When I encountered this almost pristine ’71 F250 on a walk, I was instantly taken back to Towson in the fall of 1970 when I drove one identical to this, right down to the red paint. It was the first pickup I ever drove, and like most firsts, it left a lasting impression, right down to the details.
As you all probably know, I got a job that fall as a lot boy at Towson Ford. It was the perfect job for a car-crazy kid with a newish driver’s license. I hopped a school bus from Towson High to a couple of blocks away, crossed York Road and stoked my voracious metabolism with my fourth meal of the day at a little greasy spoon right next door, where the McDonald’s is in this later picture. The Greek guy that ran it knew what I was going to get as soon as I walked in: a couple of fried egg sandwiches wrapped in wax paper. Quick and cheap, to get me through until supper.
Having inhaled them, I walked next door and checked in. And on this particular afternoon, I rode with the new car prep manager out York Road quite a ways, to Cockeysville, where they had their distant storage lot. My assignment was to drive back a red F250, which had been sold and was to get prepped for delivery.
I got in and noticed that it had a four speed stick shift. I also noted on its sticker that it had the optional 360 CID FE V8, which was rated at 215 gross hp. It turned out that the majority of F-series I would drive that fall and winter came with that engine. The base standard engine was the 240 six, and the bigger 300 six was the first optional step up. But by 1971, buyers were starting to substantially favor huskier V8s in their pickups, thanks to strong incomes and cheap gas. The 390 was also available.
According to my Standard Catalog of American Light Duty Trucks, 86% of 1971 light duty (1/2 ton through 1 ton) F-Series had a V8, and 43.7 had an automatic. 57.6% had an AM radio, 35.3% had power steering, 25.6 had tinted glass, 42.4% had power brakes, and 9.7% had air conditioning. The one I drove that afternoon had just the V8, AM radio and power steering.
The 360 started up with that distinctive muted but husky FE sound. I used first gear to take off, and quickly realized that was highly unnecessary. It’s strictly for hard pulling from a start; these F250s weighed only some 3800 lbs or so, and the torque-rich 360 could have probably been started in any gear with a bit of clutch finessing. But second was of course the obvious choice.
I was on my own on the way home, which allowed me a bit of red light acceleration trials on York Road. Not exactly in the same league as the 350 HO Mustang I drove there too. For that matter, the light and lithe 2.0 L Pinto could probably shut it down. But it was fast enough for me to make myself a nuisance (and menace) on York Road. Shifting that big heavy stick coming straight out of the gearbox was a new experience, one I rather liked despite it hardly being a quick-shifting thing.
I soon learned that empty pickups will very happily lock their back wheels upon even moderately-vigorous braking. That resulted in a few hairy moments on rain-slicked down grades with a red light at the bottom. Fortunately I managed to not rear end anyone. But feeling that tail want to come around resulted in some vigorous counter-steering to stay in my lane.
Handling? York Road was straight the whole way. I did drive one to the body shop once, and that route was very curvaceous. A stiffly-sprung F250 was actually more fun than a wallowing LTD, which is saying something.
It was my first liberal introduction to all things trucks, and I relished that.
Only a few weeks later that I noticed a big red F-600 cab-chassis when I came to work after school. A salesman walked back into the new car prep bays and asked if anyone knew how to drive a truck. Without hesitation, I said Yes! The cab looked just like an F250. How hard could it be?
The salesman imparted his minimalist directions: “follow me”. I had no idea where we were going or what I was doing. I climbed up into the cab. Man, everything sure looked small from way up there. I started up the V8, probably another 360, and found the first of ten gears (a five speed and two speed axle), and released the heavy clutch as I pulled into York Road again. Once again, I had picked a much too low of a gear. Second was more like it, although third would have worked too, given its empty chassis. The first order of business: keep the big rig in my lane while sorting out the gears. Once I figured out how to stop locking the unloaded rear wheels with the grabby brakes, people stopped staring at me.
The dealership was just a few blocks off the Beltway, and our route included that and the very curvy Jones Falls Expressway, which dumped us in the heart of downtown Baltimore, where its future bed awaited it at an industrial building. I sweated bullets keeping up with him on the freeway. I had no idea where we were supposed to be going. Just stay on his ’71 LTD tail, but don’t compress it. It was another rite of passage. I was a truck driver!
That red F250 was of course just the first of many new Ford pickups and vans that I would drive that fall and winter, before I abruptly quit and hitchhiked out to Iowa, where a year or so later I got a job driving the biggest Ford Super Duty dump trucks made. They were even red too.
Given all the brutally hard loads I’ve subjected my ’66 F100 to, I really would have been better off with an F250 like this, although I’d have it with the 300 six, thank you. But I didn’t, and it’s still survived, although it’s hardly in the shape as this one, which looks almost new. Where has this thing been the last 50 years? In a garage? Lost in the back storage lot of a dealer?
So what was your first experience like driving a pickup?