Automotive

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


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.

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Humble Beginnings: Model TT Pickup

The Model TT truck launches in July 1917, nine years after the Model T puts America on wheels. It combines the T’s cab and engine with a sturdier frame. It has a one-ton payload and accommodates numerous third-party pickup-bed configurations. Ford sells 2019 units in the model’s first year, charging customers $600 apiece. A version of the Model T with a pickup body joins 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 follow continue on a similar path of success.

1935 Ford Model 50 Pickup (1935—1941)

Ford’s Model 50 pickup shares many of the styling updates of the brand’s 1935 passenger-car lineup. Ford’s legendary flathead V-8 exclusively powers the Model 50. Production of the successful model comes to a halt in 1941, when Ford shifts its considerable production might to benefit the war effort. By this time, Ford has produced more than four million trucks.

First-Generation F-series (1948—1952)

With the aftermath of World War II winding down, Ford begins working on its next generation of consumer trucks. (These will 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 marks the beginning of Ford’s comprehensive truck-lineup strategy.

Second Generation (1953—1956)

The second generation of the F-series marks the arrival of the now classic vintage F-series visage. The previous F-1 becomes the F-100, while Ford folds the F-2 and F-3 trucks into the F-250 line. Finally, the F-4 becomes the F-350. Heavier-duty models are 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 begin to sprout, and an OHV V-8 replaces the storied flathead V-8 in 1954.

Third Generation (1957—1960)

The 1957 redesign brings major changes to the F-series’ exterior. The new truck adopts the first hints of the wider, squared-off styling cues that will define it in the decades to come.

Third Generation (1957—1960)

Four-wheel drive becomes a factory option in 1959.

Fourth Generation (1961—1966)

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

Fifth Generation (1967—1972)

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

Sixth Generation (1973—1979)

Although it looks nearly identical to the previous-generation F-series, the sixth-gen truck wears a redesigned grille, features parking lamps situated above the headlamps, and sports a concave body-length groove that houses the side-marker lamps. The Club Cab arrives in 1974, offering either a pair of center-facing jump seats or a small bench seat with a foldable bottom cushion. The F-150 appears for the first time in 1975. Even though it soon surpasses the F-100 in popularity, the F-100 remains on the order books until 1983. Rectangular headlights are offered on upper trim levels in 1978 and become standard in 1979.

Seventh Generation (1980—1986)

Ford bills its seventh-generar F-series as “the first new truck of the 1980s,” and designs it with a focus on aerodynamics and plush interior trappings. While Ford sells 173,050 F-150s in 1980, the base F-100 still manages to find 133,590 buyers. Of those, 73 percent stick with Ford’s trusted 300-cubic-inch inline-six engine with a one-barrel carburetor, which makes 117 horsepower and 223 pound-feet of torque. The F-150 supersedes the F-100 as the base F-series at the end of the 1983 model year.

Eighth Generation (1987—1991)

Marking the 50th anniversary of the F-150, the 1987 model sports a mild refresh that incorporates a new flat grille, flush headlamps, and rounded wheel arches. Power steering, power brakes, and rear anti-lock braking are now standard equipment. The base 300-cubic-inch six-cylinder receives fuel injection, raising its output to 145 horsepower and a hearty 265 pound-feet of torque, just 5 pound-feet shy of the 5.0-liter V-8.

Eighth Generation (1987—1991)

Ford looks to add a little zip to the F-series lineup and releases the Nite Edition for the 1991 model year. Available strictly with regular cab, all 1991 F-150 Nite Editions start life as four-wheel drive XLT Lariats but wear black paint and blacked-out trim. The 5.0-liter V-8 is standard, while Ford’s 351 Windsor is optionally available.

Ninth Generation (1992—1996)

A softer, more aerodynamic-appearing fascia and hood highlight the F-series’ 1992 redesign. The Nite Edition returns for one more year, and in 1995 the F-series surpasses the Volkswagen Beetle as the world’s best-selling vehicle, although the Beetle retains the title for passenger cars.

Ninth Generation (1992—1996)

Ford swings for the fences with the 1993 F-150 SVT Lightning. The sport truck is available only in a single-cab short-box configuration in either black or red. It relies 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.

