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Ford marks a century of building trucks

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1918 Ford Model TT stake bed. Images courtesy Ford Motor Company, unless otherwise noted.

Announced on January 11, 1917, and introduced to the public six months later, Ford’s one-ton truck chassis — later identified as the Model TT — was intended to fill a niche previously occupied by aftermarket suppliers. Originally available only as a rolling chassis, the Ford TT, which marked its 100th birthday on July 27, laid the groundwork for every Ford truck that would follow, including the perennially best-selling Ford F-150 pickup.

As soon as Henry Ford’s Model T was launched in 1909, aftermarket suppliers began to adapt it for commercial purposes, adding stake beds and van backs to carry cargo. Sensing the opportunity, Ford supplied its customers and dealers Model Ts in rolling chassis form for conversions, some of which included strengthened frames and wheelbases longer than the T’s 100 inches. For those seeking utility with less carrying capacity, Ford’s Commercial Roadster, introduced in 1910, offered a small pickup bed (which could be adapted for use as a flatbed) and a removable third seat.

By 1914, third-party suppliers were building heavily modified versions of the Model T chassis capable of hauling up to three tons of cargo. The company began to receive more requests to build a heavy-duty platform of its own, but Henry Ford found himself distracted by several projects, including the development of Fordson tractors and a December 1915 trip to Europe to negotiate an end to the first World War. His efforts in regards to the latter proved unsuccessful.

1917 Ford Model TT

1917 brochure image for the Model TT. Image courtesy of Old Car Manual Project.

As Pat Foster writes in Ford Tough — 100 Years of Ford Trucks, Ford sent a letter to its dealer network in 1916, advising them that conversion of Model T chassis for heavy-duty purposes was henceforth prohibited, citing safety reasons. While this may have been a valid excuse, Ford itself was in the process of developing a one-ton truck chassis, and hoped to eliminate the competition prior to its launch.

In January 1917, the United States’ entry into the war still seemed uncertain. With an eye towards business, Ford formally announced its one-ton truck chassis on January 11, proclaiming a base price of $500. A production schedule wasn’t announced, which proved to be a good thing: On April 6, 1917, the U.S. formally declared war on Germany. The conflict which Henry Ford feared had come home, and the automaker turned its attention to increasing production for the war effort. By the end of May, Ford had been given an order for 2,000 Model T chassis to be converted for use as ambulances, and ultimately, the conflict served as a proving ground for both the Model T and the Model TT.

1917 Model TT specifications. Image courtesy of Old Car Manual Project.

Though the war delayed the introduction of the Model TT, it didn’t prevent it, and the chassis reached the market in July 1917. Its price had risen for the estimated $500 to $600, but for their money buyers received a reinforced frame stretched to a 124-inch wheelbase, a heavy-duty suspension, and a worm drive axle that could be ordered with either standard final gearing (delivering a top speed of 15 mph) or optional gearing that allowed the TT to achieve the breakneck pace of 22 mph. A higher-output engine wasn’t available, meaning the TT got by with the same 20-horsepower, inline four-cylinder engine found in the Model T.

Buyers were also on their own, at least initially, for cabs and bodies. In 1924, Ford debuted the C-cab, named for the shape of its rear pillar, along with a selection of commercial bodies. A fully enclosed cab was added to the mix in 1925, and the number of body offerings from Ford was increased. By the time that Ford’s 1.5-ton Model AA replaced the TT in 1927, prices for the latter had fallen to $325, and total production had reached 1.3-million units.

1934 Ford Model BB

Hemmings own 1934 Ford Model BB wrecker, on the beach in Wildwood, New Jersey, for the 2016 Race of Gentlemen. Photo by author.

Ford continued to advance its truck product line over the years, adding features and capabilities demanded by commercial customers. The postwar years saw a shift in the market, and with many returning veterans moving from rural to urban areas, pickup trucks went with them. The F-Series debuted in 1948, with the number (F-1 through F-7) initially denoting its class and payload. In 1953, the F-100 replaced the F-1, initiating a naming convention that remains in use today.

1975 Ford F-150

1975 Ford F-150, the first to use to carry the F-150 name.

The sixth-generation F-Series arrived in 1975, bringing with it the F-150 moniker. Consumers approved, and in 1977 Ford took the sales crown from General Motors, an honor its maintained for the past four decades. Happy birthday, Ford trucks, and here’s to the next 100 years.