The F-Series has become America’s Favorite Pickup, with nearly a million sold per year. From 1948 till 1983, the last year the F-100 was produced, it served as the pickup for people who wanted a true workhorse. These classic trucks lasted for seven generations and saw substantial changes. Though they’re no longer produced, Ford’s smallest F-Series is now sought by collectors and people who appreciate the spartan builds of older pickup styles. Use this guide for a full overview of this classic truck's history and lineage.
First Generation: 1948-1952
The F-Series was first known as “Ford Bonus Built” and was the first post-World War II pickup available from Ford. Originally, the F-Series ½ ton pickup was known simply as the “F-1.”
In 1953, to commemorate Ford’s 50th anniversary, the name of the ½ ton F-Series pickup changed from "F1" to "F100" (so you can stop looking for those missing 99 pickups).
Though nowhere near their one million pickups per year range of today, the F-1 pickups sold well. In just their first year, 108,000 F-1s were sold. It was the best sales year Ford had for pickups since 1929. In 1950, those sales tripled with consumers fearing that the Korean war would lead to similar restrictions as World War II had. These fears were justified. In ‘52, quotas restricted Fords production numbers significantly.
Second Generation F-100: 1953-1956
A stunning F-100 owned by Eric T.
These F-100s are prized collectors’ items if you can find one in good shape. F-100s aren’t sports cars, so no one bought an F-100 just to keep it locked away in a barn. Consequently, even though these vehicles sold spectacularly well, finding one in good shape might be as challenging as finding a first-generation Shelby. Each of the three years saw more than 100,000 F-100s roll out the door.
With their rounded hoods and big friendly headlights, the early generation of F-100s are sometimes affectionately referred to as Effies by Ford enthusiasts who wanted a friendlier name for such a beloved truck.
Even these early years saw substantial changes. The first year of the F-100 was also the last year that trucks in the United States had a flathead engine, with the next two years of F-series pickups upgraded to an overhead valve nicknamed the Power King…capable of reaching 130 hp, which was impressive for the time.
Perhaps the easiest of the early F-100s to identify at a glance is the 1956 F-100 which was a one-year-only body style change. For this year, Ford added vertical windshield pillars, making it the easiest year to identify out of the first generation of F-100 pickups.
Third Generation F-100: 1957-1960
Ford continued to market its pickups on a platform of economy. For 1954, Ford promised “Triple Economy” benefits from their F-100. Guaranteed to save gas, save drivers from discomfort, and offer additional work capacities to save money. Some of its major selling points included the low floor to ground height and wood floorboards.
Another practical addition was that of a more spacious cargo bed. The Styleside body style smoothed out the transition between the cab and the bed of the pickup truck. Though other manufacturers were doing similar things, those designs were purely aesthetic. Ford took their design to the next level by making the cargo bed wider instead of just making it look wider. The result added 8% to cargo space compared to a more traditional Flareside pickup but beat out other small wheelbase pickup trucks by considerably more. Some estimates have it beating out Chevy’s equivalent truck by 24%.
Ford didn’t limit new features to practical ones though, there were some stylish additions to the F-Series as well. Ford offered two-tone paint as an upgrade; also available was the “Custom Cab” upgrade which added color-keyed upholstery, sun visors, an illuminated cigarette lighter, a bright-metal grille and of course some script on the doors so that everyone knew you had a “Custom Cab.”
1959 marked an important year for most automakers though, as it was the first year that Ford offered a factory-built four-wheel drive vehicle. Prior to this period, trucks had to be converted in order to run four-wheel drive, but in the late ‘50s car manufacturers started to explore methods for doing this work themselves so that they didn’t need to outsource this important part of the process.
Fourth Generation F-100: 1961-1966
Every innovation that Ford made to the F-100 up until 1961 was well-received. It was hard to believe that Ford could make a misstep, but they did.
The Styleside pickup style that they’d introduced in the second generation was rapidly becoming the most popular pickup on the market, and Ford wanted to try to introduce it to a new customer base by making it even more appealing than before.
Ford introduced unibody pickup trucks that appeared more stylish while also saving cost on their manufacture. With no gap in between the bed and the cab, not only did the car have a sleek look, but also they gained storage space. It seemed like a win-win. Until people actually started trying to haul things.
Pickup trucks depend on a little bit of flex; without it, there’s just too much weight in the back and there start to be some issues with twisting. Which is exactly what happened, with interesting results. Doors would open seemingly on their own and refuse to close. This was actually preferable to the other result though, where doors stuck closed and refused to open at all. Rocker panels became more rusted than they tended to get already due to improper sealing around the door. In short, it was a flop.
Thankfully, Ford ditched the unibody in short order and came up with a couple of new innovations. The Twin-I-beam suspension was unveiled in 1965, and in 1966 Ford started offered a four-door crew-cab model, for all the pickup truck owners out there who had friends they wanted to transport in addition to cargo. Both were successful. In 1965, the Ranger name appeared - but only as a package for the F-series trucks.
Fifth Generation F-100: 1967-1972
The rounded hood had decreased in curvature through the previous three generations, and by the late sixties, it was gone entirely. Instead, the front of the F100 had become squared off.
During this period, Ford began to focus more on making their F-series the pickup for everyone, and added more engine choices and trim levels than had really been considered previously. Though now purchasing an F-150 is a smorgasbord of options, previously trucks had been much more standard.
Some of the package names indicated exactly who Ford thought was the ideal customer. The Contractor Special, The Farm and Ranch Special, and The Camper Special are all fairly direct names with easily intuited features.
Sixth Generation F-100: 1973-1979
Continuing with the previous generations trend of squaring off the rounded edges of the F-100, this generation even changed to squared headlights from the truck’s previous round ones. More comfort features were added, including improved heating and air-conditioning and the super-cab option.
In 1975, Ford introduced the F-150. No one thought much of its release at the time. It made sense to have a pickup in between the F100 and its beefier sibling the F-250, but the real reason for the release was to get around emissions standards at the time.
In 1977, the F-Series finally crossed the hurdle to become “America’s Favorite Pickup” a title that it has held ever since.
Final Generation F-100: 1980-1983
With the F-150’s release, the F-100 dropped steadily in popularity until 1983, when Ford quietly discontinued its smallest pickup. The F-150 took over its market share, as the lightest of Ford’s medium-duty pickups, and rose to its current position of “America’s Favorite Pickup.”
Though there are no plans currently being discussed to bring back the F-100, it’s hard not to want to see the return of the smaller, lighter pickup that existed to do work and be functional and practical. The used F-100 market is incredibly competitive, with nowhere near enough of these pickups currently existing to satisfy the number of people who want the performance of an F-150 with a bed they can easily lift heavy objects into.
Sources: Blue Oval Trucks | How Stuff Works | Image Credit: Hemmings | Ford