Stepping back in time at the wheel of the original Ford F-Series pickup

Published: August 14, 2017, 12:45 AM
Updated: November 21, 2021, 3:08 PM

1950 Ford F1 Pickup

DEXTER, MI – It’s been said the best way to know how far you’ve come is to look over your shoulder to see where you started. For the Ford Motor Company, it’s a long way back to find its roots in the truck business.

Ol’ Henry started adding trucks to his company’s product portfolio in 1917, introducing the Model T-based TT, while the modern-day F-Series, which has been North America’s top-selling pickup for decades, was spawned with the launch of the F-1 pickup in 1948.

To help celebrate those milestone moments in Ford’s history – 100 years building trucks and 70 years of F-Series pickups – the company rolled out a couple of vintage models during a media event here to launch the 2018 F-150 lineup.

We were invited to ride along in a 1920 TT, complete with a full cab (a $65 option at the time.) To say space was at a premium in the cab is an understatement and the possibility of any comfort amenities didn’t exist. Indeed, driving a truck in that era must have been a tough job.

1950 Ford F1 Pickup Test Drive

Meanwhile, Ford had sufficient trust in its F-1 pickup to put it in the hands of the media – and the experience was memorable. The truck, a 1950 model, had been meticulously restored. It was powered by a 232 cubic-inch flathead V-8 that cranked out about 100 horsepower. That output was channelled through a three-speed, non-synchromesh manual gearbox.

This particular truck had several options – a built-in AM radio, a windshield wiper on the passenger side, an ashtray, a heater, even a fiberboard headliner. An aftermarket turn signal accessory had been added. This truck’s sticker price in the day was around $1,350, but the options would have pushed the bottom line closer to $1,500.

Driving the 1950 Ford F1 certainly put into perspective how far truck engineering, design and technology have come in 70 years. Yet this ol’ gem had a charm that immediately endeared it to me.

Starting it was uneventful, just turn the key and the V-8 fired up. However, getting it rolling was truly an adventure. With the non-synchro gearbox, engaging first gear without that embarrassing grinding of the gears was a challenge. Then trying to gently release the clutch for a smooth launch was nearly impossible. Give ‘er and go seemed to be the only choice.

Driving the Ford F1 1950

Now mobile – and feeling relieved I hadn’t crunched the gears into a pile of metal powder – it was time to turn the steering wheel and hit the road. I cranked that huge steering wheel full circle and then some – and still nearly wiped out the neighour’s mailbox on the other side of the road before the front wheels responded. It became instantly apparent why those knuckle-dusting steering-wheel spinner knobs were such a popular accessory in the day.

To say steering response on the road was vague is an understatement. I could swing the steering wheel almost 180 degrees side to side and the truck just kept heading straight down the road.

Still, the unique charm of this vintage truck forced me to overlook its mechanical shortcomings. Sure, the steering left much to be desired compared to today’s vehicles, and the need to refresh oneself on the art of double clutching and rev matching just to engage a different gear was a bit stressful at first, but as I cruised along at a pretty decent clip, there were so many stimuli to satisfy the senses.

Under the 1950 Ford F1 Hood

With the windows (manually) cranked down and the “no-draft” vent windows stirring the air around the cabin, I was able to soak in the smells and sounds of the great outdoors. I was “entertained” by the clatter coming from under the 1950 Ford F1 hood as the tappets slapped against the valves of that iconic flathead engine. Who needs a multi-speaker premium audio system when you can listen to that “music?”

With leaf springs front and rear, the ride wouldn’t score high on the comfort scale, but it was acceptable. The vinyl-covered front bench forced me to sit in that posture-perfect upright position mom was always demanding, but it actually worked out well with the placement of the large steering wheel. It was positioned upright, like you’d find in a bus or big rig. With no armrest on the door, it was almost natural to simply rest my forearms on the steering wheel.

The cabin décor was spartan – no fake wood appliqués or satin chrome trim accents. The entire cab was painted in the same torch red finish as the exterior. The bench seat and the single sunvisor did have a contrasting tan covering.

The cab was actually quite roomy, easily accommodating two robust adults – or with no centre console or armrest to interfere, two consenting adults could cuddle up quite nicely, or so I’m told. 

Driving this F-1 certainly put into perspective how far the truck-building business has come. However, while I do appreciate all the advances, safety and amenities of the modern pickup, the opportunity to step back in time and experience the charm of a bygone era will be a lasting memory.