Ford Trucks celebrate 100 years as workhorse


A century ago, the first Ford Model TT truck rolled out of the assembly plant on Woodward Avenue in Highland Park, Mich., beginning an American love affair with pickups that still burns hot.

Henry Ford had no idea what he’d begun when he had the TT engineered specifically to be a truck at a time when most pickups were modified cars.

He intended the Model TT for farmers, another tool like the Fordson tractors he built for the rural life he idealized. He would’ve tipped his straw boater hat back, squinted and laughed in your face if you told him the F-series pickup that’s the direct descendant of his Model TT would become America’s best-selling vehicle for 35 years straight.

“Ford never looked back,” said Joe Phillippi, principal of Autotrends consulting in Andover, N.J. “From the Model TT to the 450-horsepower 2017 F-series Raptor offroad racer, they’ve taken the truck from humble beginnings to its illogical and wonderful extreme.”

The only thing more American than a Ford truck is a bald eagle perched on top of a Ford truck. Tens of millions have seen decades of use on farms, ranches, construction sites and as family vehicles from the Wild West to the heart of the biggest cities.

Years ago, a German engineer I knew bought a pair of cowboy boots and a Ford F-150 when his company transferred him here. “I live in America. What else would I do?” he explained.

The basic formula hasn’t changed in a century: A Ford badge and passenger cab plus a drivetrain and frame built to haul heavy loads and trailers.

“The Model TT literally turned the agricultural economy on its head,” Phillippi said. “It led to huge increases in productivity and ended the sheer drudgery of horse and wagon. Ford even sold a kit for about $59 that would convert a wrecked Model T into a pretty good tractor.”

The Model TT wasn’t the first pickup, but Ford threw itself into truck making with a singlemindedness that hasn’t wavered for a century. Pickups and other work vehicles became as important to Ford as the flashier passenger cars that got most of the attention at other automakers.

Before the Model TT, most pickups were produced like stretch limos are today, Ford company historian Bob Kreipke said. Customizers bought cars, stretched their wheelbases, added new bodywork and sold them as trucks.

“Henry Ford saw thousands of Model Ts being converted by other companies and said, ‘This seems like something we should do in the factory,’” Kreipke said.

Ford’s first stab at automaking had been building a handful of delivery vans at the Detroit Automobile Co., a short-lived company he ran from 1899-1901. The company failed, but Ford remembered what he learned about truck customers.

“The 1917 Model TT had a one-ton chassis and a longer, stronger frame than the Model T car,” Kreipke said. “The rear suspension was much stiffer, and the rear axle was beefed up.” Unlike the modified cars other companies sold, it was engineered to be a truck from the ground up.

Many Model TTs were shipped to Europe to serve as Red Cross ambulances in World War I. Walt Disney drove one, drawing a cartoon of a soldier on the canvas that enclosed the space for patients, according to the Gen. John J. Pershing Museum in Laclede, Mo., which has a photo of young Disney with his Model TT ambulance.

“Model T sales quadrupled in Europe after WWI” because of the ambulance’s durability carrying the wounded through the battlefields’ devastation, Kreipke said.

Ford stepped up its game when it replaced the Model TT with the all-new Model AA truck in 1928. The AA had a 1.5-ton chassis, more powerful engine and slightly more stylish appearance. It soon added V-8 power, when it got Ford’s pioneering Flathead V-8 in 1932.

Today, pickups are widely used as family vehicles, but the transition from workhorse to everyday vehicle began during the Great Depression, when thousands of families left their farms carrying everything their pickups could from the Dust Bowl to California and cities around the country.

There’s no exact record of how many TT and AA pickups Ford built, but it had sold more than 4 million trucks by 1941, when production of civilian vehicles stopped for WWII.

“The company learned to build all kinds of trucks during the war, from big, canvas-covered personnel carriers to amphibious DUKWs that were tested in the Detroit River,” Kreipke said.

The F-series pickup was born in 1948, arriving at a vital time as Ford introduced the first all-new vehicles developed after the war. It introduced modern streamlined styling and introduced F-series names including the F1 and F-100 that would remain in use for decades.

The F-150 name arrived in 1975. It was joined by the Super Duty name for the heavy-duty F-250 and F-350 pickups for the 1999 model year. Originally intended for heavy jobs on farms and construction sites, Super Duties have grown to become popular personal-use vehicles that account for about a third of F-series sales.

Ford’s culture is steeped in the lore of the F-series and “Built Ford Tough,” the slogan coined in a company magazine in 1977, the year when the F-series first became America’s best-selling truck. Ford has sold more than 26 million F-series trucks in the U.S. since then.

“The depth of understanding this company has for the F-series is amazing,” former Ford design chief J Mays told me years ago as he explained what it was like for a former VW designer who created the New Beetle to oversee development of a new F-series.

“Pickups are a tool that help feed us and build our homes,” IHS Markit senior analyst Stephanie Brinley said. “Americans like to believe we can do anything, and pickup trucks go with that.”

.neFileBlock {
margin-bottom: 20px;
}
.neFileBlock p {
margin: 0px 0px 0px 0px;
}
.neFileBlock .neFile {
border-bottom: 1px dotted #aaa;
padding-bottom: 5px;
padding-top: 10px;
}
.neFileBlock .neCaption {
font-size: 85%;
}

Henry Ford’s vision to create a vehicle with a cab and work-duty frame capable of accommodating cargo beds and third-party upfit equipment proudly endures a century later in the Built Ford Tough F-Series lineup from F-150 to F-750 Super Duty.
http://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2017/08/web1_BIZ_AUTO-PHELAN-COLUMN_1_DE.jpgHenry Ford’s vision to create a vehicle with a cab and work-duty frame capable of accommodating cargo beds and third-party upfit equipment proudly endures a century later in the Built Ford Tough F-Series lineup from F-150 to F-750 Super Duty. Ford

By Mark Phelan

Detroit Free Press

PICKUPS BY THE NUMBERS

Halfway through 2017, the GMC Canyon has the distinction of being the worst-selling pickup in America. Still, it outsold the entire Fiat brand.

With 13.3 percent of new vehicle sales through the first six months of 2017, the full-size pickup truck segment is big, but not the biggest. The largest market segment is compact SUVs, with 17.7 percent.

The Detroit 3 dominate the pickup business, accounting for eight out of 10 sales in the first six months of 2017. There were 1,336,706 pickup trucks sold in the U.S. through June.

Pickup truck buyers know what they want and don’t skip from one kind of vehicle to another: 60.9 percent of pickup buyers stay loyal to their segment.

In the U.S., a total of 35,533,183 full-size pickups have been sold this century.

Holy Platinum: The Kelley Blue Book average transaction price for a new pickup in June 2017 was $46,584.

A $205,000 Toyota Tundra is the most expensive pickup on Autotrader.com. The cheapest is a 1996 Dodge Dakota in Ohio for $500.

Truck prices on Kelley Blue Book’s KBB.com top out at a $299,995 modified Ford F-450 in Nashville, Tenn. The cheapest is a $450 Chevy Silverado. According to the seller, it won’t shift out of second and can’t top 35 mph.

Source: Autotrader, Kelley Blue Book

Mark Phelan is the Detroit Free Press auto critic. He can be reached at mmphelan@freepress.com.