Tenth Generation (1997—2003)

The 10th-generation F-150 represents the breed’s most dramatic redesign in over a decade. It also stands as a totem to the moment Ford decides 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 utilizes a new, lighter chassis that ditches Ford’s vaunted twin-I-beam front suspension in favor of a torsion-bar setup.

Tenth Generation (1997—2003)

Although the SVT Lightning returns for the 1999 model year, it really makes its bones in 2001. Offering 380 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of twist, it is the most powerful production passenger vehicle sold in the United States (at the time). C/D testing reveals the Lightning can reach 60 mph in 5.2 seconds on its way to a 142-mph top speed, making it one of the quickest trucks we’ve ever tested. The truck starts at $32,460.

Eleventh Generation (2004—2008)

Larger than the previous version, the 11th-generation Ford F-Series that arrives for 2004 features a redesign that focuses even more on comfort and user-friendliness. Featuring larger regular and extended cab options with more storage and passenger space, the new truck reflects the growing number of buyers who use pickups as a primary vehicle. Consumers respond 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)

For the 2009 F-150, Ford cribs liberally from its Super Duty brethren. The Super Duty, new the year before, proves popular, so Ford gives the F-150 a little familial resemblance to improve its showroom appeal. With a more prominent grille, aggressive headlamps, and squared-off styling, the 12th-generation F-150 moves further afield from its rounded, aerodynamically styled predecessors. The truck also gets the benefit of a new, fully boxed frame for improved torsional rigidity. Engines are updated across the board. In 2011, Ford debuts a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 for the truck. The Platinum trim level also makes 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)

The 2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor puts 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 boasts 11.2 inches of travel in front and 12.1 in the rear—stock, right off the showroom floor. Early versions ship with a 320-hp version of Ford’s SOHC 5.4-liter V-8. A much more appropriate 411-hp 6.2-liter V-8 powers later Raptors.

Twelfth Generation (2009—2014)

Marking the end of the line for special-edition F-150s before the arrival of a new, aluminum-bodied 2015 model, the 2014 Tremor relies on Ford’s 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 for motivation (and appeal) rather than a traditional V-8. The truck is essentially a regular-cab F-150 with a graphics package and a 4.10:1 electronically locking rear differential, and it bears a hazily nostalgic connection to sport trucks gone by. Buyers can choose rear- or four-wheel-drive, but either way, they 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 trot to 60 mph time merely fell in line with the rest of the twin-turbo V-6 F-150 lineup.

Thirteenth Generation (2015—2020)

The 2015 Ford F-150 wears a mostly aluminum body atop a traditional steel frame. The new body is lighter and more rust-resistant than before. The 11th-generation F-150 is 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—2020)

The original F-150 Raptor proves a tough act to follow, but Ford deftly navigates the pressure and crushes it with the Raptor 2.0. Powered by a 510-hp twin-turbo V-6, the new off-road-oriented F-150 leaps 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 proves 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—2020)

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

Fourteenth Generation (2021—)

The best-selling vehicle in the U.S. is familiar in style but wears a fresh face. The most notable changes to the 2021 Ford F-150 are inside. The new F-150 joins the Ram 1500 in the 12.0-inch touchscreen club, but it also adds features such as a stowable gear selector to turn the center console into a computer desk. Five engine options carry over from the 2020 model, including a 5.0-liter V-8 and four V-6s: two twin-turbo engines displacing 2.7 and 3.5 liters, a 3.0-liter turbo-diesel, and a naturally aspirated 3.3-liter.

A hybrid powertrain with an electric motor sandwiched between a V-6 and a 10-speed auto joins the F-150 lineup. Hybrid models use the twin-turbo 3.5-liter V-6 and come standard with rear-wheel drive but are also available with four-wheel-drive.

The F-150 goes electric! Ford puts its most advanced technology into its first all-electric pickup—one that, on the outside, looks mostly like the current fourteenth-generation F-150. The Lightning is sold as an all-wheel drive crew-cab model only, and due to its lower center of gravity and heavy curb weight, drives like no other F-150 before it.

The Raptor returns! Once again, the model relies on a 450-hp twin-turbo V-6 for motivation; however, this changes for 2023 with the addition of the Ford F-150 Raptor R, which packs a burly 700-hp 5.2-liter supercharged V-8 under its hood and subsequently puts the 702-hp Ram 1500 TRX on notice.

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