Ford F-Series Trucks History

A Legend in Sheetmetal: The Visual History of Ford's F-Series

Every kingdom has a ruler--a dominant force that shapes, innovates and rightfully basks in the glory of what they’ve done. In the world of soul, it’s James Brown. Bicycles? Shimano. Pickup trucks? The Ford F-Series is king. The legend in sheet metal has taken the United States by storm, topping the best-selling vehicle in the US list for more than two decades. To call it America’s Favorite Pickup Truck is an understatement. Ford’s burly F-Series is second only to the Volkswagen Beetle as one of the highest-selling nameplates of all time on planet Earth, accumulating a total of more than 33,000,000 units sold since its bold introduction in 1948. Every champion, from spun tales like Rocky to the real-life Jesse Owens, has deep challenges, amusing mistakes and moments of brilliance on their riveting rise to the top. Here’s the grand story of a humble utility machine, crafted by generations of Americans since the end of World War II, that rises to become a cultural icon that’s recognized worldwide.   

Ford F-Series Pickup Trucks: 1948-1952

vintage pickup truck

In 1948, Ford introduced the F-Series, the first truly new pickup trucks since the beginning of World War II. The styling of the F-1 was radical for its day, replacing the ​streamlined look that was popular through the late 30’s with a bold, tough-looking grille and boasting an interior that was billed “The Million Dollar Cab.”

Ford F-Series Pickup Trucks: 1953-1956

1954 Ford F-100 Truck
1954 Ford F-100 Truck. © Ford Motor Co.

The 50th Anniversary of the Ford Motor Company brings a dramatic revamp to the F-Series pickups, now boasting heavier-duty models (forefathers of the current Super Duty series). Major innovations come to the pickups, including the first time an automatic transmission is available and the birth of Ford’s mighty Overhead Valve V8 (godfather of the V8 engines on F-Series models today).  

Ford F-Series Pickup Trucks: 1957-1960

1959 Ford Truck Ad
1959 Ford Truck Ad. © Ford

The 3rd generation of the F-Series gets some serious dollops of homemade muscle in the form of Ford-built 4WD systems and steel bed floors. A major style upgrade also comes, resulting in a sleeker look and the birth of the Styleside body and the Ranchero. Working alongside the F-Series as Trucks Marketing Manager is another legend in the making…Lee Iaccoca, father of the Mustang and the man who would give the world the K-car and the minivan.

Ford F-Series Pickup Trucks: 1961-1966

1961 Ford F-100 Truck
1961 Ford F-100 Truck. Photo © Dale Wickell

A rapid-fire series of changes brings constant fresh looks year-after-year to the F-Series. Strengthening is a big focus, and transmissions to the frame are beefed up and made corrosion-resistant. Ford starts to see the future, as well, taking the first steps to making the F-Series more daily-driver friendly.

Ford F-Series Pickup Trucks: 1967-1972

1968 Ford F-100 Ranger Pickup Truck. Photo © Dale Wickell

In a race towards destiny, the F-Series accelerates its drive to become friendlier for driver and passengers looking for an everyday vehicle. Roomier interiors, better visibility, and cushier accommodations accompany the launch of new trim levels.

Ford F-Series Pickup Trucks: 1973-1979

1975 Ford Truck Ad
1975 Ford Truck Ad. © Ford

Everything Ford had learned about building pickup trucks was starting to come together. Vibrations were reduced with clever modifications, further steps were taken to prevent rust, windows were made easier to clean and a repositioned fuel tank and intermittent wipers made the vehicle a lot safer to drive. Plenty of sizzle accompanies these changes, including the availability of full-time 4WD with a burly V8 and a flashy new redesign that begins to keep classic elements of the trucks—the birth of the F-Series design DNA.

Ford F-Series Pickup Trucks: 1980-1986

1980 Ford F-150 Truck
1980 Ford F-150 Truck. © Ford Motor Co.

How to handle a fuel crunch and dark economic times? Ford’s answer comes with seriously improved aerodynamics, along with new fuel-efficient engines that bring more strength for hauling and towing. The muscle war, a series of one-ups between pickup manufacturers that showcases workload power, begins in earnest.

Ford F-Series Pickup Trucks: 1987-1996

1987 Ford F-150 Truck
1987 Ford F-150 Truck. © Ford Motor Co.

From day one, the F-Series in this period is about non-stop improvement from styling redesigns and refreshes to mechanical upgrades. Ford leads the way in anti-lock brakes, becoming the first to offer the feature as standard equipment on trucks. 1992 sees a facelift for the F-Series, starting the rounder, softer trend that continues but the changes weren't significant enough to call those pickup trucks a completely redesigned vehicle.

Ford F-Series Pickup Trucks: 1997-2003

1997 Ford F-150 Pickup Truck
1997 Ford F-150 Pickup Truck. Ford Motor Co.

The F-Series gets rounded styling that heralds the era of a more modern look, and the return of the legendary SVT Lightning sparks a return to a chapter in the pickup truck muscle wars—street performance. Duking it out with the likes of the Dodge Ram SRT-10, these machines bring unreal, muscle-car performance to a class of vehicle that was once heavy beasts of burden. Not to be outdone on the utility front, SuperCab trucks receive a rear opening half-door on the passenger side, followed by an identical door on the driver's side two years later and the F-Series SuperCrew became the first half-ton pickup truck with four full doors.

Ford F-Series Pickup Trucks: 2004-2008

ford pickup truck
(IFCAR/Wikimedia Commons)

In a nod to those looking for their pickup to be their daily driver, Ford makes changes across the board to the F-Series’ livability. Ford develops a new engine that increases low-end torque, horsepower, and fuel economy at the same time. A more comfortable ride, especially on rough roads, is birthed through a new, fully boxed frame and suspension changes. ​Hydro-formed steel panels with additional built-in crush zones greatly enhance driver and passenger safety. Despite the arrival of the era of the family-hauling luxury pickup, Ford pleases haul fanatics by adding 2" to the bed sides on all F-Series trucks and lengthening its Standard and SuperCab models by 6"…and adds a notch to its belt in the haul/tow wars.

Ford F-Series Pickup Trucks: 2009-

2009 Ford F-150 Pickup Truck
2009 Ford F-150 Pickup Truck. (Basem Wasef)

The transformation of the F-Series is complete. While still able to be ordered as a more affordable workhorse and holding titles for most towing/hauling power in certain configurations, the F-Series can be optioned up to rival the comfort, convenience, and technology of luxury SUVs and sedans. More fuel efficiency, more luxury and more power are very demanding mantras to follow, and to keep up Ford decides to go where no pickup truck has gone before.

Edited by Jonathan Gromer