Boy, have pickup trucks come a long way.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first Ford pickup truck and the genesis of the best-selling vehicle line in America. On July 27, 1917, Ford launched the Model TT, a truck based on the ubiquitous Model T. It used a Model T four-cylinder engine, could carry about one ton of cargo, and cost $600. Ford sold 209 Model TT trucks in 1917. In 2016, it sold more than 800,000 F-Series trucks.
The transition from a handful of basic work vehicles to hordes of feature-laden haulers took decades. Following the launch of the Model TT, Ford continued to upgrade its trucks alongside its passenger cars, until the onset of World War II brought a halt to the production of civilian vehicles.
When civilian production resumed in 1947, Ford brought out the first-generation F-Series. These trucks were available in different configurations, designated F-1 through F-8, based on payload and towing capacity, setting the template the company continues to use to this day. The current F-Series range stretches from the half-ton F-150 to the massive F-750 commercial truck.
In the 1970s, Ford trucks started to more closely resemble their modern counterparts. The ad tagline “Built Ford Tough” debuted in 1975 and remains in use today. In 1978, Ford began adding car-like creature comforts to its trucks, which had previously been equipped only with the bare necessities. The F-Series Lariat model was available with features that would soon become common on trucks, like air conditioning and leather seats.
Trucks were still primarily viewed as work vehicles but that began to change in the 1990s. Bored with regular sedans and looking to project the image of an active lifestyle, car buyers began using trucks as their daily drivers. Ford responded in 1997 with an F-150 that featured more car-like styling. It also split the F-150 off from the heavy-duty trucks, which were still more likely to be used as work vehicles. Those trucks got Super Duty branding beginning in 1998.
Liberating trucks from work duty also meant Ford could focus more on performance. In 1993, it brought out the F-150 SVT Lightning, which was basically a muscle car with a truck body. In 2010, Ford switched to off-roading with the F-150 SVT Raptor, a truck built for crossing rugged terrain at high speeds. The current-generation Raptor has a 450-horsepower twin-turbocharged V6 engine and has already proven its mettle in Mexico’s Baja 1000 off-road race.
By the turn of the century, trucks were more popular than ever, but the company faced a new problem in the form of stricter fuel-efficiency standards. So in 2015, it launched a new F-150 with a lighter aluminum body and now emphasizes smaller turbocharged EcoBoost V6 engines instead of the traditional V8s. There is even an F-150 hybrid on the way. These decisions have proven controversial with traditional truck buyers, but they are likely necessary to ensure the long line of trucks sticks around for another 100 years.
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