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The History of Ford's F-series Pickup Truck, from the Model TT to Today

A generational breakdown of America's best-selling vehicle, the Ford F-series.

© Car and Driver

By Andrew Wendler, Car and Driver

The popularity of the Ford F-series pickup is no fluke. Born more than a century ago, it earned its place in the American landscape by delivering rugged value and consistent innovation. Early on, it was its available flathead V-8; next was the twin-I-beam front suspension, and more recently the truck has adopted industry-first aluminum bodywork and embraced smaller, turbocharged engines. From the first Model TT chassis cab, which debuted in 1917, to today's leather-lined four-door luxury haulers, this is a brief history of the long-lived Ford F-series.


Humble Beginnings: Model TT Pickup

© Car and Driver

The Model TT truck launched in July 1917, nine years after the Model T put America on wheels. It combined the T's cab and engine with a sturdier frame. It had a one-ton payload and accommodated numerous third-party pickup-bed configurations. Ford sold 2019 units that first year, charging customers $600 apiece. A version of the Model T with a pickup body joined the TT in 1925, marking the dawn of the factory-assembled Ford pickup truck. In 1928, little more than a decade after the truck's debut, Ford put 1.3 million customers into Model TT trucks. The Model AA and BB trucks that followed continued on a similar path of success.


1935 Ford Model 50 Pickup (1935–1941)

© Car and Driver

Introduced in 1935, Ford's Model 50 pickup shared many of the styling updates that applied to the brand's passenger-car lineup for the same model year. It was powered exclusively by the legendary Ford flathead V-8. Production of the successful model came to a halt in 1941, when Ford shifted its considerable production might to benefit the war effort. By that time Ford had produced more than four million trucks.


First-Generation F-series (1948–1952)

© Ford - Car and Driver

With the aftermath of World War II winding down in the late 1940s, Ford began working on its next generation of consumer trucks, which would come to be known as the F-Series Bonus Built trucks. Ranging in size and capability from the half-ton F-1 pickup to the cab-over F-8, the lineup marked the beginning of Ford's comprehensive truck-lineup strategy.


Second Generation (1953–1956)

© Car and Driver

The second generation of the F-series marked the arrival of the now classic vintage F-series visage as well as the naming system that remains in place today. The F-1 became the F-100, the F-2 and F-3 trucks were folded into F-250, and the F-4 became the F-350. Heavier-duty models were spun off into Ford's newly created commercial-truck division. Creature comforts such as armrests, sun visors, a dome light, and an optional automatic transmission began to sprout up, and the storied flathead V-8 was replaced by an overhead-valve eight in 1954.


Third Generation (1957–1960)

© Car and Driver

The 1957 redesign brought major changes to the F-series' exterior, and the new truck adopted the first hints of the wider, squared-off styling cues that were to define it in the decades to come.


Third Generation (1957–1960)

© Barret-Jackson - Car and Driver

Four-wheel drive became a factory option in 1959.


Fourth Generation (1961–1966)

© Car and Driver

Although the fourth-generation truck made its debut in 1961 with a traditional solid-axle suspension, it received Ford's vaunted twin-I-beam setup in 1965. Available on two-wheel-drive models, the novel suspension design was hyped directly at noncommercial truck users with the slogan "Drives like a car, works like a truck." Although the twin-I-beam suspension was effective and kept in use for decades to come, some owners complained about increased tire wear due to camber variations inherent to the design. The first factory-built four-door crew cab appeared in 1965 in F-250 trim and was sold as a special order. The top-level Ranger appeared in 1966, offering carpeting, power brakes, power steering, and air conditioning.


Fifth Generation (1967–1972)

© Car and Driver

Showing the first inklings of the design cues that would remain with the F-series for the next decade or two, the fifth-generation F-150 featured FORD spelled out in block letters on the hood, a grille sporting integrated headlamps, and an improved cab with nearly four more inches of shoulder room.


