By on January 14, 2010

Note: Since there’s been several questions about my truck today, and it is Truck Thursday, here’s everything and more you might ever want to know about ‘Ol Yellow: (Gallery at end)

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.

Ford pics 003 800

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 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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18 Comments on “The Best Of TTAC: Auto-Biography 26: There’s A Ford In Your Future...”

  • avatar

    I always liked the look of this series of Ford pickup.  In the 80s I owned a 63 F-100, only mine was the short bed Flareside (Stepside if you speak Chevy).  I too had the 6, but I was fortunate enough to have the 4 speed transmission with the granny low.
    Mine was in much the same shape as yours here, except that it had a bit more rust, having lived in Indiana.
    My 63 still used the single I beam front axle with a leaf spring on either side.  And a prior owner must have decided that it was too squishy, because he added leaves to all the springs.  Make no mistake, this truck was NOT pleasant to drive.  The free play in the steering wheel was about 1/3 of a revolution, so you did not so much drive it as herd it.  This truck made me understand why trucks were work vehicles and not recreation vehicles back in the day.  I looked forward to driving it every weekend, but by the time I parked it, I was exhausted.
    But make no mistake, I loved that truck.  I have no doubt that a Chevy of that vintage would have been a smoother driver, but I was just as sure that my old Ford was one tough old truck that could do anything you asked of it.

    Edit – back when more of these were on the road, it was amazing how many of the 6s you saw, and how few of the V8s, although since most of the V8s were probably the old 292 that had lubrication issues as it aged, I shouldn’t be surprised. I always liked the hood ornament logo on the 6s – the big gear with the lightning bolt going through it.
    Also, in my area of the country, you always saw these with the front cab corners starting to settle a bit because of the rust, resulting in the hood taking on an odd upward angle as it went forward from the cab. This phenomenon moved some pieces around – the steering column would push out a bit into the cab, so that the turn signals would not cancel. Also, there must have been some pressure on the choke cable, because I had to push the choke knob back in every few minutes as it kept easing its way out from the dash.

  • avatar

    You definitely get it Paul. I have a Slant Six 1970 Dodge 1/2 ton 4 speed that shares the same minimalist approach to trucks-although I have a radio. I love that truck.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Sounds like my 62 F 250. 6cylinder 4 spd with granny low.  It was  a fun driver and  a great  low  buck  utility hauler.  Armstrong steering, no  radio or AC.

  • avatar

    Funny comment on the steering.  Even the 80’s Ford Bronco I drove still had the crazy steering with lots of play. 

  • avatar

    I mentioned in another post how I miss the ’67 K-20 stepside. It had a 250 ci six and a four-speed with granny gear. In New England, those stepsides could rust like crazy, and the wood floors would rot, but I loved that truck! As the wood bed floor went bad, a sheet of plywood would slide right in, until it was so bad, we welded in a sheet of steel.
    On another note, I think I recall Chevy advertising in the mid-seventies that their bed of oak would never rust like that pesky steel thing in a Ford! Smirk!!

  • avatar

    jpcavanaugh:  “I always liked the hood ornament logo on the 6s – the big gear with the lightning bolt going through it.”

    I did too, and as a small boy, I was fascinated with any Ford Truck displaying the words “Super Duty” or “Super Van”…

    The 5 linearized Subaru stars above the gear/lightening bolt in the hood ornament do make me wonder, however, why the IIHS did not also crash one of these vehicles against it’s later-day (not Later-Day!) successor as was done with the Chevy cars!

  • avatar

    Paul, kudos to you for your ramblings on old cars! In this day and age of conspicous consumption, where cars with less than 300 horses and more than a couple of years on their backs are frowned upon, your extremely frugal approach to “gearheadedness” is most refreshing! You can definitely feel smug as you park your old beater beside that brand spanking new wonder-truck, whose owner may have to ration his groceries to manage the payments.
    Also, you should know that you are the main reason why I still waste precious time reading TTAC after the departure of Mr. F.  Tidbits about the industry can be found many places, but truly enjoyable reading is more scarce! Your truck-ramblings actually encourage me to read Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley again – nuff said!

  • avatar

    #1 to your philosophy of life. What a wonderful article.

  • avatar

    The man loves his truck. Country Music knows the feeling:
    I love my truck, she’s right outside
    I ain’t got much love but I sure got a ride
    It don’t matter who lived
    It don’t matter who lied
    I got my truck right by my side

    She don’t care what I am
    She don’t care what I ain’t
    But she ain’t no cheap pick-up
    She just needs a couple coats of paint

    Okay, the song is about a Chevy, but the point is the same.

  • avatar

    Do you have a 73-88 Chevy truck in your pics? Long bed, C-10, not Silverado, but the plain jane Custom Deluxe as they were called here.

    Also, a 1988-1998 C/K would be very nice.

    There’s a blue one in the Pelican Report (73-88) movie which I would really like as a beater. Of course, a EFI LSX swap is required.

    • 0 avatar

      Also, a 1988-1998 C/K would be very nice.

      Are the GMT-400s a rare species where you’re from?  I can’t roll a bowling ball down the street without hitting one of those in Saskatchewan. 
      Cue the hick jokes!  :)

  • avatar

    I had an 82 K-10 long bed “Custom Deluxe”. Wonderful truck until it gave up in 2000 due to rust. Great GM marketing, though – naming the basic strippo the Custom Deluxe!

  • avatar

    A whole gob of us went to Seattle Seafair one year in the ancestor to this truck, a 1955 half-ton six with three-speed; 3 or 4 in the cab, about six or so in the box. We got stopped at a light coming up the hill on James Street, and all of us in back had to pile out so he could move it when the light changed. Good times….

  • avatar

    I’ll keep the XKE, thanks! ;D

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