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A Brief History Of The Ford Truck

Car Culture / 41 Comments

How Ford came to dominate the American market.

The Ford F-Series truck has been the best selling truck in America since 1977. That's over 40 years now, and 1977 was the 6th generation of Ford's working man's hero. The Blue Oval's domination of the truck segment is no joke and no accident. For over 100 years now Ford has continually and steadily innovated in the truck world from the flathead V8 and twin-I-beam front suspension to the current aluminum bodywork and smaller turbocharged engines. It all started with the Model-T truck though.

The Origin Story (1925–1947)

Henry Ford changed the world with the Model T in 1908, and more importantly, the manufacturing process used to churn out inexpensive cars to put America on four wheels. The Model T truck arrived in 1917, using the same engine and front passenger area but with a stronger frame that could support a 1-ton payload and any number of coachbuilt pick-bed configurations. It sold well enough at $600 a piece until Ford decided it should manufacture the truck complete with a pickup-bed itself, and the first factory-assembled Ford pickup trucks emerged in 1925. By 1928 Ford had built and sold over one million Model T trucks and then built the Model AA and BB trucks with similar success.

In 1935 Ford introduced the Model 50 pickup based on the styling of its cars at the time. You could buy the Model 50 with any engine you wanted, as long as it was a Ford flathead V8. By the time WWII came around, when production was halted to help in the battle against the Axis powers, Ford had built and sold over four million units of the Model 50 pickup.

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Enter The F-Series (1948–1952)

In the aftermath of the war, Ford started to work on the F-Series Bonus Built trucks. It was the start of a strategy to build a range of trucks to cover as many users as possible in post-war life. There were four basic models starting with the F1 that covered basic pickups, a school bus chassis, then medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks topping out with the cab-over F8. Between 1950 and1954 the aesthetic design changed drastically before morphing into what we generally remember as the vintage design of Ford trucks.

The Next Generations (1952–1960)

As well as the new visual design, the second generation of the F-Series truck also brought the naming convention still in use today. The F1 became the F-150, the F2 and F3 became the F-250 and the F4 turned into the F-350. For the heavier duty and industrial models, Ford created the commercial-truck division. A suite of options also came along with the second generation such as an optional automatic transmission as well as a dome light, armrests and sun-visors. By the end of the second generation, the flathead V8 was replaced by an overhead valve V8 engine. For the third generation, Ford widened the bodywork and introduced the choice of FlareSide and StyleSide rear beds as well squarer styling that would go onto to define Ford's truck to this day.

Big Innovations (1960-1972)

The fourth-generation of F-Series trucks saw them get wider and sleeker as well as having a unibody design with the cab and the rear box built as one piece. After rumors emerged that overloading the truck bed caused the doors to jam shut, the unibody trucks were dropped in 1963.

In 1965 though, Ford introduced its game-changing Twin I-Beam suspension with coil springs for rear-wheel drive trucks. That allowed Ford to keep the solid axle format front and rear with its take on the swing axle concept that allows the opposing wheels to move independently. The fourth generation also introduced the factory-built four-door crew cab in 1965 as a special order and the introduction of the Ranger trim level at the top of the line.

The fifth generation brought a much sharper style to the F-Series along with a larger cab and windows. Ford also expanded the engine options and included three trim levels.

Enter the F-150 (1972-1986)

The sixth generation of the F-Series was a logical evolution from the previous in looks but also used galvanized sheet metal and zinc coated steel to inhibit corrosion. In 1975 Ford introduced the Club Cab that featured either a pair of center-facing jump seats or a small foldable bench seat. 1975 also saw the appearance of the F-150 that would go on to outsell the F-100 model until it was retired in 1983. It was also the start of the F-Series becoming the best selling truck in America.

For the seventh generation, Ford focused on aerodynamics and sought to keep their place as America's premier consumer truck maker by making the cab an even nicer place to be. When the F-100 ended its run, the F-150 became the F-Series base model.

Ford kept things going with the eighth generation, offering a mild refresh and introducing power brakes, power steering, and rear anti-lock brakes as standard. Ford did drop the Ranger trim level, but only to use the name when they created the Ranger as an all-new compact truck.

Breaking New Records (1986-2004)

The ninth generation F-Series got a softer and more aerodynamic look and it soon overtook the Volkswagen Beetle as the world's best-selling vehicle. It was also during the ninth generation that Ford started unleashing its performance trucks on the world with the 1993 F-150 SVT Lightning using a pumped-up version of Ford's 5.8-liter V8.

It was the tenth generation that got the big redesign in 1996 though and signified that Ford intended to aim the F-150 at more family and recreational owners while the F-250 and F-350 Super Duty models were aimed squarely at commercial use. As well as getting lighter, this was also the generation where the F-150 switched from the twin I-Beam front suspension setup to torsion-bar suspension.

The tenth generation hit the roads in 1997 and saw a new rounded front-end along with the return of the SVT Lightning edition, but this time with real power. With 380 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque, the SVT Lightning became the most powerful production pickup truck on the market at that time. The tenth generation also saw the introduction of the Harley-Davidson and King Ranch editions as well as the SuperCrew cab with its four full-sized doors.

Changing The Game Again (2004-2019)

The 2004 model year F-Series was introduced as the eleventh-generation utilizing a new platform and taking comfort and everyday usability up another notch with a larger cab. Along with the Essex and Triton V8 engines, a flex-fuel version of the 3-valve 5.4 L Triton V8 was added to the lineup later in 2005. There was also the option for 20-inch wheels on the FX4, Lariat, and King Ranch additions and then an all-new Harley Davidson trim was made available. The result was a record 939,511 units sold in 2004 and then another 901,463 in 2005.

When 2009 came around, the twelfth generation got an aggressive makeover with Super Duty looks to go with its new fully boxed frame and upgraded engines. Ford also introduced the turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 in 2011 and brought more appeal to luxury truck buyers with the Platinum trim level. In 2010, Ford also introduced the F-150 SVT Raptor and showed everyone a factory truck didn't just have to be practical and go anywhere, it could also go anywhere really, really, fast.

As Things Stand

The thirteenth generation cranked everything up a notch in 2015 and introduced the F-150 as the first truck to be built using aluminum body construction, something Chevy tried to put down in adverts but something other truck makers are now starting to follow. The Ford Super Duty truck line also got a complete redesign and Ford took the opportunity to make sure all F-Series trucks now have a common cab design. The mad scientists at SVT took the Raptor to a whole new level with its 510-horsepower Ecoboost twin-turbo engine and next-level FOX shock absorbers as the icing on that particular cake.

Ford still dominates the truck market and the US vehicle sales charts. A lot of people questioned Ford's announcement in 2018 that it plans to stop selling all but a few cars and concentrate on building trucks and SUVs, but people do seem to forget just how many trucks Ford sells. It makes sense for the company to concentrate on what the market wants. Clearly, the vehicle market in the US has lost interest in cars for crossovers and SUVs for now, but the F-150 has outsold every vehicle in America for the past 40 years from station wagons in the 1980s to minivans in the 1990s, and crossovers in the new millennium.