Sixth Generation (1973–1979)

© Car and Driver

Although it looked nearly identical to the previous F-series, the sixth-gen version had a redesigned grille, parking lamps situated above the headlamps, and a concave body-length groove housing the side-marker lamps. The Club Cab arrived in 1974, offering either a pair of center-facing jump seats or a small bench seat with a foldable bottom cushion. The F-150 appeared for the first time in 1975; even though it would soon surpass the F-100 in popularity, the F-100 remained on the order books until 1983. Rectangular headlights were offered on upper trim levels in 1978; they became standard in 1979.


Seventh Generation (1980–1986)

© Car and Driver

Billed by Ford as "the first new truck of the 1980s," the seventh generation was designed with a focus on improved aerodynamics and plusher interior trappings. While 173,050 F-150s were sold in 1980, the base F-100 still managed to find 133,590 buyers. Of those, 73 percent stuck with Ford's trusted 300-cubic-inch inline-six engine with a one-barrel carburetor, which made 117 horsepower and 223 lb-ft of torque. The F-150 superseded the F-100 as the base F-series at the end of the 1983 model year.


Eighth Generation (1987–1991)

© Car and Driver

Marking the 50th anniversary of the F-150, the 1987 model was mildly refreshed with a new flat grille and flush headlamps, rounded wheel arches, and power steering, power brakes, and rear anti-lock braking as standard equipment. The base 300-cubic-inch six-cylinder received fuel injection, raising its output to 145 horsepower and a hearty 265 lb⋅ft of torque, just 5 lb-ft shy of the 5.0-liter V-8's 270 lb-ft.


Eighth Generation (1987–1991)

© Car and Driver

Looking to add a little zip to the lineup, Ford released the Nite Edition for the 1991 model year. Available in regular-cab configuration only, all 1991 F-150 Nite editions were four-wheel drive XLT Lariats available exclusively in black with blacked-out trim. The 5.0-liter V-8 was standard, while the 351 Windsor was available as an option.


Ninth Generation (1992–1996)

© Car and Driver

A softer, more aerodynamic-appearing fascia and hood highlighted the F-series' 1992 redesign. The Nite Edition returned for one more year, and in 1995 the F-series surpassed the Volkswagen Beetle as the world's biggest-selling vehicle, although the Beetle retained the title for passenger cars.


Ninth Generation (1992–1996)

© Car and Driver

Possibly inspired by the success of the Nite trim package, Ford swung for the fences with the 1993 F-150 SVT Lightning. The sport truck was available only in single-cab, short-box configuration in either black or red. It relied on a beefed-up version of the corporate 5.8-liter (351 cubic inch) V-8 engine producing 240 horsepower and 340 lb-ft of torque and hitched to a four-speed automatic transmission.


Tenth Generation (1997–2003)

© Ford Motor Company - Car and Driver

Introduced at the 1996 Detroit auto show, the 10th-generation F-150 represented the breed's most dramatic redesign in over a decade. It also stood as a totem to the moment Ford decided to actively market the F-150 to more casual users, leaving the F-250 and F-350 Super Duty models for commercial users and heavy haulers. Sleeker and more aerodynamic, the new F-150 utilized a new, lighter chassis that ditched Ford's vaunted twin-I-beam front suspension in favor of a torsion-bar setup.


Tenth Generation (1997–2003)

© David Dewhurst - Car and Driver

Although the SVT Lightning returned for the 1999 model year, it really made its bones in 2001. Offering 380 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of twist, it was the most powerful production passenger vehicle sold in the U.S. at the time. C/D testing revealed the Lightning could reach 60 mph in 5.2 seconds on its way to a 142-mph top speed. The truck started at $32,460.


Eleventh Generation (2004–2008)

© Car and Driver

Larger than the previous version, the 11th-generation Ford F-Series that arrived for 2004 was redesigned for even more comfort and user-friendliness. Featuring larger regular and SuperCab (extended cab) variations with more storage and passenger space, the new truck reflected the growing number of buyers who use pickups as a primary vehicle. Consumers responded in kind, driving annual F-series pickup sales, including Super Duty versions, to an all-time high of 939,511 units.


