By on October 3, 2014

f150

If you want to be recognized for your brilliance, it’s best to do something that is less than completely brilliant. The reason for this is simple: Ideas that are very good but less than truly brilliant are generally well-received by the critics and the public. I can give you a million examples, from the Dyson vacuum to any novel by Maragret Atwood to the album The Lumineers, by The Lumineers. All that is required to be lauded as brilliant is to create or perform something that wouldn’t naturally occur to the dimmest member of your audience, and you are good to go.

Should you be so bold as to do something that is actually brilliant, however, you will only suffer one of two fates. You may be ignored, in the manner of post-1850 Melville or pre-Volkswagen-commercial Nick Drake. Worse yet, you may succeed beyond your wildest imagination, at which point it will be the firm opinion of everyone around you that you had only done the natural, nay, the obvious thing. Your work will be taken from you by the critics and given to your surroundings, or your time, or your generation. Historians will suggest that anyone could have done it, given your circumstances. A simultaneous discoverer will be discovered. Your success will be dismissed as having been certain from the beginning.

It’s a tough gig, doing something brilliant. Look at the people who designed the second-generation Prius. But it’s even tougher when you bet the proverbial farm on the results. As Ford did, eighteen long years ago around this time.

In hindsight, the success of the 1997 Ford F-150 was utterly and completely assured. In 1998, the slope-nosed pickup sold over 828,000 units, marking the highest single-model sales total in over two decades. The SuperCrew and Expedition SUV spawned by the F-150 platform were in short supply for years afterwards. It seems hard to believe now, but there was a time that even the Lincoln Navigator was a hot property, even if the Blackwood stainless-steel-box pickup never found an audience.

With the tenth-generation F-Series, Ford put a choke-hold on the American truck market that it has yet to even consider relaxing. The success of the design was so complete that it effectively marginalized its competitors. The Dodge Ram became a curiosity for Mopar people and wannabe truckers, and the Chevrolet 1500 was turned overnight into a hick truck, a willful throwback for the future-phobic, the uneducated, or combinations of both. Neither competitor has managed to break out of those unwanted market positions in the nearly two decades since.

As with all brilliant products, the 1997 F-150 seems like such an obvious move now. The advent of CAFE had murdered the full-sized car but fuel prices had dropped from their Malaise Era highs, leaving an entire country looking for a vehicle with American proportions, modern conveniences, and a little dash of adventure. Pickups had long been the sign of the Country Mouse but suburban America was becoming very interested in adopting some cowboy cool of their own. There was also a huge base of small-pickup owners who were looking to trade up into something that offered more space and capability at a reasonable additional cost.

The problem was that the available pickups of 1995 were absolutely miserable conveyances for anyone with a drop of civilized blood in their veins. Your humble author was a Ford salesman in 1995 and I drove a dark green straight-six regular cab F-150 XL as a demo. I loved that truck like a brother but it was little changed from the F-100 of the Seventies. The cab was cramped front-to-rear, the dashboard was simultaneously ugly and dysfunctional, and the wind noise at freeway speeds drowned out the best of the miserable optional radios. The straight-six was pleasant to drive if you weren’t in a hurry but it could drain the twin gas tanks like there was a hole in the fuel line. Compared to, say, a 1996 Camry or Taurus, it was an embarrassment. Clearly there was room for improvement.

Yet that embarrassment was the best-selling vehicle in the country, and it was nearly single-handedly responsible for keeping Ford’s bottom line in the black. We didn’t discount the 1995 F-150 heavily, and we didn’t need to. As mediocre as it was, it was still much better than the Chevy of the era and the numbers reflected this. The entry-level Chevrolet half-ton was badged “W/T”. for Work Truck, but the first time my father saw one in traffic he inquired of me, from behind the wheel of his steel-grey XJ6, “W/T? That’s for White Trash, right?” He wasn’t far off. The upscale cousins of the W/T were mouse-fur-infested rolling whorehouses with dorky-looking Delco radios and crookedly-applied badging. The F-150 Eddie Bauer which it was my occasional privilege to stock and sell was, by contrast, a study in tasteful fabric and restrained decor. When a customer didn’t like my price on an XLT SuperCab five-liter and threatened to “check out the Chevy place down the street,” my response was always an arrogant little chuckle.

“Make sure you ask about the W/T,” I’d say. “Let me show you out, we have some customers standing out there on the lot who can afford an XLT and I’d like to avail myself of their company.”

Ford didn’t really need a major change in the F-150 to keep leadership in the market, but the brilliant people behind the ’97 knew that they weren’t just competing with other trucks. They were going to be competing with cars very shortly. So the ride and handling target for the F-150 was the Crown Vic Police Interceptor, which in 1997 was still a fresh-face six-window aero superstar. It was a target that they easily met, at least in the two-wheel-drive regular-cab models. The equipment and trim availability was modeled on the Explorer, which was just starting to set sales records of its own. Pricing was robust, considerably more expensive than the outgoing truck, and our lissome dealer rep informed us with a smile on her Heather-Locklear-like face that the first few months of builds would be loaded XLTs and Lariats only.

I attended the dealer event for the trucks and was blown away. The ’97 was such an advance in every way, shape, and form. From the driver’s seat you couldn’t really see the hood on the things, just like on a Taurus. It was roomy and comfortable and had high-quality seating. Amazingly, there was a third door on the SuperCab. When the engineer giving the presentation opened that door, there was an actual spontaneous cheer from the assembled sales staff.

What else? Auto-engaging 4WD, like the Explorer. Lightweight forged aluminum wheels, a first in the segment. Problem was they looked like steel wheels, so only the cognoscenti bought ’em — as did all of my customers who ordered a truck. I insisted on it. The two-wheel-drive trucks sat lower than the ’96, while the four-wheel-drives sat higher. Just the way Toyota did it. I approved. The trim segments were easy to distinguish at a distance, which helped me sell Lariats. The bed was bigger, tougher, easier to access. On the freeway, it was quiet like a Taurus. The new base motor, a variant of the long-serving Taurus V-6, was much stronger than the outgoing 300 straight-six, even if you had to rev it a bit. The modular 4.6 sounded good and, of course, we didn’t know that the spark plugs were all going to take their threads with them when you pulled ’em. It was a great, great, great product.

Yet Ford was afraid. They knew they were dragging their rural customers into the late twentieth century against their will. So, for most of 1996, we sold the old truck alongside the new. It was available in a limited number of trims and colors. Or at least I think it was. I don’t remember, because we sold maybe three of them all year. Nobody wanted the old one. Not even the toothless farm folk whose mustachioed wives produced rolls of sweaty twenties from their circus-tent-sized bras in the F&I office. You’d have some guy come into the showroom, and you could smell the barn on him before you saw him, and he’d be looking like he’d probably started the cycle of abuse that eventually produced the villains from Deliverance.

“Sir,” I would chirp, “welcome to Bob Keim Ford, the leader in customer satisfaction.”

“Boy, you gonna show me a truck.”

“Yes, sir. Now, if you’ll come with me, for this year Ford has taken the unprecedented step of offering two distinct experiences in what remains the world’s favorite half-ton —”

“Boy, I don’t want to see that old piece of shit. I want a 1997 Lariat SuperCab with the 4.6 and auto locking hubs, with the Medium Willow Green contrast rocker panels.”

“Sir, I’d be delighted to take your deposit today for delivery of such a vehicle in the near future, insofar as we’re out of them.” I didn’t stay in the Ford business long enough to see demand catch up to supply, which it eventually did. Then the SuperCrew came out and the whole thing started again. Meanwhile, Ford had demonstrated its peerless understanding of the truck market by introducing the SuperDuty, which answered the one question that hung in the air over the F-150 — didn’t it look a bit delicate to be towing a four-horse trailer? — and caught the competition absolutely flat-footed.

The 1997 F-150 was probably the most important vehicle introduction from an American vehicle manufacturer in the thirty years surrounding its debut. What I want you to understand what that it could have all gone wrong. The idea of an aerodynamic pickup truck was radical as hell. It was so radical that Ford’s been backing away from it ever since, making the F-150 more and more butch and SuperDuty-esque. I’m still amazed at just how popular it was. It really didn’t look much like a manly American pick-em-up.

There was just one little problem, and you can see it here. Ford might have used the Crown Vic as the target for ride and handling, but the reference vehicle for crash safety must have been the Model T, or possibly a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon. I can’t say today whether the F-150’s dismal performance in that regard was a cynical response to our government’s reluctance to regulate light-vehicle safety, or simply a side-effect of the revolutionary packaging. Regardless, it cannot be denied that the 1997 F-150 was not a great vehicle in which to hit something. The IIHS noted that

In the report, the redesigned 2004 Ford F-150 saw driver deaths per million registered vehicle years drop from 118 to 58, or 51%, versus 2001-2003 model year F-150 pickups, if the driver was in a 4×4. Driver death rates dropped even further if the accident involved a 2004 F-150 4×2, from 119 to 40, a 66% improvement. This was the lowest fatality rate of any pickup. It’s also substantially under the average car and truck death rate of 79 during the same period, and beats overall vehicle death rate declines of 30% since the mid-1990s.

