The best-selling vehicle in the United States and the second-best seller worldwide are one and the same: Ford’s F-Series pickup truck. A true staple of Ford’s lineup since 1948, it became the United States’ best-selling vehicle in 1986, selling over half-a-million units and taking over the second-place Chevrolet Celebrity by over 100,000. In 2018, US sales topped 909,000, the most since the biggest year ever for the F-Series, in 2004, when 939,511 of the pickups rolled out of Ford’s factories.
Over 40 million F-Series pickups have been made, second only to the Toyota Corolla by about three million units. Not only is the F-Series a popular seller but it is also a very profitable one. In 2007, the F-Series alone brought in $41.25 billion in revenue for Ford. That is more than Facebook, Coca-Cola, Nike, and McDonald's. It is estimated that Ford makes $13,000 in profit on every F-Series sold. Can Ford be blamed for cutting most of the passenger cars from its lineup in the US? With $11 billion in profit each year from one truck model, the move certainly seems to make sense.
The F-Series is in its thirteenth generation, with several special editions along the way. Each generation brings a little more size, more capability, better safety and convenience features, and a new look. A vehicle with such a long and storied history provides the opportunity to look back in time and ask the question, what did the Ford F-Series look like the year you were born? The following list highlights each generation, along with significant special edition models along the way.
23 1948-52: F1
Just a few short years after the end of World War II, Ford created the first F-Series pickup truck, first released in 1948. The same year, Dodge debuted their B Series pickup trucks, and the previous year, Chevrolet had released their Advance Design pickups. In the world of automobiles, soldiers coming home from war needed a versatile vehicle, and the pickup truck was it. Meanwhile, the bikini bathing suit was becoming popular, the Soviet Union blockaded East Germany, and the United States countered with the Berlin Airlift. The “Big Bang” theory (the scientific hypothesis, not the TV show) was put forward by George A. Gamow and the first Holiday Inn would open in 1952.
22 1953-56: F100
In 1953, the first edition of TV Guide was released, the armistice ending the war in Korea was signed, and Jackie Cochran became the first woman to exceed Mach 1, in an F-86 Sabre. The second generation F-Series began the three-digit nomenclature of the F that continues to this day, with the F100, F250, and F350 replacing the F1, F2, F3, and F4. Stylistically, the new F featured a wrap-around windshield, larger size, improved engines, and optional seat belts. By the end of the second generation F’s run, Elvis would release his first single, “Heartbreak Hotel”, and Rocky Marciano would retire as Heavyweight Champion with a perfect record.
21 1957-60: F100
The third generation F-Series was the first major stylistic upgrade for the F and a big step towards the shape of the modern pickup truck. Front fenders were now integrated to blend smoothly into the hood and doors, the wraparound windshield now wrapped even more dramatically at the corners, and, for the first time, it came a choice of bed styles. The “Styleside” models extended the width of the bed to the width of the cab’s doors, except in the wheel well area, in comparison to the traditional “Flareside” design, where the width of the bed stayed inside the wheel wells. This design continues with most pickup trucks to this day.
20 1961-66: F100
The fourth generation F-Series forged two different paths, one towards the future and another something of a wall. The conventional F-Series continued the march of bigger is better, while the Unibody design, discussed separately, brought some controversy. Meanwhile, Alan Shepard became the first US citizen in space, John F. Kennedy was elected and established the Peace Corps, and the World Wildlife Fund was created. By 1964, the Unibody F would be gone from Ford’s catalog and the separate cab and bed F-Series would soldier on, the predominant pickup truck design to this day—Honda’s first-generation Ridgeline notwithstanding.
19 1961-63: Unibody
The 1961 F-Series “Unibody” was a moon-shot for Ford, an attempt to revolutionize the pickup truck and solve some issues they were having with the separate cab-and-bed design. Integrating the cab and box bodywork, with no gap between them, was a daring design that reduced costs (fewer stampings), eliminated some rust issues from mud and snow lodging between the cab and box, and increased the box size. It was also intended to appeal to suburbanites, a peek into the future of truck buyers. However, issues with the design arose when heavy loads were placed in the bed, causing flex in the unibody, resulting in the doors either being jammed shut or popping open over bumps. The experiment ended in 1963.
18 1961-79: Special Editions
Some special edition vehicles aren’t more than color and wheel packages or additional optional equipment, but between 1961 and 1979, Ford offered multiple special-edition F-Series pickups with actual functional changes, often marketed towards specialized applications. The Contractor’s Special, Farm and Ranch Special, Trailer Special, and Explorer Special all offered upgrades such as toolboxes, trailer brakes, or upgraded suspension. The Camper’s Special featured a longer wheelbase with rear wheels pushed back to make more room in the bed. The reduced space behind the rear wheels necessitated moving the spare tire to a compartment on the side of the bed, one of the telltale signs of a Camper Special.
