By on July 21, 2007

Twenty years ago, I was a well-heeled young exec. One day, I decided to indulge in a four-wheeled “weekend toy.” Instead of a Dino or XK-E, I dropped $500 on a 1966 Ford F-100 pickup. Sure, I’d harbored fantasies about Ferraris and Jags for years. But I didn’t want to be saddled with an expensive toy that offered temporary or unreliable escape. My dream has always been about real freedom. The freedom to wake up in the morning, sniff the air and go… berry picking! Lumber hauling! The simple, rugged, frugal Ford represented my ideal life. And I knew it would get me there.

For the first five years, I used my weekend toy to haul brush and tree trimmings to the dump. The dump road had numerous tight switchbacks; my kids and I have many happy memories exaggeratedly leaning over on top of each other going around the hairpins. Coming back down the road, I’d turn the ignition off and on, creating lovely explosions out the tailpipe. One time I waited too long and blew out the muffler, ending that noisy pastime.

Five years later, a corporate purge swept away my executive status. I reckoned it was time to go for the dream of a simpler, more honest life. So I sold our expensive Los Gatos property, hooked-up a trailer to the old Ford, loaded our worldly goods and headed north to Oregon.

I bought property, subdivided, and had a bunch of old houses that were about to be torn down moved unto my lots. “Old Yellow” and I were working hard now, doing it all ourselves. When the houses were all fixed up and rented out, I knew that the dream had pretty much come true.

Now, when I drive my battered Ford into a parking lot full of giant 4×4 mega-cab turbo-diesel 24” chrome-wheeled trucks, I chuckle about the millions in equity I made by putting all my dough into assets that appreciate, instead of these rapidly-depreciating show-off toys.

The F-100 is a half-ton pickup rated to carry 1200lbs, motivated by the 129hp “small” 240CID six. It’s tough as nails, never failing to pull or carry anything I’ve asked it to. One time I weighed-out with 3500lbs of building rocks at the local quarry and created a killer low-rider. I’ve also pulled Bobcats on trailers weighing well over 7k lbs. The Ford takes it all in stride.

Since my three-speed doesn’t have a “granny” low gear, I have to plan my route to avoid stopping on a steep incline while grossly overloaded. I stay in low gears coming down hills, as the drum brakes are next to useless.

With no power steering, power brakes or smog controls, there’s very little to break or replace. And so the F-100 rarely breaks down. When it does, it’s the easiest vehicle imaginable to fix. It’s had a new clutch, and the fiber camshaft gear broke recently. Since I replaced it with a heavy-duty steel gear, it howls like a 1920’s blower Bentley.

The Ford’s blessed with a Warner T-85 HD three-speed with overdrive. Freeway cruising is relaxed at 2000rpm (and 20 mpg). Because the OD also has free-wheeling, the transmission shifts without declutching. By splitting the gears with the OD, six ratios are always at hand to play with. It’s a great device for baffling passengers.

But I have to stay on the ball; I don’t want to be caught on a long downhill with the freewheeling on. The little drums will smoke and be useless well before a full stop. The litigation era sealed the overdrive unit’s future.

Plenty of well meaning folks have suggested swapping out the F-100’s drums for disc brakes, or upgrading to a V8 and automatic. But they’re missing the point. Today’s vehicles are utterly effortless and disengaging (no wonder drivers are multi-tasking and babbling on their cell phones). I love driving and enjoy the challenges– and limitations– of the old Ford.

The F-100 doesn’t have a radio and I don’t carry a cell phone; the piece of plywood covering up the pickup’s radio hole gave graphic meaning to my son’s (mis)understanding of the word “dashboard”.

From time to time I take the old beast out for a brisk outing through the local hills and winding roads. Then my easily provoked imagination takes over. I’m driving one of my all-time fantasy cars, a 1920’s era Bentley: a big straight six with howling cam-gear drive, manual choke, complicated gears, leaf springs and solid axles, a giant steering wheel and puny brakes. It’s the unmitigated joy of pushing elemental machinery to its maximum capabilities.

And on the way home I can stop off at the quarry and pick up a ton of rock for that wall I’m building. Try doing that with the typical weekend fantasy toy.

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23 Comments on “Auto-Biography 26: There’s a Future in Your Ford...”

  • avatar

    As a result of this article, when I go to work this morning I’ll be riding my 1969 Triumph Bonneville cafe racer, instead of my 1995 Triumph Trident.

    Thanks for the reminder, and the incentive – and I’m looking forward to the jaws dropping on the squid’s faces at quitting time as I go through the Bonnie’s starting drill.

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    What a great story about pickups and why we love them so much!

    That said, I’m gonna be another well-meaning person who thinks you should get a 1986+ F150 for parts, drop in its EFI 4.9L six and…umm…decent brakes into yours. That’s how you update without losing the spirit of the original. :)

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    I hear you. I hear you.