So Ford eventually fixed the situation in the next model, but it was too late to help a lot of people. And that’s what makes it impossible for me to truly enjoy the success story of the 1997 F-150. Yes, it was gorgeous and wonderful and revolutionary. No, I don’t think it was safe and no, I don’t think Ford tried as hard to make it safe as they could have done. I think the 2004 F-150 is aesthetically timid and unpleasant compared to the ’97 but you won’t catch me letting my son ride in the old one.

Today, the tenth-generation truck is still a common sight on American roads. The 1998 F-150 in the header shot belongs to my partner in MelodyBurner Guitars, Chris O’Dee; it’s a plain XL V-6 with very few options that happen to include my favorite lightweight wheels. It’s just turned 240,000 miles and we don’t expect it to die any time soon. Millions of these Fords were built and there are probably still a million of them out there. We don’t think anymore about what a gamble they represent, or the role they played in the American truck renaissance that even now refuses to come to a proper end. We look past them, by them, through them. They’re part of the landscape. We pay them the compliment we reserve for the most brilliant of designs — we ignore them.

In 2015, Ford is gambling again. This time, it’s structural, not aesthetic. If they succeed, Chevrolet and RAM will follow in their own timid fashions, as they always do. We take it for granted now that the Blue Oval sets the pace in the truck market. We take it for granted that Ford always builds the most advanced, the most interesting, the most tasteful, the most desired full-size trucks on the roads. Yet it was not always thus. It’s a tradition that started in 1996, with that brilliant idea. I’m proud to have been there at the beginning, proud to have sold them. I just wish that the trucks I sold could have been safer.

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166 Comments on “No Fixed Abode: They got this one right, except they didn’t....”


  • avatar
    ajla

    I think you are WAY understating what the ’94 Ram accomplished for Chrysler and the effect it had on the truck market.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff Weimer

      It was the kick in the pants that made Ford update a pickup that hadn’t been substantially changed since 1980.

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Baruth

        I never spoke to anyone at Ford, or knew anyone at Ford when I worked for Ford Credit, who cared in the slightest about the Ram.

        Development cycles were significantly longer back then. By the time the first quarter’s worth of sales numbers for the Ram were published, the 1997 F-150 was 18 months away from pre-production. The first ’94 Rams were delivered in September of 1993; the first 1997 F-150s were delivered in September of 1996. Nowadays that would be a reasonable amount of time to respond and engineer a product but it was not so at the time.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          Nevertheless today’s pickups owe just as much to that ’94 Ram as to the ’97 F-150 (which I agree was also important).

          People liked the I’M A GIANT SEMI styling of the Ram better than the aero styling of the F-150. I remember a *lot* of complaints about the F-150 styling, even as people agreed that the product was otherwise excellent. New pickups look much more like the Ram, and have been trying to out-macho each other for 15 years now with predictably cartoonish results.

          The Ram, not the Ford, also figured out the blueprint for the modern truck interior. It slid the outer seats further outward, and then replaced the middle part of the bench with a monster console that could store a laptop, which every truck has as a (nearly universally chosen) option today. Ford didn’t get to that sort of interior until 2004.

          Of course, that Ram still had engines that could have come straight out of a ’79 Ram and drove just like the ’79, and those areas are where Ford took the lead. Funny that today the Ram is the truck that focuses most on a somewhat car-like driving experience.

          • 0 avatar
            ClutchCarGo

            “People liked the I’M A GIANT SEMI styling of the Ram better than the aero styling of the F-150”

            I think that had more to do with Chuck Norris than anything else.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            My dad chose the Ram in the 90s because he didn’t like the roundy styling of the “ugly Ford.” The Japanese didn’t offer a full size with a big bed.

            Then he bought a Ram again in 04 because he couldn’t find a single cab, long bed model in a Ford, and didn’t like the “cat eyes” on the GM offerings. The Japanese were too expensive.

          • 0 avatar
            davefromcalgary

            Clutch, don’t you think it was because of Twister?

          • 0 avatar
            ClutchCarGo

            Dave, Twister and other media appearances may have helped, but I think that a weekly appearance on Walker, Texas Ranger doing manly and heroic things escalated the Ram’s “personal semi” style into great prominence in the hearts and minds of p/u buyers.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          I thought I remember the ’97s hitting the lot in spring of ’96. But they were too jellybean for me. All the curved, rounded lines, inside and out, seemed bizarre. I skipped the entire generation.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          I think the “we didn’t care” attitude says a lot more about Ford than it does the Ram’s popularity.

          That generation saw Dodge’s market share nearly triple and their annual sales increased about five times. It took the Ram from a marginal, low-selling Cummins delivery unit into an actual competitor.

          I bet Ford cares about the Ram these days.

          • 0 avatar
            Willyam

            All very good points…I happen to have been standing around as an unfortunate Dodge salesperson during 1992 through 1994. The upside of this time frame was that I was present for the introduction of the Intrepid and the Ram (I even got to participate in a huge “helicopter drop” of a box holding a new Ram into a rodeo arena surrounded by lots of new Rams in red, which we drove around in laps of the fairground, etc., it was good fun). This may seem like no big deal, but until then we were selling the Dynasty and the old Ram. The best change the Ram got for 93 ahead of it’s new introduction was the “Magnum” motor. It completely woke up the Dakota and Ram, and we took great pleasure in hauling ass around the “mile of cars” and drag racing the GMC and Ford guys. This was when most trucks were still regular cab cowboy hot rods in our area. We parked all the Rams, especially the one-ton dually Cummins, stacked at the back of the lot, and just pushed in their clutches and let them bong up against each other nuts to butts. They were as basic as the Fords, a flat plastic dash, interrupted only by an overdrive button. Flat bench seats. Column shift for the high-rollers that got an auto. Same sheetmetal for decades. Our manager was constantly putting Centerline or Keystone wheels on some of the V6 short-boxes to try to move them, but they sat forever (unlike the Cummins, where the ranch and farm guys bought the engine with the truck included as an afterthought). We did not get many drugstore cowboys but real working folks, and pointed a lot of comparison shoppers down the mile to GMC by saying “sure, if you want a truck with glued-on door hinges”…

            As an aside, I had the new Dakota which mimicked the Ram styling starting in 1997, then a 1998 extra-cab F150 (and never wrecked it, thank goodness). One of the best vehicles I’ve ever owned except for the mileage. Never could afford the care and feeding of the new Ram.

          • 0 avatar
            Aquineas

            I realize that you’re probably a Dodge “fan” (which is cool by me; none of these companies have my name up on the “preferred customer list”), but honestly the reality is that Dodge probably cares about the Ford F-150 a lot more than Ford cares about Dodge.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          I thought I remember the ’97s hitting the lot in Spring of ’96. But the jellybean look seemed bizarre to me. Too many curved lines and shapes, inside and out. I skipped over the whole generation. None of the jellybean cars look good to me anyways. Starting with the Camaro, Mustang, Taurus, etc. Or too many chicks allowed on the design team.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    You have to take chances once in awhile to succeed as is most evident in the autoworld, but taking chances at the cost of human life… Nope!

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    The F150 was the Model-T at the dawn of the 21st century.
    Truly a car for the masses.

  • avatar

    Nice piece, Jack. Spot-on.

  • avatar
    tresmonos

    And that Al construction is already infiltrating many more future platform’s body construction.

    It will be interesting to see how Ford Paint shops handle it. I know Chicago struggled with just hoods.

    Great read.

  • avatar
    bball40dtw

    Chicago seems to struggle with alot of things, like Explorer tailgate alignment.

    • 0 avatar
      tresmonos

      The gang fights, the department of corrections work release programs and it’s terrible environment makes it the new notoriously horrid plant for Ford. Oakville used to hold that dubious crown.

      Atlanta Assembly and Norfolk shouldn’t have been shut down. Real estate and logistics overshadowed workforce quality and OAC and CAP survived. There were last minute studies in Atlanta for the Edge as the gov’t incentives for OAC were teetering on the line. Those were some sh1tty days for plant workers.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        What problems occurred at Oakville that you would refer to it as the ‘horrid plant’?

        Ford Canada just announced plans to hire 1,000 new production staff for the Oakville plant.

        • 0 avatar
          tresmonos

          Their sh1t head local, ex plant management and the fact most of them had a 2nd job when they ran 4 team crews, rotating shifts back when they were knocking out these trucks along side minivans.

          When they had to wake up to reality and make one high volume car in place of a truck and miserable minivan, quality tanked. If it were up to the workforce, they would have made that POS van forever and kept their 2nd job that they patterned on their numerous off days.

