The Little Engines That Could, Part 6: 1982 Was The Height Of Malaise And Passenger Cars Weren’t The Only Victims


(first posted 11/21/2016)     Welcome to Part 6 of our never-ending journey exploring relatively small displacement engines used at various times in automotive and light truck history.  While this is the newest we’ve covered thus far, this is offset by appearing to be one of the more desperate attempts by the manufacturer.

The era of the late 1970s and early 1980s is rightfully described as being the Malaise Era.  This malaise, like a gastrointestinal virus, didn’t limit itself to just passenger cars as it easily and rapidly spread to the intermingling pickups from these same manufacturers.  Despite having different emissions and mileage hoops to jump through, pickups successfully succumbed to this affliction in their own, unique ways.


It started seemingly innocent enough in 1981.  After introducing a new, more aerodynamic pickup for 1980, Ford was under the gun to increase their fuel mileage ratings.  Their smallest engine for 1980 was the 300 cubic inch (4.9 liter) straight-six.  As your author had to endure a 300 of 1984 vintage while in high school (along with a few others along the way), he will happily vouch that while the 300 of this era was many things, efficient (and powerful) it was not.

So Ford had to do something.

What they did was a two-step approach, both of which were lacking.


This two-step dance started in 1981.  Ford had had their 255 cubic inch (4.2 liter) V8 available in the Thunderbird starting in 1980.  This 115 to 120 horsepower wonder also found a home between the front wheels of Mustangs, Fairmonts, Granadas, and LTDs.


In an effort to help fuel economy, someone’s Better Idea was to place the 255 under the hood of a Ford F-100.

To Ford’s credit, they limited the availability of the 255 V8 to the F-100.  At the time Ford was also building an F-150, another half-ton pickup with a slightly higher gross vehicle weight rating due to its somewhat beefier suspension that was most easily differentiated from the F-100 by the larger spacing of its wheel lugs.


The 255 engine was simply a 302 cubic inch (5.0 liter) V8 with a bore reduced to 3.68″.  This engine was of suspect popularity; cancelled after 1982, Ford only built around 250,000 of them for use across their entire product range.  The 255 was simply too meager in its output.

With the lack of success with the 255, Ford still had to do something to address fuel economy concerns.  Whether or not this remedy was an improvement is highly debatable.


Look at the second point down on the right hand column.  That’s right; for 1982, Ford started dropping their 3.8 liter V6 under the hood of their F-100.  This is the same engine that would later be found in various Fox-bodied cars, some Taurii, and a bunch of minivans.

As installed in 1982 model year passenger cars, it was rated at 112 horsepower.


Just like the 255, Ford was wise enough to keep the 3.8 limited to the F-100, with it being unavailable in anything heavier duty.

With two years of tenure, the 3.8 stuck around twice as long as the 255.  After 1983, the 3.8 vanished as did the F-100, with the base engine again being the 300 straight six.


While it likely worked well enough for its time, these engines might perhaps be considered an early foray into Ford’s current lineup being predominantly composed of V6 engines.  But times have certainly changed.