Not soon after the inception of Ford F-Series pickup trucks in 1948, the trucks became a centerpiece in the stable of vehicles offered by the Ford Motor Company. Ultimately, the Ford F-150 became the best-selling pickup truck in the United States and it doesn’t look to be losing its crown anytime soon.
The importance of the vehicle to the company is obvious, and as such Ford has strived to keep the truck as relevant as possible to the consumer in terms of value and utility as the market has changed from generation to generation.
When one compares the costs of the earliest vehicles that had an MSRP of under $1,300 to the current base model F-150 that has an MSRP of $28,495 at first it seems that the price of driving a Ford has increased steeply. However, figures are more effectively compared when adjusted for inflation. The cost of that first truck would have been almost $13,000 in today’s money.
Still, even taking into account inflation, there has been a significant creep in price. Has it been warranted? As we shall see, there is more to the story than just dollars and cents – one must look at the improvements and advances we’ve seen in the F-Series through the decades.
Earliest Models Sizes and Features
The first incarnations of the Ford pickup truck were introduced for sale in early 1948. These earliest models were known as the Ford Bonus Build line of pickups. The half-ton model had a gross vehicle weight of 4,700 pounds.
The truck had a 226 CID six-cylinder engine that generated 95 horsepower (a paltry amount by today’s standards) and was equipped with a manual three-speed transmission.
The design had a one-piece flat windshield and the vehicle featured integrated headlamps. The standard model was designed with a 6.5-foot bed.
Options were sparse but included a foot plunger operated windshield washer, passenger-side windshield wiper, passenger side sun visor, and a passenger-side taillight.
Changes in the Mid-1950s
The 1950s were marked by design improvements in both the appearance and powertrain of F-Series pickups. The half-ton model was christened the F-100, the first time that Ford used three numbers to denote models.
These trucks were equipped with a 215 CID six-cylinder engine in 1954, which was increased to a 223 CID six-cylinder engine in 1955 that generated 115 horsepower. A 239 Y Block V8 engine that generated 130 horsepower was available.
Power steering was introduced as an option in 1955. Other options available during this period included a dome light, cigarette lighter, armrests, sun visors, and a radio. The first Ford automatic transmission was also introduced as an option during this period. The wheelbase was increased to 110 inches and the vehicle had an overall length of 189 inches.
The Early 1960s Brought Style
The most significant changes in the sixties were in the body styling. For the first time, the front fenders were integrated into the body and the smooth lines continued through to the truck’s bed. Ford also offered an extensive chrome grille on these redesigned body styles during this period.
Ford became the first of the big automakers to manufacture and equip its vehicle with an available four-wheel-drive package.
In 1961 a completely new design of the vehicle was introduced which was longer and much lower than preceding models. These vehicles offered a wheelbase of 115 inches on models with a 6.5-foot bed and 129 inches on models with an eight-foot bed.
During this period, Ford first introduced the ill-fated unibody design that saw the cab and the vehicle bed comprising one continuous piece. Ford discontinued the unibody design in 1963 due to poor market acceptance.
The Late 1960s and 1970s Brought Power and Strength
In 1964, Ford introduced a newly redesigned frame that would be used on F-Series vehicles through the end of the 1970s. This was also the time when Twin I Beam suspension with coil springs was introduced, replacing the previous straight axle design. In 1967, the cab was widened by three inches.
During the mid-1960s, the engines were changed to 240 CID and 300 CID straight-six designs, with an available 352 CID 5.8L V8 with an output of more than 200 horsepower. In 1969, a newly designed 302 CID Windsor V8 engine was first introduced by Ford as an optional engine choice.
The 1970s added full double-wall construction along with front disc brakes and the use of galvanized steel. The period also saw the use of much larger engines in the 400 CID 6.6L range.
The 1980s Brought Handling and Fuel Economy
There were numerous engine designs offered during the 1980s in an attempt to balance power requirements and fuel economy regulations. During this period, Ford offered diesel engines.
The 1980s saw a major redesign with a new chassis and larger body, which made for improved aerodynamics and fuel economy. In moves also driven by fuel economy, we began to see smaller power plants in the 4.2 L V8 engines with 255 CID.
The F-Series Is Perfected
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Ford softened the body lines of F-Series trucks and introduced larger and more powerful engines that were still in line with fuel economy regulations. Manual four- and five-speed transmissions were available on extended cab sizes, with an automatic transmission available on the regular cab models.
In the mid-1990s, the F-Series started to show the body design that remains to this day. The hood line was lowered and the front fenders were rounded. Power plants continued to be both more refined and more powerful over the years.
The Modern F-Series Is a New Beast
The latest entry-level models are equipped with a 3.3L V6 motor that develops up to 290 horsepower with a six-speed overdrive transmission. The vehicle is about 8,500 pounds GVWR and has an available bed liner.
The latest Ford F-150 comes with so much more than its predecessors did, even at base model prices. Interior standard features include pre-collision assist with emergency braking, automatic high beams, dome light, intermittent windshield wipers, air conditioning, and a 2.3-inch productivity screen. Exterior features include daytime running lamps, independent front suspension, and fully boxed high strength steel.
When we compare the inflation-adjusted difference in cost of about $16,000 between current models and the initial base models and accounts for all of the design, powertrain, safety and comfort features which are standard on the base model vehicles of today, it is easy to assess that all of these are worth at least the cost differential, if not more.
The evolution of the F-Series is fascinating as it shows how consumer interest in power, safety, luxury, versatility, style, vehicle size, economy, handling, and comfort has changed over the decades. The staying power of the F-Series is a tribute to Ford’s ability to adapt and adjust to the market and indeed be a trendsetter in many instances.