          Then there is the internally legendary story of management and how it turned over during this transition. That won’t get typed out unless I’m coerced by large quantities of alcohol.

          OAC is just your average plant, these days.

        • 0 avatar
          tresmonos

          I typed a big reply and it got caught by the spam filter. be patient.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            Can you retry, possibly in a shorter format? It looks like your original reply will never get through the filter.

      • 0 avatar
        SC5door

        I’d like to know how exactly you’re connected in the Chicago plant. I have first hand experience on a day to day basis and have yet to encounter a “gang fight”.

        • 0 avatar
          tresmonos

          you must not have worked there. this was during the explorer launch. it wasn’t a ‘gang’ fight, more so a screw driver inserted into someone’s eye.

          Edit: you must certainly know about the ‘undercover’ boss incident with a certain director at CAP?

      • 0 avatar
        Jeff Weimer

        By all accounts I read, Norfolk was the best-run plant in the system. It was a big surprise here when they shut down.

        • 0 avatar
          KrohmDohm

          My neighbor is a retired Ford employee who got out just before the Norfolk plant was closed. Ford shut it down for 2 basic reasons.
          1. It was only a truck plant an unable to have its assembly line used to make other vehicles. Which almost all modern plants can do today. The upgrade costs were deemed too expensive.
          2. Access into and out of the plant for the shipping of parts and finished trucks was difficult and expensive. The city developed around the plant eliminating he possibility of a major rail or highway upgrades.

          • 0 avatar
            tresmonos

            Norfolk had a flexible body shop. The first one ever. They turned down the Escape when it was moved from Ohio. That did them in. If they had limitations, it would have been sequencing / logistics or their conveyor set up. Unfortunately, I never got to work with them. I just heard a lot of good things.

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        Just anecdotal, but I owned a 92 SHO built in Atlanta, and its assembly quality was flawless.

        Loved the car; owned it for 11 years.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          I owned an ’89 SHO built in Atlanta, and it was a fun car, but it was the least reliable piece of junk I’ve ever owned, and had many assembly defects which became obvious when I tore the car apart to repair all the stuff that failed.

          My ’87 Taurus GL was built in Chicago and it was actually far better built.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      It’s basically impossible to get most of them perfect. A stackup of tolerances that irriates the sh!t out of the most OCD customers.

  • avatar
    Eric the Red

    My Dad had the old straight/slab sided F150 which at the time was ok. I was a Ford Credit rep when the new style F150 came out and it was just as exciting as Jack says. Put the old and the new next to each other and WOW what a difference. Ride and everything was so much better. It instantly created it’s own market because the one year old truck looked old and there was a reason to buy a new one.
    *The first year also had the innovative side exhaust (as in front of the rear tire) which disappeared in the next year, as exhaust has a nasty habit of turning the tire and paint behind it into different burnt looking colors.

    I agree the styling hasn’t held up great as it does look a little soft.

    In ’04 Ford did the same thing by running the old model (Heritage) and the new model in the same year. I am not sure what the take rate on the old Heritage model was but other than bargain shoppers, it couldn’t have been too high.

    Contrast that with GM that brings out a new truck, and other than square wheel wells, you can hardly tell the difference.

    Ford is aiming to do the same thing with the new aluminum bodied trucks and mostly new engines agian(although the engines are not getting the front page press that they probably deserve).

    I have an ’04 F150 and will be looking to upgrade soon and the new truck seems to be the reason to do that.
    I will probably not buy the first year of this new model to avoid the teething pains of the new build process and I would like the new 8/9 speed transmission that Ford and GM are working on. My ideal would be a ’16 F150 with the 8 speed transmission to take full advantage of the truck’s higher MPG potential.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    I have a 2003 4×4 SuperCrew FX4, deliberately chosen for the improved spark plug threaded 5.4L 2V instead of the later 3V with it’s myriad of problems. It’s about as good a truck as you could get in ’03 and for at least 4-5 years afterward. With about 160k miles on it I’ve had to replace the timing chain set due to a blown out tensioner gasket, replaced some axle seals, an alternator, and 2 wheel bearings. Working on the modular in chassis is a bit of a PITA compared to a Chevy LS, but aside from the chains, you rarely have to touch em.

    Towing a 3500lb car on an open trailer, it’ll net 15.5 mpg on the highway, or roughly the same as a new GMC 2500 Duramax with the same load. I’ve looked at new trucks with all the amenities, but can’t pull the trigger when the Ford still does that job just fine at little cost. I’d rather plow that money into a more spirited daily driver.

  • avatar
    Seadoorider

    I’m not sure what part of the country you’re from but the “farm” folks where I’m from (KS & TX) are generally not toothless and certainly not opposed to spending a portion of their annual income (which far exceeds that of the average car salesman) from their crops, cattle, oil etc. to purchase modern equipment, travel and any other luxuries the “city folks” enjoy (and a few they could only dream of). And modern agricultural equipment is more complex than anything on the Ford lot. Also I should mention that the hottest vehicle in 97 with the suburban/rural crowd was the Chevy Tahoe. So some $$ did make their way to the guys down the street during this period.

    Perhaps you said “farm folks” when you meant to say “white trash”?

    The rest of the article is accurate regarding the 97 F150 leading the pickup truck’s invasion of suburbia.

    • 0 avatar
      turf3

      Typical city-bred Gen-X comment on “toothless farmers with mustachioed wives”. In today’s world farming is a tough business where the smartest and hardest-working are the only ones that survive. The farmer may not choose to advertise his/her sophistication or financial success, but it’s there.

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        My grandparents are very wealthy due to agriculture. Corn, soy, cattle, hard work and frugality.

        Every time I drain my wallet going out reliving what I should have done in my 20’s, I feel guilty and think of them.

      • 0 avatar
        SatelliteView

        I don’t understand this idiotic, ignorant argumentation: ” In today’s world farming is a tough business where the smartest and hardest-working are the only ones that survive”

        You mean to say before, in the past, it wasn’t tough, and one did not have to be smart or hardworking???? What a dorky and arrogantly ignorant way to “argument”.

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          Maybe he’s trying to say that some of today’s ‘farmers’ are soft, weak individuals who let their machines do all the work and they just sit back on their couches, watching. Hmmm?

    • 0 avatar
      tresmonos

      I think the sales of pick up trucks are regional. The Midwest (west of the Missouri) is GM centric. The farmers I grew up with liked the reliability and power of the GM pushrod powertrains. There were a lot of ex Ford users who switched over to get away from the mod motor.

      Down south (where there are no heavy work loads in ag, live stock, field sizes, etc are just small time compared to out west) is Ford centric. There is significant poultry and tobacco / cotton production down here.

      One thing Jack hit was how slow GM is to react to the truck market. The only thing they have going for them is their robust powertrains. The rest of what they bring to the table is GM typical underwhelming. GM will always be a great powertrain company who happens to make car body’s to encase their wonderful mills. Maybe it’s a mindset still lagging from the Fisher Body days?

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        Funny, that’s exactly how I feel about my G8 GXP. Marvelous powertrain (and also marvelous suspension, steering, and brakes) with a body and interior that are a complete afterthought.

        • 0 avatar
          racer-esq.

          Come on, when you bought the rough around the edges Aussie 5er Ford’s closest US competitor was a horribly outdated BOF sedan dating back to the 70s.

          Ford’s saving grace was that, unlike GM, it bought a Sweedish automaker with modern platforms worth using to keep its lineup modern.

    • 0 avatar
      Crabspirits

      Within my vast database of driver profiles I use for my little junkyard find stories is the farmer JB describes. These are all people I’ve seen first hand.

      This farmer may have been this guy…
      https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/junkyard-find-1980-datsun-720-king-cab-4wd-pickup/#comment-2019926

      While extremely frugal, sometimes they will just splurge because “it’s time”. They might even pick the most optioned-out example because they will drive it till it is dead, many years from now. I call them “Full Consumers”, and they aren’t strictly limited to farmers. Go down any farm road and you will see many one-owner 1990 Sables sitting in high weeds next to a farm house.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Though he did not takeover the family farm (a brother did), this is my Grandfather to a “T”. A farm boy who dropped out of school to fight in WWII (Marine torpedo bomber pilot in the Pacific), came home, married the local hottie, had three kids, then raised a grandkid (me). Worked his way from sweeping floors to a vice presidency at a local company. He busted the union he once belonged to there. Knew how to fix anything, build anything, knew the value of a dollar, and when to save, but knew how to spend them too.

        When he was commuting, drove a Subaru DL with an AM radio (imagine a company VP doing such a thing today). When he retired, splurged on a $20K loaded Olds 98. A Caddy was too flash. And he always owned a truck as well. Always GMC, either a pickup or a Suburban. Diesel while he could get them. Until he got too old to use them to pull campers, which is why he had them. He’s still kicking at 92. Doesn’t drive anymore though.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Jack and his brother inherited their arrogance from their pops, and it never went away.

