Vintage Truck of the Day: Ford H Series – Jacked Up C-Series Highway Tractor

It didn’t take me long as a kid of seven or eight to figure out that these tall Ford semi trucks I’d see on the highway in Iowa were just a Ford C-Series cab jacked up a story and set back some in relation to the front axle. Ford needed a serious over-the-road tractor, and that’s how it was created. Quite tot contrasts to GMC’s very ambitious “crackerbox”.

Presumably Ford felt a bit left behind, as the H Series had a pretty short lifespan (1961-1965), as in 1966 they replaced it with the W Series which was a crackerbox itself.

Here’s the prototype from 1959, part of a small series Ford had built by Hendrickson and then sent out to four trucking firms to evaluate.

One of those firms was the giant Pacific Intermountain Express.


The production version came in either a day cab, like this one, or with an integral sleeper, which didn’t look all that “integral”. Note how the former wheel cutout from the C Series has been repurposed as a cargo space with a semi-circle door.

Here’s the engine and other specs from a post:

The H-series trucks were available in many combinations of engine, transmission and rear axle options. Five Ford big V-8 gas and five Cummins diesel engines supplied the power under the newly designed cab. The V-8 gas engines offered were Super-Duty engines. The H-series trucks were optioned with two-barrel and four-barrel, 477 two-barrel and four-barrel, and 534 four-barrel Ford engines. Gas engine models were designated H or HT. Cummins engine options available were 674-cubic-inch NH-180 and NH-195 diesels or 743-cubic-inch NHE-180, NHE-195 or the NH-220. Torque ratings ranged from 504-lbs.ft. at 1,500 rpm for the NH-180 to a whopping 606-lbs.ft. at 1,600 rpm for the NH-220. The NHE or “economy” engines operated at lower rpm, exhaust temperatures and cylinder pressures to improve fuel economy and longevity. Cummins “Pressure-Time” fuel injection was used on the diesels, which was a very simple injection system using a minimum of components. The “PT” fuel-injection system was driven off the engine camshaft. Diesel models were designated HD for single rear axle and HDT for tandem rear axle.
Five different wheelbases were offered, from 126 inches up to 176 inches. Dual drive units were used for freight yard tugs and had longer wheelbases.
HDT-series Tandem axle units were available in both 850 and 950 model classifications to be used as tugs in freight terminals to move trailers from one unloading dock to another. HDT-850 used a 30,000-pound Eaton dual-drive axle, while the HDT-950 came equipped with a 34,000- or optional 38,000-pound dual-drive rear axle. The HT and HDT-850 single-axle trucks were rated to haul 55,000 to 65,000 pounds gross carrying weight, while the larger 950 and 1000 series trucks were rated at 76,800 pounds. Single rear axle gas engine-equipped versions came with 22,000- or 23,000-pound rear axles. The Cummins diesel models had a 14-inch dual-disc clutch system, and the Ford engines had a 13-inch dual disc. Several different Spicer and Fuller transmission options could be selected. Fuller (Eaton) Roadranger transmissions were available in eight or 10-speed. Spicer 5000, 6000 and 8000 series “synchro silent ” five-speeds were offered in “direct-in-fifth” or “overdrive-in-fifth” configurations. A Spicer 12-speed was another drivetrain option, as were several Spicer 7000 series three- and four-speed auxiliary transmissions. Wide- and close-ratio underdrive and overdrive auxiliary units helped the trucking company or over-the-road hauler tailor these trucks to their specific hauling needs:overdrives for highway driving and underdrives for short hauls around the freight terminal.
In the 1964 model year, Caterpillar engines became an additional powertrain option, as did Cummins V-6 and V-8 diesels.

Of course Ford wasn’t the first or only one to do this: a number of hi-boy COEs in the 50s had been created the same way. But by the 60s, this was becoming a bit out of date, and everyone was moving to unique big truck cabs.

Seeing an H Series straight truck is a bit unusual, but here’s one for your perusal.  It’s possible that it was converted from a retired twin axle tractor with a lengthened frame, something not uncommon for grain trucks, which were only used seasonally.

Not a bad looking truck; actually, better looking than than the slightly dumpy C Series.


Ford’s Near-Immortal C-Series Trucks  I.Williams

GMC “Crackerbox” DLR/DFR 8000 tractors  P.N.


  1. avatar AndyinMA

    Geez once you see the semicircle/ wheel opening the C series origin is unmistakable. Those H series prototypes are hideous.

  2. avatar nlpnt

    These had the nickname “Two-Story Falcon.”

  3. avatar Johannes Dutch

    Love the heavy straight truck, some serious business there. What are the hay haulers in the west driving these days? If I’m not mistaken, they often used a top segment COE (like a Peterbilt 362) truck chassis, towing a full trailer.

    The Ford W-series was a crackerbox itself, indeed. The first time I saw one in action (sort of) was in David Cronenberg’s 1977 movie Rabid, that must have been in the early eighties (photo courtesy of IMCDB).

  4. avatar Stéphane Dumas

    There’s another shot of the W-series from the movie White Line Fever, where the frond got an update with a grille inspired from the L-series.
    and let’s not forget its little brother, the WT-9000.

  5. avatar mrgreenjeans

    In my high school years, I drove a 534 powered tandem axle straight truck fitted with an enormous high sided grain box. There were also two ‘N’ series fitted with grain boxes and powered by 330 gas V/8s. I remember accidently bumping the brake Micro-Switch and locking the brakes at speed. I was empty and the tandems laid 4 black tire stripes down the rural highway on the way to pick up a load of grain. Nearly instantly it came to a screeching halt from 70 mph.