17 1967-72: F100
The fifth-generation F-Series introduced in 1967 was based heavily on the previous version, with virtually identical engine choices. Later years offered different engines, along with upgraded brakes and emissions control equipment. Styling was edgier and the cabin was made more luxurious. The United States was fighting in Vietnam, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) was established, and in 1969, Sesame Street would debut. The Beatles held their last public performance and the United States landed a man on the moon. By the end of the fifth-gen F-Series’ run, Ford was concentrating on the development of the Pinto and Mustang, so the F received mostly minor changes year-to-year.
16 1973-79: F100
The year the sixth-generation F-Series was introduced, Skylab was launched, Secretariat won the Triple Crown, and George Lucas released American Graffiti. The sixth-gen was, once again, based upon the previous generation F, but with some significant upgrades. Front disc brakes, the increased use of galvanized steel, and double-wall bed construction complemented the wider, bolder front end and reinforced hood. The fuel tank was relocated from behind the seat to under the bed, allowing for storage behind the seat, and the cabin itself was larger than the previous generation. The improvements would help continue the F-Series’ sales success into the late 1970s.
15 1980-86: F100
The year 1980 saw the debut of the Rubik’s Cube, CNN, Post-It Notes, and the seventh-generation F-Series. A complete redesign, the seventh-gen was larger but lower and more aerodynamic, a concession to the rising fuel prices of the era. Weight was reduced wherever possible with the use of plastic and aluminum and the engine choices were also more efficient. The new styling was quite similar to the previous gen, however, even with the all-new underpinnings and the now-customary Blue Oval was added to the center of the grille in 1982. In 1983, the F-100 was discontinued, leaving the F-150 to take its place.
14 1987-91: F-150
After the ground-up redesign of the seventh-gen F, the eighth generation was based on the seventh, with more rounded styling and even more improved aerodynamics. Engines now had electronic fuel injection and the interiors were also all-new and upgraded. During this period, The Simpsons and Full House premiered, 19-year-old Mathias Rust landed a small plane in Red Square, and Ford was making a comeback after heavy losses earlier in the 1980s. Ford’s successful Taurus was released two years before the eighth-gen F and together, they helped turn Ford’s fortunes around. Meanwhile, Chrysler would buy AMC and procure AMC’s valuable Jeep division.
13 1991-92: F-150 Nite
In 1991 and 1992, Ford would offer another special edition of the F-150, called the Nite. Available only on the XLT Lariat trim, the Nite featured black paint and trim with special striping and graphics, standard alloy wheels with white lettering on the tires, and sport suspension. Two V8 engines were available and the Nite package was also available for the Bronco SUV. The 1991 editions were limited to regular-cab, four-wheel drive models but 1992 offered the option on any body style and both two- or four-wheel drive. Because the Nite was sold for only two model years and relatively few were produced, they are quite rare today.
12 1992-97: F-150
The ninth-generation F continued on a similar platform as the seventh and eighth, with new styling and (surprise!) improved aerodynamics. And again, the interior was also redesigned with plusher surfaces and trim. A flareside bed option that was discontinued in 1998 returned to the lineup in 1992. The same year, NAFTA would be signed by Mexico, the United States, and Canada, Ross Perot would run for president, and John Gotti was sentenced to life. Later models of the ninth-generation F would feature a standard automatic transmission, a four-speed with automatic overdrive for V8 models.
11 1993-95: F-150 SVT Lightning
Unlike the Nite edition of the F-150, the SVT Lightning was far more than an appearance package with upgraded wheels. Featuring an enhanced 5.8-liter V8 producing 240 horsepower (40 more than the standard 5.8-liter), upgraded sport suspension, the strengthened transmission from the F-350, and a limited-slip differential, the SVT Lightning was meant to compete with performance pickups offered by Chevrolet at the time. Quicker steering and adjustable sport seats were also added to the mix, along with blacked-out trim similar to the Nite edition. The model was discontinued after 1995, as Ford was gearing up for the next generation of F-Series models.
10 1994-96: F-150 Eddie Bauer
The first of Ford’s Eddie Bauer editions for the F-Series appeared in 1994, a branding partnership between Ford and the clothing company known for its outdoor image. Distinguished by two-tone paint and special interior trim, the Eddie Bauer editions would also grace Ford's Aerostar minivan, as well as Broncos, Explorers, Expeditions, and Excursions. A top-level variant of the F, the Eddie Bauer also featured power windows and door locks, air conditioning, and a stereo cassette player as standard. After 1996, Eddie Bauer trims would be limited to Ford’s SUV models continuing up until 2010, when the decades-long successful co-branding program finally came to an end.
9 1997-2004: F-150
The 1997 model year saw another complete re-design of the F-150, as well as a splintering off of the F-250 and F-350, which wouldn’t be upgraded for two more years. The tenth-generation F-Series was a radical change from the previous versions, with a very rounded, aerodynamic shape almost reminiscent of Ford’s Taurus sedan. All-new engines (including an overhead-cam V8, a first for a full-size pickup) were mated to transmissions from the previous generation and a new independent front suspension was added. SuperCab models featured a unique, rear-hinged half-door, first on the passenger side only, then on both sides on later models.
