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A Short History of the Ford F-Series Truck 1973-1996

6th Gen Ford F-Series 26662RearPG

The updated Ford F-Series entered the early Seventies at about the same time the first oil crisis swept the United States. One more crisis and tons of regulations later, the muscle car was all but a memory, and those same factors would help set the stage for the trucks to come.

By the mid-Nineties, the F-Series was not only the best-selling truck in the U.S., but the best-selling vehicle in the country, and in Canada. The F-150—which didn’t even exist until two years into the sixth generation of the F-Series—served as the standard-bearer for the line and, for many, the face of Ford as a whole. Here’s a look back on the much-loved sixth through ninth generations of the F-Series, covering model years 1973 through 1996, and found in Chilton Manuals 2662 (1973-79 F-Series and Bronco) and 2664 (1980-96 F-Series and Bronco).

Sixth generation: 1973 – 1979

6th gen F150 26662_Cover

The sixth generation of the Ford F-Series trucks introduced three new members to the family: the heavy-duty F-350 in 1973; the heavier-duty F-450 in 1975; and the future king of the mountain, the F-150 in 1975. Perhaps the biggest introduction was the Supercab, Ford’s first extended cab truck, in 1974. The truck series bid farewell to the commercial medium-duty F-500 in 1977, while welcoming modern corrosion protection, in the form of galvanized sheet metal, zinc-coated steel, zinc-rich primer, and fender liners.

The sixth-gen saw a major refresh in 1978 when the carryover split grille from the fifth-gen F-Series was replaced with a single-piece unit completely separate from the headlights. 1978 was also the only model year round, and square lights were available at the same time, depending on what trim you chose.

Despite the exterior redesigns, revised interiors, and new model introductions, the sixth-generation still was built on the platform dating back to the mid-fourth-generation F-Series. First introduced in October 1964 for the 1965 model year, it was considered rugged and dependable, featuring the Twin I-Beam suspension up front. Ford did modernize things somewhat though, with standard disc brakes up front and a gas tank no longer located behind the passenger seat.

Engine options ranged from the 240ci and 300ci straight sixes, widely considered to be indestructible, to the 302ci Windsor V8, carryover FE series big blocks in 360ci and 390ci sizes. For towing, many buyers opted for the big 460ci V8 which offered nearly 400 lb-ft of torque at less than 2,000 rpm. For 1977 the older FE V8s were phased out, and the 400ci big block and related 351M were introduced.

Seventh generation: 1980 – 1986

7th gen F150 26662Cover

The seventh-generation Ford F-Series gained not only a larger, redesigned body but an all-new platform underneath, as well. Influenced by the previous decade’s oil crises, Ford designed the new body for improved aerodynamics and fuel economy. Also with economy in mind, the 351ci and 400ci M-Series engines were dropped after 1982 for more fuel-efficient units, and the IDI diesel from Navistar International was added in 1983. For those who cared more about power than fuel economy, the 460ci V8 came back in 1983 too. Electronic fuel injection followed in 1985 for the 302ci V8 (now referred to as the 5.0 liter), and the rest of the motors  1988.

By 1982, the Ranger trim was gone (to become the name applied to Ford’s small truck), and the Custom trim vanished altogether. A year later, the light-duty F-100 made its last appearance, making the F-150 the smallest payload full-size Ford pickup on the lot. Four years later, in 1986, the F-150 would offer a three-on-the-tree manual gearbox for the last time, one of the last vehicles in the U.S. to do so. The Explorer trim would also leave that year, but the name would return as an SUV model in the early 1990s.

Eighth generation: 1987 – 1991

F150 8th Gen 26664CoverNew

While the much of the cab and chassis were carried-over from the previous generation, the eighth-generation Ford F-Series truck got a substantial exterior redesign. The new truck received a more streamlined look, including composite headlamps and an aerodynamic hood, while keeping the classic proportions. Powering the Fords in 1988 was the first engine lineup from any truck manufacturer to feature modern fuel injection on every model, from the 4.9 liter I6 to the 7.5 liter V8. Rear anti-lock brakes became standard on the eight-gen F-Series, also the first trucks to have this feature included as standard equipment.

Controlling the power from the various engines in this generation were a trio of four- and five-speed manual transmissions, including the ZF S5-42 and Mazda M5OD five-speeds, as well as the new-for-1989 E4OD four-speed automatic. Four-wheel-drive models received automatic locking hubs in 1989, with 5.0L V8 trucks boasting an optional “Touch Drive” electronic transfer case. At the time, these were some of the most advanced options available in truck powertrains, though they may seem primitive now.

A new model, the F-Super Duty, joined the family at the start of this generation as a Class 4 chassis-cab truck with an aftermarket bed specific to customers needs. This commercial grade truck also had power take-off, dual fuel tanks, 7.5L gas or 7.3L diesel V8 engine options, and a gross vehicle weight rating of 15,000 lbs.

Ninth generation: 1992 – 1996

F150 9th Gen 26664Cover

The ninth generation of the Ford F-Series trucks would be the last generation produced as a complete range of models before the F-150 was spun off into its own world. For 1997, the F-150 was all new, but the F-250 and above trucks would soldier on for a couple of more years in the old style until the redesigned Super Duty F-25 and F-350 trucks dropped in 1999.

Before then, however, this generation received a new revision to its seventh-gen appearance with improved aerodynamics to the hood, front fenders and grill. The engine range was carried over from the eight-gen F-Series, though the 7.3 liter IDI diesel V8 from International was replaced in late 1994 with the all-new direct injection Powerstroke diesel V8.

During this generation, the Ford F-Series marched past the Chevrolet/GMC twins in combined truck sales, overtaking the duo in 1996 with around 800,000 trucks sold. The combat on the sales floor included the introduction of the original SVT Lightning in 1993, a street-focused, buffed-up F-150 aimed at the Chevrolet 454SS. Ford’s Special Vehicle Team injected Lightning with a 240-hp version of the 5.8 liter V8, mated to an upgraded E4OD automatic transmission to help send that power and 340 ft -b of torque to the rear via an aluminum driveshaft.

For many, the 1996 Ford F-150 is one of the last real trucks, with the 1997 model getting much more rounded, modern, and passenger car-like. The ninth-generation Ford F-Series trucks were also the last to offer the traditional 4.9 liter straight six, and 7.5 liter V8 truck engines, which many truck buyers prefer to the later OHC motors. Luckily, because of their modern rust protection and durable motors, many of these trucks are still on the job.

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