I recently posted about the Indy 500 Official trucks, reviewing some of the different packages that manufacturers offered in the 1970’s and 1980s. One of those trucks stands out in my mind, the 1979 Ford Indianapolis Official trucks. This was the only year in that 11 year span that a GM truck wasn’t used for Indy 500 duties. Unlike the GM Indy trucks of the era, Ford actually produced a significant quantity of these trucks for the public. There is little written about these trucks, so I decided to write a more comprehensive peiece about these trucks, something I hope CC readers will enjoy.
Previous to 1979, Ford did offer some decal and trim packages on their pickup trucks, probably the most well-known being the 1977-79 Free Wheeling package. So when the Ford Mustang was chosen as the official pace car for the 1979 Indy 500, Ford took the opportunity to dress up their “Official Trucks” much like what GMC had been doing. The Free Wheeling package was used as the basis for the Indy official trucks.
Ford called the model option the Indianapolis Speedway Official Truck Package. It was available with regular cab styleside pickups with a short or long box. Model availability included the 2WD F-100, F-150, and F-250, and the 4×4 F-150, F-250 and F-350. The option package was only available on silver metallic Ford Ranger trucks. It was mostly a trim option and required some mandatory options. Standard equipment included large black decals for the sides of the truck with red and orange accent stripes. The grille, headlight bezels, and front bumper were all blacked out. The tailgate had the “FORD” letters in black with a bright orange rectangular surround. Also included were a spare tire lock, a black “GT” roll bar, and the “Official Truck” door lettering. Interestingly, the “Official Truck” door lettering decals were shipped loose in the truck and could be applied or not depending on the owners wishes.
The interior on these Indy trucks was basically lifted directly from the Free Wheeling Ford trucks that preceded them. The interior actually seemed to match these Indy trucks better than the Free Wheeling Fords, and was very similar to the exterior theme. The seats were black vinyl with silver inserts, trimmed with red piping and the door panels had the same colour combination. The dashboard was the same as the one used in the Ranger XLT. However, the woodgrain trim and woodgrain glovebox door were replaced with bright red trim and a black glove box door. Also included were a black headliner, sun visor and floor mat.
Ordering a Speedway package meant there were a number of mandatory options, beginning with the Ranger trim level. That said, the Speedway package deleted the Ranger’s bright wheel lip moldings, bright bodyside moldings and the hub caps. For F-100/F-150 2WD trucks, ten-hole forged aluminum wheels were a required option. The F-150 4×4’s had two-wheel options, a 10 hole forged aluminum wheel or the style steel wheels. Regardless, both trucks came with L78-15C raised white letter all terrain tires. The 4×4 F-150 could also select optional 10 x 15C tires. F-250/350 trucks used the same base wheels and tires of other F-250/350s, but could also get any of the optional wheels and tires available to other F-250/350s.
This was an era when a rear bumper didn’t come as standard equipment on pickups, and to order the Speedway truck you needed a rear bumper. Ford gave two options, a silver step bumper or a black contoured rear bumper. Also required was an auxiliary fuel tank, meaning all Speedway trucks have dual tanks.
Many of these Speedway trucks ended up being very well equipped for the era. Part of the reason may have been that Ford had numerous recommended options. Since these trucks were used by dealerships to draw customers into the show room, it made sense to have them equipped with all sorts of goodies. Ford recommended the following: AM/FM Stereo radio, Ammeter/Oil pressure gauges, Handling Package, Convenience Group, Light Group, Air Conditioning, Tinted Glass, low black “Western Mirrors”, CB Radio, Deluxe Seat belts, Power steering and brakes, Sport Steering Wheel, Goodyear brand tires, Deluxe wheel covers (F250/F350), and 9.50 x16.5 RWL tires (F250/350). All other Ford truck options were available on the Speedway trucks with the exception of any trim and wheel options that clashed with the Speedway trucks standard features or mandatory options.
Not only did Ford offer the official Speedway package on its pickups, but there was also the ability to by an Official wrecker replica. These F-350 trucks had decals to match the actual wreckers used at Indy. The trucks used at the actual race used Holmes wrecker units, but I don’t have any information about the replicas Ford sold to the public.
I would guess that the package likely recommended a particular wrecker unit that was the same as or similar to the actual race day trucks. It seems that the Official Wrecker package was basically just decals added to the truck and wrecker unit. The wreckers didn’t appear to get the blacked out trim or other unique features of the Speedway pickups.
The most produced variation of the Speedway trucks was the 2wd F-150, with a total of 4225 produced. Here is an orginal survivor 302 V8 powered F-150 found on eBay:
Most of the production numbers have been documented through Marti Auto Works reports. Production breakdown is as follows:
|Total (excluding wreckers)||5983|
While these 1979 Ford trucks may not be everyone’s tastes, I think they represent the era well. Further, these trucks have a particular interest to me. My family owned a 460 powered 1979 F-150 Speedway truck for about 17 years and we didn’t even realize it. Remember, I said that the trucks came equipped with the door lettering decals separate inside the truck? Well many of these trucks never got the decals installed. The 460 engine was quite popular with the Speedway F-150’s. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many times a customer would be looking for a truck with a big engine to haul things and ended up buying a Speedway truck just because it was the only one on the lot with a 460. Many customers often opted out of installing the door decals.
This was the case with the ’79 Ford F-150 my uncle bought in 1980 when he was stationed with the Air Force in Montana. He was looking for a truck and came across an almost new ’79 F-150 with a distinctive paint job and interior. He owned the truck for about 10 years or so then sold it to my dad who kept it until 1997. I really liked that old truck and in hindsight wished I would have bought it when my dad sold it for peanuts.
I have looked for a ’79 Ford similar to my Uncle/Dad’s truck for many years after, but none had the distinctive blacked out trim or the interior and other features that made that truck so great in my eyes. It was only later on, long after it was sold I discovered it was actually a Speedway truck. Interestingly, along with the 460-4V engine it had almost every Ford recommended option, except for the CB radio and the deluxe seat belts. I always thought it was a pretty loaded pickup for its day and now I know why. Since then, I was actually able to track my family’s old truck. The current owner is the same one who bought it off my dad 20 years ago (it was his first vehicle at 16 years old). He has kept it in pristine condition and doesn’t have any intention on selling. But to answer Daniel Stern’s question of the day from last week, this is one vehicle that I would buy back in a heartbeat (okay, so I didn’t actually own it, but close enough).