    I have a 1984 F-150 4×4 that is not particularly a Great Leap Forward from yours. Mine is battered almost beyond recognition. Not one body panel is exempt from savage dents and deep scars. It has the storied 300 straight six. I traded a cord of firewood and a used snowblower for it. The previous owner was a known drug dealer who did not change the oil for 4 years. When I drove it home, max speed was 45 mph. When I got home, the original factory-installed spark plugs had rust siezed in the block and I had to soak them in penetrating oil to remove them.

    It turns out the carb was held on with one finger tight bolt and the dizzie had more than an inch of verticle play. Upon fixing those three problems, the thing runs like a bat out of hell. Honest, simple and effective as a hoe, insanely reliable, tough as a hammer, uglier than a windrow of ape sphincters.

    I like what you said about these modern, DOHC luxury trucks.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    You’re kidding Paul. You build rock walls… enjoy driving old metal… believe in never putting money into depreciable assets… and in the past year owned an old Ford pickup, a Chrysler minivan, and a Subaru Forester.

    I swear to God you are my western altar ego.

    This weekend I found something that is essentially the find of a lifetime. A 1978 350SE parts that that complements my perfect running 1977 350SE which I bought for $250 a month back. The parts car is all the way in Hilton Head and, HEY!~ I think it’s road trip time.

    If you’re ever in Atlanta please look me up, and Frank, and Megan. Thanks for another gem.

  • avatar

    the bittersweet memories of old good days… as long as they stay there, in your memories. and no name like taurus, or whatever candy chrome burbling v8 archaic hippo you have up your snoozing sleeve, no name or design mascara on you shoddy rebadge ford will bring back sobber clients, unless they are sunken in their delusions of a neverdying ford. henry ford should roll over in grave like chicken on a grill and blush more than red lights at Indy500. ford today fakes more products than hollywood forfeits limo blasts and ketchup bruises.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Steven, I could have easily gotten into old Benzes too, but I left that to my brother, who has spent the last 15 years picking up old ones for peanuts, fixing them and reselling.

    Sajeev, you well intentioned tinkerers just can’t resist, can you? A FI engine and all its electronics sullying up my almost bare engine compartment with its couple of wires. Thanks, but no thanks.

    It’s become my quest to do as little to the Ford as possible, to prove that a vehicle can have a fifty year (or more) useful life with as little intervention as possible. For whatever reason, that’s my thing.

  • avatar

    Paul, my brother.
    My 1965 F100 has the theft-prevention column shift 3 speed also, but is sans the rare and desirable overdrive. I am blessed with the V8, but have great respect for those sixes. It’s got fancy wheels and dual exhaust now, but otherwise is the same as it left the factory, just a little more beat up and corroded. Kind of like the owner, who is the same age as the truck, so don’t call either of us old.
    I also have your solution to the brakes: do the disc swap, but don’t go the power brake route. It provides the same feel as you have now with brakes that will still work when the road is wet or the hill is longer than four car lengths. The steering keeps my upper arms fit. A good 8 footer, my truck gets more attention than any fancy little red sports car I’ve ever owned. My wife won’t let me paint it, because she likes the character the scratches and dents give it. I feel bad when I paint any parts to prevent them from rusting, because it removes some of the patina. Modern trucks are just cars with open trunks. These were tools for men. Long live the old trucks.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    “the bittersweet memories of old good days… as long as they stay there, in your memories. and no name like taurus, or whatever candy chrome burbling v8 archaic hippo you have up your snoozing sleeve, no name or design mascara on you shoddy rebadge ford will bring back sobber clients, unless they are sunken in their delusions of a neverdying ford. henry ford should roll over in grave like chicken on a grill and blush more than red lights at Indy500. ford today fakes more products than hollywood forfeits limo blasts and ketchup bruises.”

    This reminds me of the weird spam I get in my hotmail account.

  • avatar

    Many years ago, I was looking for a used Integra. I wouild call sellers, and ask them why they were selling. One woman said she was selling her (’86 I think) integra for a 1963 truck, so that she could work on the thing herself. For some reason I wasn’t interested in her car, but I later regretted not asking her for a date.

  • avatar

    Old F100s are the best! I have 3 curently, and got my eyes on a couple more

    Check out Slick 60s

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    I love the white trim and the rust trails running down the bed! What character….

  • avatar

    The 300 six is the best engine Ford no longer makes. The body will rust out around that engine before it dies. I got rid of my last F-150 with 255K on it. The best thing about battered old trucks is you don’t have to worry about loading stone or anything else into them and damaging the paint.

  • avatar

    I LOVE this one.

    The closest I have to your F-100 is my 79 F-150 4×4, bought a few years back to avoid having payments connected to a truck that sat most of the time. It needed about 6 months worth of work, but hey, all I needed was a 1/2 and 9/16 wrench, a screwdriver, some pliers, and the necessary hammer.

    It is a far cry from the trucks I pass on the road but somehow I always have a grin when I’m in it. It’s just an honest truck, doesn’t claim to be anything else. Funny thing is that I always have someone coming up to ask if I would like to sell it.

    My answer is always no.