      ;)

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I chucked at the W/T reference but my thought was between 1975 and 1996, there are *maybe* three or four good model years of XJ6 while some of those same C/K trucks are still on the road in 2014.

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      See, I knew that he wasn’t talking about actual Midwestern farmers because pretty much every farmer around here would sooner remain a bachelor for life (and really, most do) before they marry an “ugly” woman.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    Not being a pickup guy, is Ford’s advantage over GM really that pronounced in the truck market, or is it an artifact of GM splitting sales across 2 nameplates? I thought if you added Silverado and Sierra sales together, they beat Ford some (most?) years.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Together, Silverado/Sierra haven’t beat the F-series many years or decades. That’s combining 1/2 tons and HDs. But the 1/2 ton twins usually beat the F-150, because the ratio of HD F-series is so strong.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    Ford still make one of the most flexible chassis on the market as well. I don’t mean that in a good way.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_f3CAnH7WIM or http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=qr7qEuaXeGo#t=139

  • avatar
    Duaney

    I still want a new Isuzu Pup diesel.

  • avatar
    CrapBox

    I don’t think Margaret Atwood is brilliant. I think she produces U.E.L. dreck.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    I’ve had every truck mentioned in the article in the fleet I manage at work. All of your assessments ring true.

    Our 94’Sierra had the horrendous clunky whorehouse red interior. They got it together for our 98’Sierra. That one would be my choice for a car-like truck.

    Our 94’Ram was a spiteful beast in every way. I cannot believe they sold as well as they did. I still shudder when I think of that cup holder. If you think these trucks are good, then you just haven’t tried anything else. The only thing they had going for them were the semi-truck face and the Cummins.

    We still have the 93’Super Duty 460 with the Mercury Zephyr-ish interior. No matter how good you clean it, somebody new will tell you “It’s dirty”. You can watch the fuel needle move as you drive.

    Our 99’Super Duty is an impressive truck. Ex-rental with 181k hard miles. I wouldn’t mind putting the 4.6 modular in a Lemons car. It’s one of the smoothest V8’s I’ve experienced. I would put it up there with the Lexus UZ’s. I’ve never liked the slopenose, ours has that work truck grade front end with the sealed beam headlights. That’s something myself (and several junkyard patrons I’ve seen looking for body parts in disappointment) didn’t understand, the need for the different front treatments. Yes, changing the spark plugs will be a last resort.

    • 0 avatar
      NoGoYo

      My mom’s boyfriend has a ’94 F250 with the 351 that we use for anything that requires a truck. It amazes me how slow it feels and how rough it rides…sure it’s got some kind of factory suspension lift, but even at relatively slow speeds on a relatively smooth road it’s still bouncing around.

      • 0 avatar
        Crabspirits

        We had one in 4door, dually, with 6 guys, full bed of stuff, and a two-axle trailer with two large mowers on it at all times. You can only imagine. Once, it was so heavily loaded that all six tires blew out. I couldn’t believe it even made it down the street, let alone 20 miles away.

        • 0 avatar
          NoGoYo

          Oh yeah, if this thing already rides like an ox cart, a larger more heavily loaded one would have to ride even worse.

          • 0 avatar
            greaseyknight

            Actually, with with 3/4 to 1 ton trucks, the more you load them the better they ride. A one ton will rattle your fillings out unloaded, but throw a ton or two of gravel in the back and it will ride like a Cadillac(sorta).

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      “We still have the 93′Super Duty 460 with the Mercury Zephyr-ish interior. No matter how good you clean it, somebody new will tell you “It’s dirty”. You can watch the fuel needle move as you drive.”

      Reminds me a lot of my 1990 F-150 XLT Lariat.

  • avatar
    86er

    “The cab was cramped front-to-rear, the dashboard was simultaneously ugly and dysfunctional, and the wind noise at freeway speeds drowned out the best of the miserable optional radios.”

    “As mediocre as it was, it was still much better than the Chevy of the era and the numbers reflected this.”

    This is a contradiction, because the GMT400s were superior to the 1996 and older Fords in all those regards.

    In fact, GM was “ahead” of Ford in that regard for eight long model years, and stole a beat on them with upgraded interiors in 1995 and then the Vortecs in 1996. The mod motors, while pretty good in a Crown Vic, weren’t humbling the Vortecs or the GenII small blocks that came along in 1999.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      The ’95 GMT400 refresh interior was just as crappy as the ’88 one except that the styling was a bit more rounded. Still the same cheap floppy switchgear, still the same brittle plastic. GM didn’t start to get religion on interiors until sometime in the 2000s. The GMT800 interior was a bit of an upgrade, but the first one that could be described as modern (although it still wasn’t very good relative to the competition) was the GMT900.

      • 0 avatar
        86er

        Come on man, who among you would trade dials for that perplexing dot matrix screen where you had to keep pushing buttons to get the blend control where you wanted it? I’d call that an upgrade. Nobody really cared about the quality of the plastics in a truck in 1995.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      I agree, I much preferred the accommodations inside the ’94 1500 w/t Chevy (2wd, 4.3 V6) to the ’94 F250 (rwd, 300ci I6) we had at my old job. Setting aside differences in ride height and quality of a 1500 chevy and a 3/4 ton Ford, the cab in the Chevy was just plain more comfortable. That said, I preferred driving the Ford for its rough and tumble nature and freight train torque from the old straight six.

    • 0 avatar
      bullnuke

      Gotta agree with you, 86er. I shopped for an extended-cab in 1990 at both Ford and GM (Chevy). Drove both and came away thinking the Ford was pretty much the same as one of my roommates had back in ’71 – old stuff. I bought a Chevy Cheyenne ex-cab with the upgraded interior (Scottsdale-level IIRC), 4.3 V6 w/5spd, 3.42 rear-end. And fought with the dot-matrix controls (only the radio). It didn’t rust like any Ford did (just the rocker-panel below the rear side windows and then only after I’d owned it for 12-years in Western Ohio). The drivetrain was bullet-proof – I had to pull the passenger-side valve cover at 190k miles to rod out the oil return with a twisted coat hangar and replaced the valve cover with the original gasket. Oh, yeah, one alternator replaced at 160k mi. Always gave 20 – 21 mpg with medium load (800-1000#), around 16 mpg with an overload of 1 cu-yd topsoil in the bed. But as I found with every GM vehicle I’ve owned, most of their ideas had merit but the execution is p**s poor. Stainless exhaust system with carbon steel mounting brackets welded to it; guess where the perfect pipes corroded in half. All the hard plastic color fading out in the first 5 years. Plastic trim-rattle in the cabin. Drivers window fell because of the rivets holding the glass to the steel lift mechanism corroded off. Kept it for 18-years, 278k miles and the guy who bought it still drives it at around 350k miles. I bought a ’99 SuperDuty 7.3/6spd XL crew-cab and still have that one at 266k miles. It’s bullet-proof like the old Chevy. I looked at the F-150’s again when I bought this one and didn’t like the Taurus-look. One of my co-workers bought a ’98 new and, when driving down the road behind him, I was amused at how it dog-tracked when less than a year old. And I told him that it looked like a woman’s truck….

  • avatar

    Jack,

    Thoughtful and interesting. I’ve heard it said that the ’97s represented the first generation of Ford Trucks to gain a foothold with enthusiasts. Previously GM got the love from the “car guys”, but the ’97 was seen as a design you could personalize and modify. I always liked the look – as well as I liked the 2004 F-150.

    Not a fan of anybody’s current full-size truck styling. Hard for me to plunk down $$$ on something I think looks like butt…no matter how well it’s built.

  • avatar
    greaseyknight

    IMHO, the 97 F-150 and the corresponding Super Duty introduced in 99, was the biggest change to the Ford trucks since the introduction of the 67 models. Maybe even since the end of WWII. Lots of changes thru the years, but nothing as major.

    • 0 avatar
      86er

      Some commentators thought the 99- F250 was copying the Ram design and catching up on Ram’s ergonomics.

      Regardless, I find the 99- F250 design timeless and that 7.3 was a near-flawless workhorse. Plus, people just trusted the Ford to not have weird things go wrong unlike the Dodge body.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    IIRC, the ’97s hit the lot in spring of ’96. But the jellybean generation seemed bizarre to me. Too many curved/rounded lines/shapes. The jellybean era of cars repelled be too. The Camaro, Mustang, Taurus, etc. The dash wrapping around into the door panels felt confining. As if too many chicks allowed in the design team.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    Maybe it was the alluded to thin construction, but rust was not kind to these “Taurus trucks” in the Rust Belt. At about six years, your average one of these had some sort of body cancer showing on the lower panels and wheel arches. Even immaculately kept ones weren’t immune, let alone some XL work truck.

