A century before its F-Series would begin its 40 year reign as America’s top selling pickup – 100 years ago today, in fact – Ford introduced the 1917 Ford Model TT, the company’s first purpose-built truck.
Nine years after the birth of the Model T, Ford customers started asking for a vehicle that could haul heavier loads and provide more utility for work and deliveries. Henry Ford envisioned a chassis that could accommodate third-party beds, cargo areas and other add-ons to deliver the increased functionality, similar to the Fordson tractor introduced in 1917. On July 27, 1917, the Model TT – featuring a Model T cab and engine – came with a heavier-duty frame capable of carrying one ton of payload. The factory price was $600 and 209 were sold that year.
By 1928, Ford had sold 1.3 million Model TTs before replacing the truck with the Model AA with a 1.5-ton chassis and a splash of flair.
“Model AA trucks in particular had a certain class to them,” says Ford historian Bob Kreipke. “Customers could use them on the farm, yet still take them to church on Sunday.”
Like the Model TT, the Model AA was available exclusively as a chassis cab offered in two lengths, with new powertrain and axle options for greater capacity. Ford replaced the Model AA with the Model BB in 1933, many of which were outfitted as mail and freight vehicles, ambulances and stake trucks.
Two years later, Ford introduced the 1935 Model 50 pickup, powered exclusively by its famous Ford Flathead V8 engine.
By 1941, Ford had sold more than 4 million trucks. Changing over to war production resulted in the loss of consumer sales but a gain in experience building heavy-duty military truck chassis and four-wheel-drive personnel carriers.
“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 says. “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.”
This first-generation F-Series covered Classes 2 through 7 capacities – from the half-ton F-1 to the much larger F-8 cab-over truck. With the arrival of 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 that produced C-, H-, L-, N-, T- and W-Series Ford trucks.
Throughout this period, Ford trucks started looking less utilitarian, sporting two-tone paint, automatic transmissions, and improved heater and radio offerings. New standard features debuted with the 1953 F-100, including armrests, dome lights and sun visors. Lower and with a wider cab, the new truck featured integrated front fenders and a more aerodynamic design.
Then, in 1957, Ford tested out a car-based truck – the Falcon Ranchero. Marketed as “More Than a Car! More Than a Truck!,” this light-duty truck brought car-like amenities to consumers.
Creating the Built Ford Tough brand
In 1961 – 44 years after the Model TT – Ford introduced its fourth-generation F-Series. Lower and sleeker, it debuted the company’s revolutionary twin I-beam front suspension. An upscale Ranger package appeared in 1967. Ads emphasized improved comfort, value and durability, as Ford trucks now offered power steering and brakes, and a lower chassis profile. A larger SuperCab option introduced in 1974 featured more comfortable seating to attract dual-purpose work and family buyers.
With the arrival of the sixth-generation F-Series in 1975, Ford dropped the popular F-100, replacing it with a higher-capacity F-150 pickup to combat the C/K trucks from General Motors. By 1977, F-Series pulled ahead in the sales race, and 26 million trucks later, Ford hasn’t looked back.
That same year, a copywriter for a Ford truck magazine is said to have written three simple words that would come to define the brand – Built Ford Tough. It is more than a slogan – it’s the F-Series brand promise to its owners and the mantra for Ford’s entire truck team.
Trucks were fast becoming universal family vehicles, in addition to being work trucks, according to Kreipke. Instead of renting a truck for a big job or for towing, people now had ones they could use for work during the week, then hitch a trailer to and haul the family in for weekend getaways. Ford trucks were adapting to the changing, more active American lifestyle.
Premium edition trucks, such as the Lariat package introduced in 1978, offered more comfort features including air conditioning, leather trim, and power windows and locks. In 1982, Ford charted a different course with an all-new compact truck – Ranger. Versatile and efficient, Ranger quickly built a reputation for being tough and capable, leading it to thrive in diverse markets around the world. Now, after a seven-year hiatus, Ford is reintroducing an all-new Ranger in North America in 2019.
Expanding the Built Ford Tough Lineup
Ford introduced the F-Series Super Duty in 1998 – a lineup that featured engineering for fleet and heavy-duty work use.
With an expanding lineup of F-Series trucks, the company added high-end trim and technology packages. The addition of King Ranch, Platinum and Limited model trucks provided luxury content along with improved functionality and capability. Features such as premium leather-trimmed seating, SYNC with navigation, sunroofs and heated seats, along with gross vehicle weight and tow ratings in the 15,000-pound range followed.
While Ford worked to increase truck capabilities, investments in efficiency started to pile up. The EcoBoost V6 engine debuted for 2011 and was followed by the industry’s first high-strength, military-grade, aluminum-alloy body for the 2015 F-150. Two years later, 2017 Super Duty trucks also got lighter-weight high-strength, military-grade, aluminum-alloy bodies – a savings Ford reinvested in providing best-in-class towing and hauling capability.
Ford also led the way in the specialty truck segment with releases of the Harley-Davidson F-150 and F-150 SVT Lightning and Raptor – the first off-road trophy truck from a major manufacturer.