larger and more aerodynamic, and the extended-cab version’s extra doors give easy rear seat access. Virtually every safety, luxury and convenience feature can be had in the F-150; dual airbags and ABS brakes are standard.

Pickup trucks have come a long way in the almost 60 years since the first Ford F-1 appeared. In the process the Ford F-Series pickup became the best selling vehicle in the world.

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