A Brief History of the F-150
There is some debate as to when the first Ford F-150 hit the streets. Officially speaking, the name “F-150” first appeared in 1975, as a follow up to the highly successful F-100 that started production in 1953. However, none of these trucks would be the all-purpose movers, haulers, and drivers they are today without some pretty hefty ancestors.
The Ford Model TT, produced in 1917, was the first Ford-branded pickup truck. In its early days, only a chassis was provided by the manufacturer. This changed in 1923 when the full truck was sold as one solid investment. Sitting on solid tires, the ride probably wasn’t anything compared to today’s smooth-sailing beauties, but it was capable of carrying up to one-ton of payload, which was monumental in farming and industrial communities.
Fast forward to 1935, and the TT had transformed into the larger AA, and again into the Model 50. Produced until the war tapered off civilian manufacturing in 1941, the Model 50 looks awfully familiar. It’s said that the exterior genetics of today’s F-150 is rooted in this model, which included a V8 engine.
After the war, the great-great-grandparents of today’s F-series appeared on the market. 1948 saw the release of the half-ton F-1, along with the F-2, heavy-duty three-quarter-ton F-3, and 1-ton F-4. Consumers now had the ability to choose a truck to match their payload. They also had a choice between an inline-6 engine or two optional V8s, setting the standard for today’s highly customizable “build the truck you need” production model.
1953’s F-100 topped 100 horsepower with a choice between two engines, and it also featured the first automatic transmission within the F-series. While 100 horsepower seems paltry by today’s numbers, this truck could handle up to 1,465 pounds of payload.
As the years went by, it became clear that the F-series was a permanent fixture on the American roadways. While style options came and went, such as the failed integrated body design of 1961, some of the terms we see today, such as “Ranchero” and “Styleside” first entered the Ford lexicon in the 1950s and 60s.
The history debate ends with the introduction of the first official F-150 in 1975. The F-100 would continue into the 1980s, but the F-150 was designed to take over the throne. Stylistic similarities between these early models and today’s Fords are very apparent, such as the SuperCab body, or the brand-stamped grille.
In the 1990s, the name of the game was “horsepower.” With SUVs taking over the “people moving” scene, trucks such as the F-150 had to step up and take over their own niche. The 1999 version offered a supercharged Eaton engine with 360 horsepower. Ford also acknowledged the need to achieve a work/life balance in their popular truck, adding a four-door SuperCrew style that made it easier than ever to pack the whole family in for longer trips.
The F-150s of the new millennium have more comfort and convenience features than ever before, as longer commutes and more vast job sites have people spending more and more time in their trucks. From Wi-Fi to ergonomics, the trucks formerly known exclusively as work-horses are now mobile boardrooms, office suites, and road-trip friendly family trucks with all the bells and whistles that attract today’s amenity-driven consumers.
A Breakdown of the Generations of the Ford F-150
There are almost as many opinions on the number of “official” F-150 generations as there are generations themselves. Some Ford experts feel that the first generation started with the first F-150 nameplate. Others feel the generations begin with the start of the F-series in 1948, while others still claim the F-series wasn’t truly defined until the F-100, 250, and 350 were released in 1953.
If all of the ancestors leading up to today’s Ford F-150 are given recognition, there are a total of thirteen generations of heritage behind today’s leading truck.
In this timeline, the first generation starts with the TT, which all told, sold over 1.3 million by 1928. Though there were many changes to the body and attributes of Ford’s first pickup truck, the second generation starts with the 1953 F-series. The third generation is aligned with the introduction of four-wheel drive to the series in 1959.
It was with the fourth generation in 1961 that the F-150 began to gain its current size and shape. While low-riding pickups were en vogue at the time, larger cabs and beds were starting to make the scene, as well. The fifth generation picked up in 1967, growing even larger still, pushing the boundaries of size and engine capacity.
The sixth generation ran from 1973 through 1979 and saw the introduction of the first-born F-150. Interestingly enough, Ford used this generation to experiment with the F-series, consequently introducing the Bronco as an F-variation. However, these designs finally took shape as the series we know today with a full line re-release with the seventh generation in 1980. Everything from the exterior aerodynamics to the engine size and capacity was thoughtfully re-engineered to take the F-series into a new level of performance.
The eighth generation, running from 1987-1991, saw a multitude of changes in engine performance and capability, introducing a direct fuel injection technology. The introduction of the ninth generation in 1992 coincided with the 75th anniversary of the TT, and a variety of special edition packages were offered in celebration.
It was in the tenth generation, from 1997-2004, that the F-150 found its niche as a work/life truck, neatly splitting its time between dashing through the mud with various heavy loads, and acting as a usable family vehicle. As a result, more and more luxury features were added to the cabin, while the functionality of the bed and towing apparatus were improved as well. You can find models from this generation at used car lots, more so than the trucks from the generations that came before it.
The eleventh generation started in 2004 with another top-to-bottom redesign. This time, technology was the focus, as Ford took major strides to make the F-150 a comfortable truck for longer drives in various conditions. The twelfth generation then started in 2009, adding more computerized elements, more improved safety features, and greater technology than ever before.
The 2020 Ford F-150 is the last model of the thirteenth generation, and when placed side-by-side with its ancestors, both the similarities and differences are striking. The brawny, capable, box-like styling is still evident, but today’s models stand taller, tow more, and can handle larger crowds than ever before. When you are shopping for a used F-150, the best generation with the most modern features is the thirteenth generation, but a twelfth, eleventh, and tenth generation F-150 will suit you well.