    I like the evolving Dodge design that started in 94 (damn, 20 years,really?) compared to Ford or GM’s almost cartoonishly styled square trucks. Plus with Dodge offering the diesel and coil suspension, it seems much more modern than the others. But Dodge doesn’t sell as many, so risks can be taken it seems, compared to Ford or GM.

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      I can vouch for that. We had a ’98 F-250 (light duty) for 12 years and by about 2007 it needed fender replacement. Of course, with me just having gotten my permit, if you park it in a HS parking lot and wait long enough, you’ll force the situation and you’ll have to replace it anyway…

  • avatar
    Pch101

    This seems to be a continuation of what happened with the Ford Explorer, which provided a sort of epiphany to the American auto industry.

    When Bob Lutz was put in charge of Ford’s truck division, it wasn’t supposedly a prize but rather a sort of corporate Siberia where careers hit a dead end. The story was that Lutz was unhappy with his fate and didn’t want to see his career fizzle out, which inspired him to shake things up so that his career could get back on track.

    So the Explorer was cobbled together from Ranger parts. It proved to be a monster hit, which suddenly made trucks a more interesting proposition for the rest of the industry. (They do notice when the other guy scores a home run.) With the brand equity for the passenger cars being eaten away by the Japanese, increasing the emphasis on trucks became the strategy by default.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Two-door SUVs were common in the by late ’80s, and they all went 4-doors, if they survived the ’80s. Except for the Wrangler that was late to the 4-door game. The Explorer was brand new, but it could’ve easily been the 4-door Bronco II. The Expedition was all-new, but could’ve simply been the 4-door fullsize Bronco.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        The Explorer wasn’t just high volume, it was also high margin.

        That was what made it so interesting for the company. Building them was like printing money because the suburbanites were willing to pay a premium for higher trim levels.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          I’m thinking it had lots to do with the new name. It looked just like the out going Bronco II, with 4-doors. Same exact front clip for the 1st gen.

          They 2-door S-10 Blazer just became the Blazer suv with 4-doors. And the Olds Bravada. But they went nowhere.

          I was a big fan of the Bronco II and owned an Eddie Bauer at one point. I still see Bronco IIs everywhere, as I’m sure the fan base will keep them alive a lot longer than Explorers.

          *old name from F-pickups

          • 0 avatar
            Drzhivago138

            I love the Bronco II, but I don’t see why Ford couldn’t have made it a little more stable (and maybe saved a little money) by putting it on the short-bed Ranger wheelbase. Like how Toyota and Nissan made their respective SUVs.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            I doubt a 4X4 base Ranger was much more stable than the Bronco II. The last years of Bronco IIs were lowered a bit too.

            I’d drive my mom’s base PreRunner Tacoma and it was about as tippy as my Bronco II.
            I could get either one to lift the inside wheel on a tight turn, like a dog taking a p!ss.

            With anything tall and short wheelbase, it’s a given. I’m not sure why the Bronco II got such a bad rep, when most anything similar would tip just as easy. Is it because it was so high volume? Remember the Samurai?

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            The Bronco II got a bad rep because of its twin-I-beam swing axle front suspension. Just do a search on Ford Bronco II front suspension roll over. There are articles aplenty. Ford knew what they were doing too, and hired a legal team to defend against the inevitable lawsuits before the Bronco II reached consumers.

            http://www.ecovitality.org/tortfiles/Latin-SUV.pdf

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            There didn’t seem to be a problem with the Ranger’s TIB suspension. Same parts. You don’t think the Bronco II’s crazy short wheel base and top heavy design had anything or everything to do with its rollover tendencies?

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            The BII’s center of gravity certainly exacerbated the problem, but the front suspension is why it performed worse than its competitors in roll over tests by consumer groups. Other small SUVs were similar in center of gravity, like the hardtop Samarai, Trooper II, Raider & Montero.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            I’ve definitely put myself more at “risk” in convertible sports cars. Roll bar? Ha!

            But a super short wheelbase makes a 4X4 SUV a blast on/off road. OK, the Bronco II was the worst offender, but to myself and others enthusiasts, it was worth the added “danger”.

            So let’s ban everything that’s fun b/c it’s more dangerous.

    • 0 avatar
      ect

      The game-changer in the market was the Jeep Cherokee, introduced in 1984. It was very successful, and showed there was a large market for an SUV that could actually replace a car/minivan/station wagon as a daily drive.

      Its success spawned a bunch of imitators, including the Explorer, which launched in 1991. Both the Explorer and the Grand Cherokee (introduced either 1992 or ‘093, IIRC) carried forward the evolution of the car-like SUV.

      I had a ’91 Explorer as a company car (which completely violated the car policy, as did both the ’87 Cherokee and the ’84 Laser I’d had previously). Two of my colleagues then also got Explorers.

      My wife’s vehicle at the time was a 1989 Ranger Supercab 4wd. From the B pillar forward, the Explorer was virtually identical.

      Our experience was very similar – fine for 2 1/2 years, then major problems, costing about $4,000 to fix during the last 6 months of the lease. Each of us had different issues, but they all had big price tags, and all could be attributed to the fact that the Explorer was much heavier than the Ranger it was based on, and so put much more stress on structural and drivetrain components.

      Our Ranger, by comparison, ran for 6 years without any significant unexpected repairs. Same basics (4-litre six, auto, 4wd), and it was used for towing a horse trailer, which the Explorer never had to do.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        There have been SUV-style vehicles for decades, long before the Cherokee. The Chevy Suburban of the late 40’s was what we refer to today as an SUV.

        What made the Explorer different was the demographic that was targeted. The 80’s-era Cherokees were marketed as 4WD outdoors vehicles. The Explorer was pitched as an urban passenger car alternative with an interior like a car, a vehicle for the suburbs that could appeal to housewives and carry groceries.

        As a result, the buyers changed. That paved the way for turning the SUV into family-yuppie transportation. Jeep started targeting the Explorer when it launched the Grand Cherokee a couple of years later because they realized that Ford was onto something.

        • 0 avatar
          ect

          The term SUV didn’t exist before the Cherokee. The vehicles you appear to be referring to were mostly enclosed 2-door trucks aimed at a niche rural market, not mainstream daily drives. You never saw them in urban or suburban environments.

          The Cherokee was a game-changer. It was the first unibody 4-door vehicle of its type, the first that delivered a car-like driving experience and was accepted in the market as a replacement for traditional family sedan/station wagon.

          The Explorer was aimed directly at the same market as the Cherokee. Chrysler designed the Grand Cherokee as an upscale evolution of the Cherokee, which was then refocused as a lower-price product and lost its fancier models.

          The design of the Grand Cherokee started very near the the same time as that of the Explorer, but the latter got to market first. Ford’s decision to use the existing Ranger platform as a base sped up development of the Explorer, while the Grand Cherokee was both a new platform and suffered some delays in its development.

          Interestingly, the 4wd vehicle of choice for the very affluent throughout the 1980s was the Jeep Wagoneer. I recall driving through Marin County, where it seemed like there was a Wagoneer in almost every other driveway.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            The Cherokee was competing against the Bronco and the Blazer. It was not particularly novel; that type of vehicle had existed for decades.

            It was advertised in the usual way, depicted on back roads, driving through water, etc.

            The Ford Explorer was marketed differently. It was shown driving on city streets. Advertising boasted about interior room and appointments, and women were prominently featured in the ads. Not really the same pitch at all as the Cherokee.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            It was novel in that it was the only unibody off-roader

          • 0 avatar
            ect

            It is utter nonsense to say that the Cherokee was competing against the Blazer and Bronco. These were much larger, BOF, modified pickup trucks that sold in small numbers to rural customers. They also offered the same V8 engines as the pickups they were derived from, while the Cherokee was only available with AMC’s 2.5l 4-banger and 2.8l V-6.

            The Cherokee was something new – unibody, dimensions equivalent to a mid-size car, 4 doors, car-like interior and appointments, looked like a conventional station wagon (only taller). It sold to suburbanites and city-dwellers, offering the macho Jeep image in a family car replacement.

            It was also offered in 2wd, which sold well in the South.

            The success of the Cherokee was a prime motivator in Chrysler’s purchase of AMC, in Ford’s rush to bring a competitor to market, and in the decision of GM, Toyota and others to come into the SUV market – a market the Cherokee created.

            Jeep still uses its tough, off-road image to sell its products (Trail rated, anyone?). So do many of its competitors, even though almost no SUVs ever see gravel roads, let alone off-road environments. It’s called marketing.

            “It was not particularly novel; that type of vehicle had existed for decades.” Really? What other unibody tall station wagon-type vehicles offering 4wd, with dimensions equivalent to a mid-size car, 4 doors, car-like interior and appointments had been in the market throughout this time?

