Wednesday, January 23, 2013

History of the Ford F-Series. America's most popular vehicle celebrates 65 years

Did you know that the Ford F-Series is celebrating its 65th anniversary in 2013?  That’s a pretty significant milestone for the top-selling vehicle in America.  And the fact that many of these trucks are built right here in the Kansas City Claycomo Assembly Plant should also interest some of the local readers here on HMC. 

But just because they’ve been at it a long time doesn’t mean that Ford is resting on its laurels.  A new F-150 concept vehicle known as the Atlas was unveiled to much fanfare at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this month.  Of course, they need to keep it fresh, because new trucks from General Motors and Ram continue to raise the bar in this extraordinarily competitive segment.

Of course, we like history here, which is why we are taking a look back at the trucks that helped build this Truck Dynasty (only on the History Channel—check local listings).

We all know that Ford has built trucks since the beginning of time, but the F-Series nameplate didn’t start until 1948. Ford was committed to building heavy-duty trucks for everyday people, and that first truck, known as the F-1 in its most common form, was the first in a long line of successful offerings by the Blue Oval. F-2 and F-3 were used to describe the bigger versions of these trucks.

The first F-Series trucks were pretty spartan. Box, cab, seat, engine, and wheels—what else did you need? They even had only one taillight. But as the 1950s got underway, spartan wasn’t enough. People wanted a little style and luxury in their things—be it toasters, teacups, or trucks. And Ford was willing to oblige with an all-new line for 1953.

This generation of F-Series was much more rounded. Style became an important factor. Interior colors and materials became more integrated. 1953 was also the year that the names changed to something a little closer to what we have today. Trucks with the lightest GVW were now called F-100. Heavier-duty trucks became F-250 and F-350, exactly as we have today.

Another redesign came around in 1957. These trucks looked bigger, tougher, more purposeful. If a ’56 F-100 was a beautiful design, the ’57 may well have been the beast. Of course, to this day, pickup truck manufacturers strive for the most testosterone-infused designs possible, and this push for the toughest looking truck can be traced back to the ’57 Ford. 1957 was also the first year that the F-Series was built in Kansas City.

1961 was a really strange year in the evolution of Ford trucks. They were redesigned on the heels of a 1960 update from rival Chevrolet. But the most notable additions to the Ford lineup were the unibodies with their cab and box integrated as one piece. Clearly, the unibody trucks were designed for ride, comfort, and style over function, and their limitations became obvious when people tried to push them hard.
1965 brought about a suspension change that became a Ford trademark as well as a Ford curse. The Twin-I-Beam front suspension made Ford pickups ride very well, even over the roughest terrain. On the negative side, they were difficult to keep aligned, especially as they got older, and uneven tire wear was not uncommon. Ford stuck with this design for many decades on their two-wheel-drive offerings.

More redesigns came in 1967, 1973, 1980, and 1987. The F-150 moniker that we use today became a heavier-duty option to the F-100 in 1975. The truck was upgraded again in 1992 with composite headlights, and more creature comforts as the ‘90s went along.

Ford often states that they are the number one-selling vehicle, and that happened in 1996, when they were finally able to dethrone GM as the king of trucks. Ford continues to hold that distinction to this day.

Ford’s rounded, aerodynamic trucks debuted in 1996 as '97 models, and are still commonly seen on the road today. These were very popular trucks, although they were plagued with recalls, poor crash test ratings, and other maladies throughout their run. But when things were working right, they were as good as any in the business, and business was good.

Ford continued to sell the last style of trucks in 2004 as “Heritage Editions,” even while bringing out a completely new truck that year. The new trucks were blockier, stronger, and better. They could tow and haul more than any light trucks in Ford’s history, and they did it with nicer interiors, more luxury features, and better fuel mileage.

The current-style F-Series went into production in 2009. Styling is different than it was in 2008, although it is a subtle enough change that you’d probably need to know what to look for. Ford spent much of their effort on things that you can’t see—increasing payload and GVW ratings, integrating technology like navigation and Sync, and improving quality throughout the lineup.  The latest versions of these trucks emphasize gas mileage and performance, as Ford sells nearly as many Ecoboost V6s as they do V8s.  Sales of this truck topped 654,000 units just last year.

The Atlas concept that I mentioned earlier in this article will give you an indication of the direction of the next-generation F-150.  Again, Ford touts Ecoboost power plants and increased fuel mileage.  It looks chunkier and more masculine, but things like active grille shutters and other styling tweaks promise to make it more aerodynamic than the current F-150.

The slideshow below contains lots of Ford F-Series trucks from throughout the history of the nameplate, all taken at various car shows and whatnot by your author.  Or, click this link for a better version of the slideshow.


  1. Nice article..I have a 1953 that I have been working on for 5 years..Almost done!!

  2. Doggonit... just about had my 53-56 F100 lust in remission. Til now...

  3. Craig:
    Always did have a thing for those 1950s era Ford stepside the diecasts to prove

    Just seemed right for the nonsense.
    And they were nice looking.
    Had it way over the same era Chevys (and almost any other, save for the old International harvesters)

    Good call here.

    Happy Motoring.

  4. The history of ford f series is Americas is described in the article here. The information is very useful