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The Complicated History of the Ford F-250 and F-350 Trucks 1996-1999

Ford Super Duty Rear CoverIn 1997, the Ford F-Series lineup got split in two when the new F-150 was softened and marketed towards a different audience, adopting car-like design, aerodynamics, and comforts. This change turned-off traditional buyers who preferred their trucks to look like trucks. Luckily for them, the old style heavier-duty trucks of the F-Series lineup would fulfill their needs for a couple more years.

These years, though, were a confusing time for Ford truck shoppers, and they still confuse used truck shoppers today. Here’s a look at this complicated period, covering model years 1996 through 1999, and found in Chilton manuals 26664 and 26667.

1996 – One Big Happy Family

F150 9th Gen Ford F-Series 26664CoverThe ninth generation of the F-Series would be the last time all Ford truck models in the series were all part of the same lineup. At the bottom was the F-150 (the lighter payload F-100 having left after 1983) and at the top since 1987 was a 1 1/2 ton F-Super Duty commercial chassis cab, but all of them wore the same sheet metal. The Super Duty name goes even further back than that though, to the mammoth truck engine used by Ford from 1958 to 1981, in 401ci, 477ci, and 534ci displacements, and the trucks they were installed in.

The 1996 model year heavier-payload models (F-250 and above) offered the same gasoline engines as the F-150, including the 4.9-liter I6, 5.0 and 5.8-liter V8, plus the big 7.5-liter (460ci) big block V8. The turbo diesel option available in 1996 was the 7.3-liter Powerstroke V8 from Navistar, introduced to the bigger F-Series trucks in the second half of 1994.

Also new for the 1996 model year was the F-250 HD, which had substantial differences compared to the standard F-250, including a transmission cooler, heavier rear axle, and heavier springs and shocks. Compared to the standard 3/4-ton truck, the 250 HD had a 500 lb higher GVWR (8,300 vs. 8,800) but was still far below the F-350. The F-250 HD could be had either as a regular cab/long bed combo, extended cab/short bed, or crew cab/short bed model; the latter two combinations are rare and were made for a little over a year before being discontinued in the fall of 1997.

1997-1998 – Tale of Two F-250

While the F-150 kicked off the tenth generation of the F-Series with style in spades, the F-250 and heavier trucks carried the torch for “proper” truck styling; the 1997 F-250 and F-350 are exactly the same as the 1996 versions. However, the F-250 designation would now be tied to two different trucks: one old and one new.

The old style truck continued on the ninth generation F-Series body under the F-250 HD moniker. The 1997 Ford F-250 HD and above carried on with the same engine and transmission options they had in 1996. For the 1998 model year, only the F-250 HD remained on the old platform, as the F-350 went on hiatus. If you have one of these heavy-duty Ford pickups from 1997 or 1998, Chilton manual 26664 is the book you want (though it does not cover the diesel engine).

The new light-duty 1997 Ford F-250 looked a lot like the new F-150, though its wheels have a unique 7-lug configuration. The 3/4-ton rated pickup could carry heavier loads than its jet-set sibling mostly thanks to the heavy-duty Sterling 10.5-inch rear axle and load-leveling rear suspension. When this version of the F-250 was sent out to pasture for 1999, the heavy-duty suspension would return under model year 2000-2003 F-150s as the 7700 package. These rare F-250 trucks are covered in Chilton manual 26666.

1999 – Dawn of the Super Duty Era

Ford Super Duty 26667CoverTwo models years after the F-150 went its own way, the bigger, tougher, F-Series Super Duty was introduced. The first generation of the new heavy-duty trucks was introduced in early 1998 as a 1999 model year, and consisted of the F-250 and F-350 pickups, F-350 chassis cabs, and introduced the F-450 and F-550 chassis cabs. In turn, the introduction of the new Super Duty series brought about the end of the rounded F-150-based F-250,

The Super Duty lineup was designed by Andrew Jacobsen (who also designed the car-like F-150) and Moray Callum, sharing only the taillights and tailgate with the F-150. Though the cab was as aerodynamic as the smaller F-150, the Super Duty’s styling took cues from both Ford’s larger trucks (like the LTL-9000 and Aeromax) and the 1994-2001 Dodge Ram. Configurations offered included a two-door standard cab, SuperCab which added two small rear-hinged doors, and a four-door crew cab. The standard cab came with an eight foot, long bed only, while the other configurations offered the long bed as an option over the standard 6.75-foot, short bed. Also related was a large sport utility vehicle called the Ford Excursion, made for families with big things to tow. Available trims in these trucks were the XL (base/”work truck” level), mid-range XLT, and top-of-the-line Lariat.

Power for the Super Duty trucks came from two new SOHC engines: the Triton 5.4-liter V8 with 260 horses and 350 lb-ft of torque, and the all-new Triton V10 with 310 horses and 425 lb-ft of torque. Diesel power came from the optional 7.3-liter PowerStroke V8, delivering 235 horses and 500 lb-ft of torque at the Super Duty’s launch.

Delivering the power to the rear or all corners was the ZF5 five-speed manual for the Triton engines, the ZF6 six-speed manual for the PowerStroke (which had integrated PTO), and an optional 4R100 four-speed automatic for either gas or diesel engines. Four-wheel-drive vehicles used either a manual transfer case with manual front locking hubs or optional Electronic-Shift-On-the-Fly dash knob with vacuum-activated automatic and (if needed) manual override front hubs.

Suspension for the first-gen Super Duty included heavy-duty three-inch wide leaf springs and staggered shocks. Two-wheel drive models had the much-loved Twin I-Beam suspension up front, while four-wheel drive variants used Dana 50 and 60 solid front axles with leaf springs. Standard rear anti-sway bars are installed on all Ford F-350 dualie models, which used a Dana 80 axle in the back, and optional on other variations. Single-rear-wheel F-250s and F-350s were fitted with Sterling 10.5-inch rears with conventional or limited-slip differentials.

The new car-like F-150 may have caused some consternation among traditional Ford F-Series customers, but the Super Duty was such a hit that all was forgiven by traditional truck fans in 1999.

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