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    Just drove past the local Dodge dealer, who has a 2003 F-150 Lightning on the lot. Possibly the best version of this truck, though not that crazy about the Flareside bed.

  • avatar
    bunkie

    When I was shopping for my first Ranger, Ricart Ford practically made me take an extended test-drive in ’97 F-150 with the six and five-speed. I really liked many things about it, except for one: it was huge. I just couldn’t see the need for that much truck. I ended up with an XLT Ranger with the long bed, 3.0 V6 and a five-speed.

  • avatar
    55_wrench

    This. 1985 Diesel Bullnose F-250 owner here.

    Pare the F-150 down to the size and space-efficient proportions of the ’88-96 F-150s, get rid of the bro-dozer styling. Put an EcoBoost in it and I’d daily drive it for the next 20 years.

    Aside from the safety angle of the ’97-2004 F-150s, I never could get past the dashboards of those things. It mad you feel like you were drowning in giant wads of pre-chewed bubble gum. The dash of the previous series was simple, uncluttered and straightforward, just like the outside.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      I’d love to stick the 3.2 EcoBoost and a six-speed auto in my 1990 model. Would inspire me to replace the dashboard and do a bit of re-wiring as well. The thing’s almost unkillable and almost no body rust despite running in the rust belt since 1999. Would like to replace the diff with a limited-slip or auto-locker though.

  • avatar
    55_wrench

    This. 1985 Diesel Bullnose F-250 owner here.

    Pare the F-150 down to the size and space-efficient proportions of the ’88-96 F-150s, get rid of the bro-dozer styling. Put an EcoBoost in it and I’d daily drive it for the next 20 years.

    Aside from the safety angle of the ’97-2004 F-150s, I never could get past the dashboards of those things. It made you feel like you were drowning in giant wads of pre-chewed bubble gum. The dash of the previous series was simple, uncluttered and straightforward, just like the outside.

  • avatar
    55_wrench

    This.

    ’85 Diesel bullnose F-250 owner here.

    Get rid of the bro-dozer styling, go back to the proportions and size of the ’87-96 F150, stick an ecoboost in it and I’d daily drive it for the next 20 years.

    Aside from the safety aspect of the ’97-2003 trucks, I could never get past the dash in those rigs. It made me feel like I was drowning in giant wads of pre-chewed bubble gum.

    Get back to simple, functional instrument clusters, low belt lines and a bed you can load from the side without a ladder and I’d get one in a heartbeat.

  • avatar
    KrohmDohm

    The 1997 F150 was a truly revolutionary tuck in many ways.(crash safety exluded of course, who cares if your customer base is horrifically injured or killed?). Ford did sell more than Chevy(unless you combine the numbers with GMC, and we should.) But the GMT400 should be credited with making trucks you could live with not just tolerate. They were the first aerodynamic trucks eliminating vent windows(to the rage of many) and introducing a sloped hood, flush mount glass, and flush door handles. Aside from the spartan W/T version(yes it’s awful) the other trims were more comfortable than any truck up to that point. The Vortec V6 was a far superior engine to the Ford V6. Don’t forget this was the last gasp of the venerable Chevy Small Block 350. Only the greatest engine ever made except maybe the Rolls Royce Merlin and the Saturn V rocket!
    I owned a 1995 C1500 in Silverado trim for 11 years. In the last year I owned it I replaced the water pump, alternator and starter. It received a new exhaust from the cat back around year 10. The interior was still in great condition with only minor cracks in the dash. The bench seat with air inflatable lumbar support was one of the most comfortable seat I’ve had in a vehicle. This was a great highway cruiser with that lovely V8 pulling about 1800rpms at 70mph.
    Ford makes a good truck, but that Chevy GMT400 was in my mind the best ever.

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      I’m glad I saw the crash tests only after we sent our ’98 down the road, because I would have been hesitant to drive the thing in certain parts of town knowing I’d probably not come out unscathed in a collision.

      • 0 avatar
        BobinPgh

        Was the pre-1997 F-150 any safer? I remember a consumer reports saying not to buy the previous generation F-150 when both were on sale, or I am thinking of 2004 as someone mentioned above?

        • 0 avatar
          Drzhivago138

          No pickup before the ’97s was really “safe,” but it’s only the 97s+ that get scrutinized because those were the first to be sold as “lifestyle” trucks.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            They were also the basis of the Expedition/Navigator which now made them family haulers along with being work trucks opening them up to greater safety scrutiny, which is quite obvious to anyone who gave it a moment’s worth of thought

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    I was so impressed by this new F-150 that it became the only p-u I’ve ever owned (1998 STX) It had all the bells and whistles and looked good either on the job or going out for the evening. It was rock-solid, stone-quiet, powerful and a joy to drive. I didn’t know about it’s poor crash rating, though at the time I doubt if it would have mattered all that much

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      “All the bells and whistles”? The STX package was lower than XLT, targeted at younger buyers with not much money.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        I was younger, but in case you’re not aware Ford let’s you option-up all levels of F150s.

        http://s188.photobucket.com/user/jimbob1955_2007/media/STX/ece0fdb1_zps9d9024cb.jpg.html?sort=3&o=0

        Though, your snarky comment is noted and appreciated

        /sarcasm

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Great article. However, being currently a pickup shopper, I have to say that Ford has been resting on its laurels . . . although the new aluminum F-150s may change that if the improvements extend to the cab interiors and the suspension. What RAM has done seems smart to me: they have gone with a softer-riding suspension at the expense of payload capacity. Unlike Ford or GM, they’re not trying to build a “1/2 ton” with nearly 2,000 lbs payload capacity . . . because most of their 1/2 ton customers don’t want or need that. Those who do, buy the 3/4 ton.

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      Supposedly the new F150s have up to 3300lb payload. Either that is one of the worst riding trucks in the world or there is a typo on the first digit of that spec.

      • 0 avatar
        Drzhivago138

        That’ll only be on the Heavy Duty Payload Package, which is a pretty uncommon thing. Mostly it’s for guys who wanna tow over 10K lbs. but don’t wanna spring for an F-250, which is a really niche market.
        Mostly, it’s an F-150 body with a thicker frame, transmission cooler, heavier suspension, and heavier axles. Until 2015 it also had cool 7-lug wheels. The same model was called the F-250 light duty from the early 90’s all the way through 1999. We had a ’98 model.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Great article.

  • avatar
    jacob_coulter

    Despite the ’97 F-150 being a huge step in advancement and a home run, I remember having issues with the styling. It just seemed to have a “soccer mom” look to a pickup truck.

    It grew on me a bit though over the years but I honestly think the previous generation was better looking, despite how incredibly crude they were.

    I absolutely think the Ram was the better looking truck and more appropriate styling for a pickup audience. But Dodge quality was still a running joke in the early 90’s.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    The ’97s really were that much better than the ’96 and back because of the better amenities inside and better powertrains, but notably because they had finally ditched that godawful twin I-beam front suspension. That was one area where Ford really lagged the other trucks.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      The twin I-beam gave you best of both worlds. An independent with almost SFA articulation. 2 or 4wd. The problem is the huge, mushy rubber bushing on the radius arm (frame mount). Once oil hits them, they’re done. And they’re exposed to sunlight, exhaust heat, road salt. Disaster.

      It’s a real easily fix if you know what you’re dealing with and how to do it. Just aftermarket urethane bushings. 20 bucks. I’d change them in minutes. Just back off and remove nut/hardware, support the radius arm with a floor jack, chain the assembly to a tree and back the truck up slowly, still on all 4 wheels.

      Those that know, still seek out and run TIB trucks. I see them on the trail all the damn time. With aftermarket bushings if not a lift or 2.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        I believe you that TIB was a good setup off road, but it wasn’t competitive with any other arrangement in tire wear or on-road handling safety.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          All those problems were because of the poor bushing design on the radius arm, at the frame mount.

          New (rwd) Super Dutys are back to the TIB suspension, because it was, and is a great design, over all. That bushing is updated though. Looks like a Honda motor mount.

          • 0 avatar
            danio3834

            2WD Super Duty trucks never went away from TIB front suspensions. It’s basically a relic of past generations along with the remaining E-series that still use it. An SLA suspension is far more preferable for on road use as not only camber but caster AND toe in change quite a bit with suspension travel with TIB.

            TIB trucks love to wander and have generally sloppy road manners, but they are robust and cheap which are really the only reasons Ford still uses them.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            If the TIB set up was as bad as you claim, do you really think it would’ve survived 50+ years in mega millions of trucks? And still on millions of trucks on the road?

            When used within its normal range of motion, there’s even less changes to camber and toe, vs a normal independent suspension. Therefor less tire wear. Caster? Not enough change to be an issue. Clearly.

            I’ve owned lots of old and ageing TIB trucks without a single issue, suspension related.

            On a normal independent, control arm ball-joints are the weak link that will eventually leave you stranded if not replaced when worn. The TIB only has that big bushing as a weak link.