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    God, how I love sturdy old pickups. The only problem for me, as a resident of New Jersey, is that something this old and special is required by my state DMV to either be updated to meet emissions standards – or wear an historic license plate which limits the amount of miles you can put on it every year. But a 1980’s vintage F-150 with the 300cid inline six is a possibility. Right now, I’m making do with a Ranger… four-banger, manual transmission, standard bed, standard cab and two-wheel drive. No, it’s not nearly in the same class as Paul’s old steed. But it’ll do for now.

  • avatar

    What a great editorial. I was told by a car wash owner how nice my mirror black truck is. I told him that I just finished hauling two dead pine trees. He thought I was crazy to use my truck to haul trees. I told him that’s what I bought it for…

  • avatar

    Nice article, but you would have been better of with a Task Force Chevy Truck (55-59) ;-). I’ve got a 58 Chevy Fleetside that I’ve used for hauling my stuff to and from college and hauling compost for the garden. I love the 235 “Stovebolt” inline 6 and the “3 on the tree”. The only concession I’ve made to modernizing the truck was installing a Pertronix electronic ignition module inside the old points distributor, and one day, I’ll probably be sorry I did that. There’s nothing wrong wiht drum brakes, you just need to know how to drive to use them, something that it seems most people are incapable of now-a-days. I actually like the mechanical steering, and the truck comes with a theft deterrent system stock-manual starter pedal on the floor (Young Mechanic: Do you have a kill switch somewhere sir? I turned the key and it won’t start.) :-).

    There’s no better feeling than driving through the mountains with the windows rolled down and a cool wind blowing across my face as I head for my favorite fishing spot in the Old Buckin’ Bronco. It’s like being a kid again.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Lumbergh21: I love old Chevy trucks, except for the beds with the wood planks that rot out. My Ford’s bed still isn’t rusted out after being outside for twenty years. Just yesterday I was hauling gravel, and I winced a bit when the loader dropped a yard (one ton!) of gravel pretty quickly in the bed. What a racket! I hear the Ford beds from this era are the toughest, and my experience backs it up.

  • avatar

    I reside in Oregon also and I have to say a lot of pickup trucks hardly get used for pickup activities. Most of the time you see a lot of chromed out, loud, and obnoxious looking vehicles that hold no purpose. I have a 91 F150 with the 300 and I can’t see why someone, out here needs anything more. 18 MPG, the ability to haul wood, bark dust, gravel, etc around and having enough power to enjoy cruising.

    Your doing the truck a great service: using it for what it was designed to be used for.

  • avatar

    Takes me back to my days on the farm and our ’67 Chevy with the straight six and three on the tree. It had the wooden bed and many patches on that. Dad always claimed he never needed 4WD, just a good set of chains, he was probably right. Wish I had that old truck now. Thanks for the great article!

  • avatar

    I came here from the link in the ’36 Plymouth article. I’ve had a couple of ole pickups that were little more than motorized wheelbarrows. There was the 1950 F-1 V8 with its granny box and that distinctive sound the old Fords made going through the gears. It had a ratchet rear end – some sort of early positraction – and it would climb anything the tires would stick to. It didn’t have a whole piece of glass or a straight body panel on it, but it was a real hauler; I pulled a stalled two-ton truck off a railroad track with it once – a (slow) train was coming.

  • avatar

    I came across this link late, from your use of the photo in another article.

    I once owned a 63 F-100.  Mine was the short bed Flareside (Stepside for those who speak Chevy).  Also had the 6, but mine had the 4 spd tranny with the granny low.

    My 63 was before the Twin I Beams – a straight I beam axle with leaf springs on either side.  Plus, a prior owner had decided that the suspension wasn’t heavy enough and added leaves to the springs. 

    Honestly, mine was a miserable, miserable vehicle to drive.   I used mine like you did, as a weekend workhorse.  I always looked forward to driving it, but was always worn out when I parked it. 

    I can see where your F-100 could do it all.  Mine could too.

  • avatar

    I have a newer truck (04 Nissan Titan, KC 2×4) but I use it the same way you guys do your old trucks. I installed lowering shackles which brings the bed height down to 32″, and Firestone airbags which allow me to carry unbelievably heavy loads without bottoming out. Lately I have been pouring concrete for a back yard project, and regularly haul a full pallet of concrete mix home (3150 lbs, airbags set at 85 psi) with no problem, and a normal ride height. When I ordered the truck, I made sure that it had three important packages:  Off Road which has skid plates and beefier wheels/tires, Utility Bed which has the factory bedliner, extra adjustable tie downs, fender mounted storage, and 12v outlet in the bed, and Tow Pkg which upgrades batt, cooling, has trans temp gauge, and frame mound slider hitch and a socket to plug in trailer wiring.
    I have always had old trucks before this one (63 Intl., 79 F250), but I can tell you that its really nice having A/C and lots of power while I’m hauling my stuff

  • avatar

    I recently picked up a 1966 F250 with the 8 foot bed. This is the first Ford truck I’ve ever owned and your article is very encouraging.

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