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By Jeremy Cato
Talk about a workhorse. The Ford F-series pickup introduced for 1980 proved to be a durable, best-selling vehicle for the better part of two decades before a completely reinvented F-150 arrived in
January of ’96 as a 1997 model.
Now that’s a good run for a vehicle by any measure; a long product cycle, as they say in the car business.
The 1980-96 F-series earned a solid reputation for its power, payload and trailer-towing ability. Tall and square, these trucks had roomy cabins with plenty of headroom, but they were by no means a styling statement, a trait shared by other full-size pickups of that era, the Dodge Ram and Chevrolet C/K.
The Fords were also notorious for front tire wear thanks to the rugged Twin I-beam suspension. If nothing else, regular alignment was and remains crucial to extending tire life to the maximum. At the same time, the front leaf springs have been prone to sag, which means they must be replaced periodically. Used truck buyers take note, because spring replacement is a costly exercise.
Okay, let’s get to an overview of Ford’s offerings for this truck during this time. The F-series was offered as a half-ton (F-150), three-quarter ton (F-250) and one-ton (F-350), as well as in an F-250 Heavy duty version. Short and long-bed versions (6 3/4-foot/eight-feet respectively) were available, as well as SuperCab trucks with either a seven- or eight-foot bed.
The base gas engine was a 4.9-litre inline six (145 horsepower), and V8 gas engines included a 5.0-litre (185-205 hp.), 5.8-litre (200-210 hp.) and 7.5-litre (245-250 hp.). A 7.3-litre diesel V8 was rated 185-210 hp., with torque 360-425 pounds-feet.
Of all the gas engines, the 5.0-litre is probably your best choice. It’s stronger and more responsive than the six and almost as powerful as the 5.8-litre V8. Regardless of engine, though, don’t expect brilliant fuel economy. Also be alert to a number of automatic transmission
issues (see Buyer’s Alerts).
If you’re looking at a four-wheel-drive model, the system offered during this time was a part-time, on-demand unit. Automatic locking hubs were phased in beginning with the 1989 model year on F-150 models. Point is, unlike new pickups of today, this typical part-time system was pretty basic no fancy electronic gizmos to offers drivers more choice, including full-time all-wheel drive.
In driving, F-series trucks of this era hold the road reasonably well. The loose steering is not surprising given the tough but unsophisticated front suspension. Ride quality is best described as “basic.” Nothing car-like about it, really. And engine, road and wind noise are very noticeable as speeds rise.
Ford took a huge lead against rival trucks with the 1997 F-series. The styling became more rounded, the cabin roomier and more user-friendly and for under the hood Ford offered more powerful, durable and fuel efficient engine choices than had been available with the previous version.
There was also a new suspension system, as well as a stiffer body/chassis combination. Ride, handling and hauling capabilities were all hugely improved. But the biggest change underneath was the most welcome for F-truck owners who had grown weary of replacing tires every 30,000 kilometres or so.
That is, the Twin I-beam front end was replaced by a very modern upper short and long arm (SLA) front layout. Ford’s new front layout kept the wheels more flat on the ground, extending tire wear, and the steering was made much, much sharper.
And of course there was the introduction of a patented passenger-side third door on extended cab models. The 21-inch (53.3 cm.) door, which met government crash test standards, opened a full 90 degrees and made for easy access to rear jump seats designed to accommodate six-footers. Now that all sorts of pickups offer four doors, the third door almost seems an anachronism. But it wasn’t back then. Note, too, that at the time General Motors’ full-size pickups had a similar third door, but it didn’t open quite as wide.
Compared to the newest F-series pickups, the 1980-96 trucks square boxes with awkward road manners, a harsh ride when unloaded and loose steering. But if all you need is a basic duty truck, an older F-series will probably fit the bill just fine.
Some F-series dates to remember:
- 1995 the Eddie Bauer trim level was added
- 1994 a driver’s side airbag, door intrusion beams and a 7.3-litre
diesel engine arrived.
- 1991 Touch Drive electric shift transfer case is introduced.
- 1989 Electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission
- 1987 updated styling and rear-wheel ABS introduced.
- 1983 6.9-litre diesel V8 is new.
- 1982 3.8-litre V6 is new.
- 1980 Re-engineered for the model year.
- 1974 SuperCab introduced.
- 1973 F-Series redesigned for model year.
- 1965 Twin I-beam front suspension introduced.
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Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.