            The only real issue I’ve had is with an SLA’s “death wobble”.

        • 0 avatar
          danio3834

          This right here. Camber and tire contact with the road would change significantly with suspension travel and depending how the truck was loaded. A heavy load out back would cause the front tires to camber out and cause edge wear and poor handling. Sure they were durable, but they handled like crap when loaded and ate tires.

          I still have my old ’87 F150 2WD with the I6 and 4 speed manual. Its a good old work truck but that suspension leaves a lot to be desired over my ’03.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Given the same load, there’s more camber change in your ’03 due to its much shorter lower control arms. A heavy load out back wouldn’t cause severe positive camber unless all the weight was far behind the axle. Too far. Who would load a truck that way?

  • avatar
    Johnny Canada

    McDonalds sells more beef than Ruth’s Chris, so obviously it’s the best restaurant in America.

    Enjoy the smug satisfaction of buying “the best selling…”

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      One, that’s not a comparable situation. The only competitors at the time were Dodge and GM, so one of them has to be the best. Two, “best-selling” in this case is also shorthand for “most easily accessible.” Three, “best-selling” is never explicitly stated to also mean “best” by Ford, only implied. It’s up to the customer to make that connection.

    • 0 avatar
      Jellodyne

      If eating at Ruth’s Chris were about the same cost as eating at McDonalds that analogy would make sense.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      I may feel a little guilt, hitting McDonalds 2, 3 times a day. But they’re just everywhere I need them to be. I’m back on the road in minutes and they’re still way more satisfying than gas station grub. Sometimes I’ll just double down on fries and a sundae.

      There’s one McDonalds near me that doesn’t dilute the Coke. That’s about impossible to find in anywhere.

      • 0 avatar
        NoGoYo

        I personally think Coke tastes better a little diluted…

        Straight bottled/canned Coke is very syrupy and makes your mouth and teeth feel unpleasant, in my opinion.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          I prefer Coke straight out of the can, over ice. As it melts, it dilutes it just right.

          When the ice starts to melt in pre diluted Coke, it tastes way too diluted after minutes. Nasty tasting if you don’t down it immediately.

          But you’re gotta try Coke from Mexico. Real sugar, not the corn syrup, fructose.

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            Oh yeah, the real sugar stuff is the best.

            But plastic bottle HFCS Coke has gotta be the worst. There are 16 oz cans of Coke but few places around here sell them, which is a shame.

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          “I personally think Coke tastes better a little diluted…”

          That’s what the rum is for ;-)

  • avatar
    Drzhivago138

    Our family is biased in favor of this generation because we had a ’98 F-250 light duty longer than any other vehicle, during a time when it went from being “nice truck/camper hauler” to being “teen’s first car” to being “work truck/hay hauler” to being “winter runabout” to now being “contractor special”.

    I’ve always thought, though, that Ford could’ve alienated a lot fewer potential customers if they had just added a subtle fold or kick-up in the front grille, to remove most of the perception of it being a “jellybean” vehicle. Just a little more upright of a grille–nothing like what they have now, just a little bit.

  • avatar
    George B

    I really liked the 1997 Ford F-150 when it first came out. Almost bought one. What was great about that truck in short bed regular cab XLT configuration with a V8 was that it was very car-like when driven around town empty. Felt like a big BOF American car with a relatively soft ride, but with the ability to haul plywood. The interior felt larger than the previous generation. The relatively light weight of the 1997 F-150 helped with acceleration and the aerodynamics helped it not feel gutless on the highway. Back when gasoline was down near $1/gallon, I thought it was a viable daily driver.

    The big problem with that generation of F-150 was the excesses of the rounded shapes. Never had a good feel for where the front “corners” of the truck were and the interior design hasn’t aged well.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    I was building up steam to castigate you for the same revisionist history as the guy who says he saw GM’s fate at 14 over on the classic website. Then I read the sentence “we pay them the compliment we reserve for only the most brilliant….”. I cannot decide, even after all these years if you are genius or dilettante. Today, I vote genius. Thanks.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    I originally liked the 1997 Fords, but the styling just didn’t remain fresh with me. I prefer trucks square as possible. Love the new Fords and GMs, but I dislike the front window sill droop in the Ford doors, but I guess it improves vision a bit.

    As an aside, I regarded the 1994 S-10 redesign design as too Japanese-looking.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      “As square as possible” means absolutely crappy fuel economy at the best of times due to a severe lack of aerodynamics. “As square as possible” means you’re pushing a brick through the air at highway speeds, potentially killing 33% of your possible FE. A truly aerodynamic shape could have a modern truck exceeding 30mpg instead of struggling to reach 25.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        Pickups have inherent problems with aerodynamics, no matter what you do. A big, tall radiator is necessary. Not much room for a sleek/pointed nose or flat/low windshield. Still lots of turbulence behind the cab and through box. Lots of ground clearance too.

        Still pickups are as round as possible, even if they keep some hard looking, straight lines that wrap around. There’s simply not much to be gained by a more rounded nose.

        • 0 avatar
          jhefner

          Semi’s have the same problem; the original Kenworth T-600 had a smaller radiator that was also sloped back. They also made the fenders more rounded; though the overall design and looks were controversal, and I think they dialed it back a bit in later models; though they are still more aerodynamic.

  • avatar
    50fordbob

    I ordered a new 99 f 150 xlt regular cab short bed V6 auto trans with limited slip diff. It has served me very well and always got me through the snow to work. This has been the most reliable and trouble free vehicle I have ever owned. The only major repair it has ever had was new clutch packs in the ltd. slip diff at 10 years old. As much as I would like to have the new aluminum truck, the 0ld 99 still looks and runs too well to give up.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I own a 2004 Heritage part of them clearing out the excess parts inventory of the 97-03 as the new for 2004 models were being introduced.

    It is over 100,000 miles and the differential whines a bit but otherwise does all that you ask it to do. It is a faithful family friend and hauls what it is asked to haul without complaint. I plan to keep it as long as possible, I hope to have it around when it is 40 or 50 years old.

    My father had one of the old slab sided F150s with the 302 and three speed auto as his employer assigned work truck for many years. I rode in it quite a few times. You couldn’t have GIVEN it to me. The 1997 was a huge improvement.

    • 0 avatar
      petezeiss

      “I plan to keep it as long as possible.”

      That’s how to do personal pickup ownership. A nice car for a DD and a solid, old pickup for all the homeowner stuff, especially since new ones have become 40+K investments.

      All that cushy stuff you pay big for in a truck comes a lot cheaper in your DD and most of us can “rough it” for the occasional time a truck is truly needed.

  • avatar
    AmcEthan

    i have owned a 1997 f150 with the 4.6, a 2001 f150 with the 5.4 and a 1998 f150 extended cab long bed with the 5.4. all were junk and more rustprone than an old import. sucked gas and could not perform as well as a truck as my even older ram could. also, one of the cheapest looking interiors i have ever seen. only plus is that you didnt have to worry about speeding tickets, they cant get out of their own way.

  • avatar
    segfault

    Into a fixed barrier or full-size truck of the same vintage, I’m sure it wasn’t safe, but neither were most of the other entries in the pickup segment. In 1997 few car manufacturers were designing to pass the offset crash test and nobody was evaluating trucks on that test. Hitting a Hyundai Elantra of the same vintage, I bet the occupants of the F-150 would come out better.

    What we’re seeing now with the small-overlap test is that, rather than designing an overall safe car to begin with, manufacturers are scrambling to make structural enhancements to enable their vehicles to pass that one test. Meanwhile, an ancient Volvo XC90, which has seen few or no structural improvements since 2003, passed the small overlap test with flying colors, and also passed the roof strength test. Neither test was being published by IIHS when the XC90 was designed.

  • avatar
    njr

    Interesting timing. I just said goodbye to my 99 F150 today. It’s served me well, no mechanical problems at all. Never really liked how it looked, particularly the RWD version, but it rode a lot better than the contemporary Dodge, and we were fed up with GM reliability at the time.

    Glad I never got in any serious accidents with the truck. When I saw the crash scores a few years after buying it, I started being a lot more careful — probably still not careful enough, though.

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    Did the Expedition and Navigator derived from the ’97-’03 F-150 inherit the safety flaws? Tragically, many people buy large SUVs, and sometimes pickup trucks, using the bigger is always safer mindset. In that context, it is really unfortunate Ford either wasn’t able to or didn’t want to make those trucks safer.

    To be fair to Ford, I wonder how that F-150 compared to its Dodge and Chevy competition at the time. The numbers Jack used show a dramatic improvement with the next F-150, but don’t add much context to the safety of the ’97-’03s compared to other vehicles of similar vintage.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      Starting in MY 1999, light-duty trucks were required to meet passenger car safety standards. That included mandatory airbags and crash protection in the doors. I would presume that all of the trucks in the market became somewhat safer as a result.

