100 years ago, Ford rolled out its first work truck

The Ford F-100, like this 1953 model, was a staple of American farm life | Ford photos
The Ford F-100, like this 1954 model, was a staple of American farm life | Ford photos

Another automotive centennial is upon us, and this is a significant one: the 100th anniversary of Ford trucks. One-hundred years ago, Ford produced the first Ford TT, a vehicle designed specifically as a work truck, with a short open cab and heavy-duty frame that allowed it to carry a one-ton payload.

This was during the reign of the ubiquitous Ford Model T passenger cars, which were sometimes privately converted into purposeful trucks, among myriad other modifications. It wasn’t until 1925 that Ford produced a factory pickup version of the Model T, though it was still a lightweight car under its utility body.

The Ford Model TT with a stake body and storm gear
The Ford Model TT with a stake body and storm gear

But the Model TT was somewhat revolutionary, bringing to the working man a vehicle that could haul relatively heavy loads. But slowly; the TT was still powered by the Model T’s four-cylinder engine. The factory price was $600, and 209 of them were sold that year, with any sort of utility body added on by the owner.

Thus began Ford’s successful history with light trucks. Its current version, the F-Series, has been the best-selling truck in the U.S. for the past 40 years, and the best-selling vehicle of any kind for 35 years and counting. Not a bad record, and it started with the funky Model TT.

By 1928, Ford had sold 1.3 million Model TTs, then replaced it with the more-capable Model AA with a 1.5-ton chassis. While Henry Ford marketed trucks mainly in rural area, the Model AA was attractive enough to use as an everyday vehicle.

“Model AA trucks in particular had a certain class to them,” Bob Kreipke, Ford historian, said in a news release. “Customers could use them on the farm, yet still take them to church on Sunday.”

A 1935 Model 50 with Greyhound Express markings
A 1935 Model 50 with Greyhound Express markings

Ford replaced the Model AA with the Model BB in 1933, with many of them outfitted as mail and freight vehicles, ambulances and stake trucks. Two years later, Ford introduced the Model 50 pickup, powered exclusively by the groundbreaking Ford flathead V8 engine.

Ford had sold more than 4 million trucks by 1941, before switching over to war production. Among the trucks produced by Ford during WWII were heavy-duty military truck chassis and four-wheel-drive personnel carriers.

Peacetime production ramped up in 1947, now with an emphasis on a changing marketplace.

“After the war, a lot of rural Americans moved to urban and suburban centers looking for work, and many took their Ford pickups with them,” Kreipke said. “Ford saw this as an opportunity and began work on the next generation of trucks for 1948, what came to be known as F-Series Bonus Built trucks.”

The 1948 F-1
The 1948 F-1

This first-generation F-Series ranged through seven classes of trucks, from the half-ton F-1 to the much-larger F-8 cab-over. With the second-generation F-Series for 1953, Ford increased engine power and capacity, and rebranded the series: the F-1 became the F-100, while F-2 and F-3 trucks were integrated into the new F-250 line. F-4 became F-350. Class 8 trucks were spun off into a new C-Series commercial truck unit.

As Ford was developing truck capability, it was also answering consumer’s calls for vehicles that were stylish and comfortable, which brought such developments as two-tone paint, automatic transmissions, and improved heaters and radios. The 1953 F-100 featured armrests, dome lights and sun visors, with a lowered stance and a wider cab, and a more aerodynamic design with integrated front fenders.

A completely new development took place in 1957 when Ford introduced the car-based Ranchero, with the tagline, “More Than a Car! More Than a Truck!”

Ford's 1965 ad touting the new Twin I-beam front suspension
Ford’s 1965 ad touting the new Twin I-beam front suspension

Ford introduced the fourth-generation F-Series in 1961, with a lower and sleeker design and improved drivability with the revolutionary twin I-beam front suspension. An upscale Ranger package appeared in 1967.

Ford trucks now offered power steering and brakes, and a larger SuperCab option was introduced in 1974 to accommodate family buyers. Ford dropped the F-100 brand in favor of the F-150 for the sixth-generation F-Series in 1975, which offered higher capacity to compete with Chevy’s popular C/K series.

Ford took the lead in the sales race in 1977 and, 26 million trucks later, holds that position. Also in 1977, a writer for a Ford truck magazine coined the three-word slogan that would come to define the brand: Built Ford Tough.

As trucks became everyday vehicles for drivers and families, Ford adapted their functionality and introduced premium models loaded with features and upgraded trim. In 1978, the Lariat packaged was introduced, which included such amenities as air conditioning, power windows and leather trim.

A compact version of the Ford pickup came out in 1982, reassigning the Ranger name to a truck for drivers who wanted a more-economical pickup with a smaller footprint. The Ranger returns for 2019 after a seven-year hiatus.

Going in the other direction in 1998, Ford rolled out its heavy-duty lineup of Super Duty trucks designed for fleet and tough-workplace use, ranging from the F-250 to the F-750 models.

The 2008 Ford F-450 Super Duty
The 2008 Ford F-450 Super Duty

Also introduced were new, higher-levels of trim in the Limited, Platinum and top-level King Ranch models that included luxury trim and technology packages, along with boosted payload and towing capabilities.

Meanwhile, Ford made significant improvements in efficiency, with the popular Ecoboost V6 engine raising power and fuel economy at its introduction in 2011.

For 2015, Ford made the bold move of building its F-150 trucks out of high-strength, military-grade aluminum alloy, an industry first for such vehicles. The lighter weight of aluminum compared with steel increased fuel mileage and efficiency without downgrading capability. For 2017, Ford did the same for its Super Duty trucks, providing these workhorses with aluminum construction.

F-150s have been introduced for play as well as work, with such specialty packages as the stylish Harley-Davidson F-150 and the high-performanceF-150 SVT Lightning.

2011 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor
2011 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor

The pinnacle of specialty Ford F-150s is the mighty Raptor, the first off-road trophy truck from a major manufacturer. The second-generation 2017 F-150 Raptor brings us up to today, boasting such advanced performance features as a 450-horsepower EcoBoost V6, 10-speed automatic transmission, and segment-exclusive Terrain Management System, with electronically controlled transfer case and differentials.

Still, the major purpose of Ford trucks has not really deviated in the past 100 years, which is to transport people, payloads and products to get the job done.

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