8 1999-2004: F-150 SVT Lightning
The 1999 model year marked the return of the performance-oriented SVT Lightning, after a four-year hiatus. Based upon the brand-new tenth-generation F-Series, the second coming of the Lightning produced 360 horsepower from a supercharged V8 and sported Bilstein sport suspension, the transmission from the F-350, and came in regular cab with flareside bed only. Later models were bumped up to 380 horsepower via freer-flowing intake components and also featured a shorter final-drive ratio, which, combined, knocked over half a second off of the zero-to-sixty mph time. The upgraded Lightning was actually faster than the SVT Mustang Cobra of the era.
7 2000-11: F-150 Harley-Davidson Edition
In another round of co-branding with an established company, Ford began producing a Harley-Davidson Edition F-150 in 2000. With both companies celebrating 100 years in existence in 2003, the partnership was well timed. Initially, the Harley-Davidson Editions consisted of black paint and trim, SuperCab and flareside bodies, the exhaust from the SVT Lightning, and Ford’s first use of 20-inch wheels on a production vehicle. Later models offered the SuperCrew four-door body, a detuned, supercharged SVT Lightning engine, and some darker color options, while the 2003 models featured 100th anniversary badging. The 2004 and 2005 Harley-Davidson Editions were limited to F-250 and F-350 Super Duty models.
6 2004-08: F-150
After the tenth generation F soldiered on for seven years, Ford completely redesigned the F-Series for generation eleven. The progressively smoother styling of the previous generations gave way to a more sharp-edged design, with all body styles featuring four doors. The bottom of the side windows stepped down towards the front, a design cue from the Super Duty trucks, while the front end had similarities to the Ford Expedition SUV already on sale. The V6 engine option was dropped and the remaining V8s were improved upon—though with larger dimensions inside and out and the resulting weight increase, performance was not significantly improved.
5 2009-14: F-150
Using the same basic “P2” platform as the previous generation, the twelfth-generation F-Series adopted other Super Duty design cues with the large, chrome, slatted grille. Regular cab models returned to only having two doors, the V6 option made a return in 2011, while the flareside bed was dropped in 2010. Not only was there a normally-aspirated 3.7-liter V6 as the base engine but a turbocharged 3.5-liter Ecoboost V6 was added as a mid-range option. A four-speed automatic was standard from 2009 to 2010 and a six-speed auto became standard from 2011 on. With the new V6 options, the V8 engines were also updated and in combination with the new transmission, both performance and fuel economy were improved.
4 2010-14: F-150 SVT Raptor
While the SVT Lightning was designed to burn asphalt and rail corners (as much as a pickup truck could) on the street, Ford’s next high-performance pickup truck would be tailored for off-road capabilities. Longer-travel suspension (11.2-inches front, 12.1-inches at the rear) from Fox, a wider track, and big, burly tires were wrapped in a Raptor-specific front end and bed. Initially making 310 horsepower from a 5.2-liter V8, the optional engine was a 411-hp 6.2-liter V8 that became the standard engine after only one year. The big BFGoodrich All-Terrain tires were selected for best off-road performance with decent on-road manners, while the suspension offered a plush ride on the street.
3 2014: F-150 Tremor
The spirit of the SVT Lightning wasn’t completely snuffed out by the Raptor, as Ford released the Tremor in 2014 to cater to street-sport truck buyers. The Tremor was more of a sporty trim level compared to the full-bore Lightning makeover, however, featuring Ford’s twin-turbocharged, 3.5-liter Ecoboost V6 putting out 365 horses with a shorter final drive ratio. Unique graphics and interior trim round out the Tremor’s upgrades, with two-wheel and four-wheel drive options available. While not the rip-snorting beast the SVT Lighting was, the Tremor was still one of the faster pickup trucks available at the time, as the Lightning and its closest competitors had gone extinct almost a decade before.
2 2015-Present: F-150
The thirteenth generation of Ford’s venerable F-Series pickup truck marked a significant effort towards weight reduction in the name of fuel economy and performance gains. Most of the truck’s body panels were switched from steel to aluminum and its engines were downsized, resulting in a weight savings of over 700 pounds compared to the previous generation. Other modern touches included adaptive cruise control, LED lighting, and rear and 360-degree cameras. Available first with a six-speed automatic, later Ecoboost and V8 models came equipped with a ten-speed auto with stop-start, and a diesel option was offered starting in the 2018 model year.
1 2017-Present: F-150 Raptor
Returning in 2017, the Ford F-150 Raptor (sans the SVT in its name) returned to dealerships with a twin-turbocharged, 3.5-liter Ecoboost V6 pumping out 450 horsepower and mated to a ten-speed automatic. Like the previous version, the 2017 Raptor was significantly wider than the conventional F-150, with Raptor-specific bodywork, but also a Raptor-only frame underneath. Fox returned for suspension duties, as did BFGoodrich with their All-Terrain T/A KO2 off-road tires. Replacing the previous Raptor’s V8 with a turbo V6 might have seemed counter-intuitive but the new engine produced 39 horsepower more and helped save weight, resulting in a blistering 5.0-second zero-to-sixty mph time on the way to a 13.7-second quarter-mile.
Sources: Motor Biscuit, Freep, Carbuzz, and Blue Oval Trucks.