Twelfth Generation (2009–2014)

© Car and Driver

For the 2009 F-150, Ford cribbed liberally from its Super Duty brethren. The Super Duty, new the year before, proved popular, so Ford gave the 150 a little familial resemblance for extra showroom appeal. Marked by a more prominent grille, aggressive headlamps, and squared-off styling, the 12th-generation F-150 moved further afield of its rounded, aerodynamically styled predecessors. The truck also got the benefit of a new, fully boxed frame for improved torsional rigidity. Engines were updated across the board, and in 2011 Ford debuted the twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6. The Platinum trim level also made its entrance, reaching for luxury truck customers with an exclusive grille, 20-inch chrome wheels, premium leather upholstery, and heated and ventilated seats.


Twelfth Generation (2009–2014)

© Ford Motor Company,FotoWare FotoStation,Ford - Car and Driver

While we appreciate the Ford's 2009 redesign, it is the introduction of the 2010 F-150 SVT Raptor that put the entire truck world on notice. Unlike previous SVT projects, the Raptor's primary magic lies not under the hood but in its rugged, off-road-ready long-travel suspension. Consisting of beefy cast-aluminum lower control arms up front and Fox Shox Racing dampers at all four corners, the suspension boasted 11.2 inches of travel in front and 12.1 in the rear—stock, right off the showroom floor. Early versions shipped with a 320-hp, 390-lb-ft version of Ford's SOHC 5.4-liter V-8. The much more appropriate 411-hp, 434-lb-ft 6.2-liter V-8 came later.


Twelfth Generation (2009–2014)

© Car and Driver

Marking the end of the line for special-edition F-150s before the arrival of the new, aluminum-bodied 2015 model, the 2014 Tremor relied on Ford's 3.5-liter twin-turbo EcoBoost V-6 for motivation (and appeal) rather than a traditional V-8. The truck essentially was a regular-cab F-150 with a graphics package and a 4.10:1 electronically locking rear differential, and it bore hazily nostalgic connections to sport trucks gone by. Buyers could choose rear- or four-wheel-drive, but either way they'd get a set of 20-inch wheels with 275/55 Pirelli Scorpion all-season tires. In our testing, the Tremor pulled a respectable 0.75 g of lateral grip on the skidpad, but its 6.0-second zero-to-60-mph time merely fell in line with the rest of the EcoBoost V-6–equipped F-150 lineup.


Thirteenth Generation (2015–Present)

© Steve Petrovich - Car and Driver

A perennial best seller, the F-150 didn't need to break much new ground, nor did it when it is redesigned for 2015. Just kidding. Even though Ford could easily have made incremental changes to the existing vehicle and slapped a "new" badge on it and customers would have kept on buying the things, it went slightly radical: The 2015 F-150 wore a mostly aluminum body atop a traditional steel frame. Not only was the new body lighter and more rust resistant than the previous version, it also was the first pickup to earn a five-star NHTSA safety rating. And, yes, the F-series—including the Super Duty—remains the top-selling vehicle in the U.S., beer-can-body jokes aside.


Thirteenth Generation (2015–Present)

© Michael Simari - Car and Driver

The original F-150 Raptor proved a tough act to follow, but Ford deftly navigated the pressure and crushed it with the Raptor 2.0. Powered by a 510-hp twin-turbo EcoBoost V-6, it leaped from the assembly line right into our hearts—or off the nearest dune (as you see here). More than just an off-road animal, it proved to be a fully functioning daily driver and superbly reliable during its 40,000 miles as a C/D long-term tester.


Thirteenth Generation (2015–Present)

© Car and Driver

Ford rolled out a few cosmetic tweaks for the 2018 F-150 along with some new wheel designs, but the real news was hiding under the hood: a new direct-injected 3.3-liter V-6, replacing the aging 3.5-liter V-6 as the truck's base engine. Plus, after years of rumor and speculation, the F-150 received its first half-ton diesel option. Based on the Lion turbo-diesel 3.0-liter V-6, the diesel features a host of upgrades designed to optimize it for domestic truck duty.

See more at: Car and Driver

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Autos Magazine: The History of Ford's F-series Pickup Truck, from the Model TT to Today
The History of Ford's F-series Pickup Truck, from the Model TT to Today
A generational breakdown of America's best-selling vehicle, the Ford F-series.
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