  • avatar
    jhefner

    “The 1997 F-150 was probably the most important vehicle introduction from an American vehicle manufacturer in the thirty years surrounding its debut.”

    I would debate this statement (I know, no surprise here.) Ford was on the ropes, and spent billions on the Taurus/Sable in the early 1980s; had the Taurus failed, Ford would have gone bankrupt. Like GM and Chrysler, it probably would have survived post-bankruptcy; but the failure of the Taurus probably would have brought to an end Ford’s leading edge work on jellybean cars, and there would have been no “Taurus Truck.”

    Ford also hedged it’s bets on the Taurus/Sable by still offering the LTD Crown Victoria for a few years in case the Taurus flopped. So that was not the first time Ford kept the previous model around in case the jellybean model failed.

    Once the Explorer and F series began to print money for Ford, and the “catfish” Taurus of 1996-1999 faltered; Ford focused more on it’s truck line instead, and basically dropped the Taurus like a one night stand, leaving it to die a slow death in 2006. They brought back the name only when the Ford Five Hundred (which was supposed to replace the Crown Vic) did not ignite sales.

    Lots of other car makers tripped over themselves to introduce their own “Taurus” once the first Taurus/Sable (and Audi 5000s) took off; something that did not happen with the 1997-2004 F series. So I think I have a valid leg to stand on when I say the Taurus/Sable were far more important than the 1997 F series introduction.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      What was important about this truck was that it shifted the full-size truck from workhorse to transportation for the affluent. Detroit would be in much worse shape now had it not figured out how to sell some of their trucks today for $40-50k and more.

      The Taurus saved Ford from bankruptcy during the 1980s. But the high-end pickup trucks helped Ford to avoid a bankruptcy following the 2008-9 crash and have allowed GM and Chrysler to get back on their feet following their reorganizations.

      • 0 avatar
        jhefner

        That’s a very good point Pch101 about the upselling of pickups following the release of the ’97 F series and Explorer.

        I was also thinking of how the Taurus finally convinced Detriot that jellybean cars would sell. They were gunshy about aero cars for decades following the flop of the Chrysler Airflow, but when the sales of Taurus/Sables and other early aero cars took off; both Chrysler and GM slapped new nose caps with flush headlights on their existing offerings to keep them from looking obsolete overnight while planning aero releases for the 1990s. But it did not make any more money for them.

    • 0 avatar
      Aquineas

      I was going to make the same point. The Taurus was so big it was deemed “Ford’s 3 Billion Dollar Gamble” at the time. Even the interior materials that were used were brand new. In retrospect, that’s still a heck of a lot of money to develop a car, particularly in today’s dollars (For comparison, the Lexus LS cost about a third of that to develop). In any case, the Taurus was one of the first American cars that people would cross-shop with the Camry and the Accord of the time (which were fantastic cars in their day, especially during the era of Toyota over-engineering).

      • 0 avatar
        jhefner

        That three billion dollar pricetag was due to the fact that it was a clean sheet design; almost nothing carried over from any previous model. I would have to read up on it again; but even how it was built was re-examined; along with new materials and powerplants.

        Fords had a horrible reputation at the time; by 1980, Ford had lost half of their sales from two years before to the imports. The Taurus was practically a reboot for company, and it helped to turn Ford’s reputation around as well as help pave the way to a future of jellybean cars. It was then that Ford’s advertising slogan became “Have you driven a Ford, lately?”

      • 0 avatar
        Dan

        “In retrospect, that’s still a heck of a lot of money to develop a car, particularly in today’s dollars (For comparison, the Lexus LS cost about a third of that to develop)”

        That’s a disingenuous comparison. Development costs aren’t building the car, they’re building the process to mass produce it. Tooling up for a mass market production run of a million plus costs megabucks. Building a luxury car at 300% of the unit price but 7% of the volume shouldn’t come close.

        That the LS was even in the same ballpark says more about Toyota’s gamble than it does Ford’s. Lexus didn’t break even for years.

        • 0 avatar
          Aquineas

          Well we can respectfully agree to disagree. It’s still a boatload of money when brand new-from-scratch plants with lots of automation are running about $1.2 Billion these days. And to drive up the price tag even more, the 1996 Taurus cost another $2.8 Billion to develop.

  • avatar
    Aquineas

    Really glad you didn’t just heap praise on this vehicle and not discuss the horrible crash results. They improved it greatly in 2004, but at an appreciable weight penalty. I’m a little surprised you didn’t mention the SVT Lightning- that one even had the Camaro guys complimenting it at the time. I’m sure you had no problem whatsoever selling those.

  • avatar
    EBFlex

    So it only took Ford 7 years to give ANY thought to the safety of their customers. That’s comforting.

    Hopefully Ford gave some thought to safety on the new one, in between dreaming up useless gimmicks and running to the beer can factory to get the defective cans to use as the body.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I always liked this model of F-150 it has clean lines and it is a more modern truck. As for GMs the new redesigned full size trucks in 1988 had nice clean lines as well. As for what rescued Ford I would have to say the Taurus had a much more profound effect. Before the Taurus the Ford midsize cars were not that good and were not that competitive to the Camry or the Accord. I never cared that much for Fords until the Taurus and the redesigned 1991 Escort which was basically a Mazda 323. Ford has come a long way and they have very competitive products.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    The pictured truck pretty much nailed the new look perfectly.

    Personally I found the new design too rounded; the interior was horrid. Maybe it was just a mid-90’s thing…the Chevy felt cheap and the Ram was good looking but brittle (my brother has owned two – a ’96 and an ’04. Never again).

    I guess if I needed a work truck I would have gone with the one pictured or the T-100…

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    And yet, no 3-4l diesel option.

    /lesigh

  • avatar
    Duaney

    As a long time tow truck operator, those of us around a long time know that the Ford TIB ate tires, and the typical Chevy did not.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      You’re right, but you’re also talking older/aging tow trucks, that take lots of abuse. Took a lot of abuse. 1 ton tow trucks are obsolete.

      Older/aging GM trucks will lose ball-joints, which is much more dangerous than worn out bushings. Lots more.

      But TIBs are still on new Super Dutys, but with updated bushings that are more like modern motor mounts, instead of big donuts.

      Most didn’t know why their TIB trucks would chew up tires. That was great for me though. I’d get the trucks cheap and fix them for about $20.

  • avatar
    Duaney

    No fix for TIB eating tires, because the basic design has the tire rotating up and down in an arc, whereas the SLA system has the tire going straight up and down, both designs are this way new or old. A worn out tire from the TIB design is much more unsafe than a worn ball-joint, of which I’ve never seen come apart on any wrecker. TIB is tough, like a straight I-beam front axle, but always eats tires.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      There’s no question TIBs rotate the tires more than SLAs, but still much less than normal independents. Each IB is just a super long, lower control arm. The shorter the arm, the more rotation.

      The TIB wouldn’t have survived for 50 years if it really ate tires. At least not till the bushings are worn out. Or missing. But again, that’s an easy fix, if you or your shop knows what they’re looking at.

      On late model F-350s, the bushings are updated for long life, possible outlasting the truck itself.

      The 1st tow truck I owned was a TIB ’87 F-350 with unknown high miles. I immediately put in new bushings and it never had a problem eating tires as long as I owned it. It drove like brand new. Before that, it likely ate tires like crazy.

      With every used TIB truck I owned, I’d just swap the bushing with aftermarket prothanes, without question. And without problems. Tires are too expensive.

      And I never experienced “death wobble” until my 1st tow truck without TIB.

      But every truck with ball-joints will eventually wear them out. That includes tow trucks. They don’t have magic ball-joints. Ignore the ball-joints on older trucks and the knuckle will separate from the control arm while you’re driving it. Absolutely.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        Not really a A arm suspension can keep the camber from changing throughout the entire range of travel if it is designed to do so, even with really short arms. The reality is that is not a desirable trait which is why they the Short-Long Arm design is popular, because it can be designed to create the desired amount of camber change to increase the cornering ability. All that said I’ve got trucks with twin I beams and prefer that suspension because it has proven to be extremely durable. Proper tire choice makes a huge difference in how long they last. Maintaining the radius arm bushings is also critical but that is a cheap and easy thing to do when they eventually wear out. The TIB and TTB is way easier and cheaper to maintain compared to most SLA suspensions over the long run.

  • avatar
    scuzimi

    Hum.. seems my comment was removed? I guess me saying that this guy needs a editor didn’t sit well with all the heaps of glowing tributes to this Jack guy. To me each time I try and read one of his babbling novels I fall asleep about half way through. Jeez man edit thyself. I’m sure this will be edited also but my “Fixed Adobe” is stopping here.

  • avatar
    scuzimi

    Oh yeah… even the name… No Fixed Adobe” is pompous.

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