    The view from the second floor of that ‘two story falcon’ was a grand thing for a 17-18 year old to experience ! It was an enormously image boosting feeling riding up that high, but the first pass under a highway overpass on the Interstate prompted an involuntary head duck…… not the same feeling one gets from it’s ‘C’ series genetic-donor. My ’75 grain body seen below is one such series ‘C’, powered by a 3208 CAT V/8 diesel.

    Sure wish those old ‘N’ models in red with white roofs and that grand old red and white ‘Two story Falcon’ were with us today; they would sure be great to add to my collection of vintage Ford trucks. The 4-5 mpg of ETHYL was the most negative thing I had to say about them

    • avatar JimDandy

      Nice looking C, mrgreenjeans.
      Chrome in the windshield gasket too!
      Hat’s off.

      Is it an automatic?

      • avatar mrgreenjeans

        No, it is a 5 speed manual with a splitter.

        It is an 18,000 mile original and a very clean unit. It’s previous (and first) life was as a fire dept. tanker truck. There are a few various knobs and switches and 3 lights on the center / interior windshield dividing strip that are the only remnants of it’s history serving in a small rural dept. in NE.
        It was already fitted with a box and hoist when I found it for sale and apparently served for a few short years on a farm. Everything works as it should and ran like a champ the 500 or so miles back to my farm. My good friend and car buddy helped me drive it back and other than a slight issue with one rear brake shoe occasionally not releasing, no issues, no oil consumed and the old CAT purred like the feline it is. I crawled under and backed off the adjuster twice and no more problems since.
        Thanks for the kind comments. I am mighty proud of the ol’ gurl…

  6. avatar kiwibryce

    4-5mpg is not to bad for an old technology free truck I was driving a 2016 Western star recently 620 Cummins signature diesel and I couldnt change the engine computer to metric it remained on its original settings 3 mpg was normal average 48 tonnes one way empty 23 tonnes return 350km loops and only one mountain range to climb, thirst hasnt improved much in the real world.

  7. avatar xr7

    Then there are the other weird ones.
    International had the Transtar 4100 that was a conventional cab turned into one god awful looking cab over. It has the worlds shortest “hood”. Indianhead Transport had a slug of these things. I worked down the street at another tanker outfit, our IH’s were the tradtion Transtar cab over.
    Freightliner has used a cab both fur a cabover and conventional truck. On the conventional the wheel cut out area is covered by the door so it is not obvious. The floor in the cab also has a hump or raised section at the rear that runs across the back off the cab. Commonality of parts to keep costs down.

    • avatar Hard Boiled Eggs and Nuts

      I’ve driven a butchered up International sort of similar to that. I was working on a farm about 20 years ago and it was harvest time and wouldn’t you know it, one of the silage trucks went down with something major. We needed a truck and was able to borrow one from a farm 3 towns over. It was based on an S Series International but the hood was only about half as long as normal. The cab was pushed way forward, so much so that the stick shift went through the floor directly in front of the back wall of the cab. The weirdest thing was that the cab was about 8 inches wider than a normal S Series cab. It had a two piece windshield and the dash was cut in half with a filler piece added to make up the difference. The mirrors barely stuck out at all. The shifter was so far back that your arm was extended out straight when you pulled it back. It was horrible. I have no idea why it was built like that. It seemed like it should have been built for a special purpose but it had huge fuel tanks on it. In fact, so big that they got in the way trying to use it for field work.

      • avatar xr7

        Hard Boiled Eggs and Nuts – Lots of custom work done to make something work if the customer has the money. I built lots of plow trucks and made many custom one off parts to get everything the fit on the truck. Biggest laugh was exhaust piping. Std exhaust was usually a single vertical stack on the RH side of the truck. Most plow trucks in our fleet had right hand wing plows so the exhaust was moved to the LH side. After all the plow equipment was hung on the truck it was time to fit the exhaust. We would take the stock piping, slice it up, weld it up and on it goes. Then years later the pipe rots away but and intrepid mechanic manages to find a part# and orders the pipe. Probably returns it and orders it again, still the wrong pipe. Then he calls me and I remind him that every year I tell you guys, never order a stock pipe, its never going to fit. Luckily modern emissions came along and that was the end of any exhaust modifications. The new exhaust aftertreatment required so big changes to plow truck building.

        • avatar kiwibryce

          RHD versions of some US derived trucks suffer from strange exhausts the entire heaser pipe came off a truck I was driving snapped just behind the turbo, you can imagine the noise especially jaking CAT brand truck Australian built CAT C15 engine, anyhow a mechanic was called and duly turned up removed the header pipe and told me I’ll order one, I didnt call him an idiot but carefully explained the pipe had been fabricated from pieces to suit the truck it was in go get another coupling flange weld it on by 4.30 P.M. because the night guy will in then and this IS the spare tractor unit, he went away muttering but next morning I looked and saw he did what I suggested, A quick look under the hood of the other CAT630 tractor we had showed it had a different header pipe but the same engine and cab just a year older.

    • avatar JimDandy

      GM went the other way, they put a hood in front of the Astro cab to create the General.

      • avatar xr7

        The General was no relation to the Astro, both GMC’s both aluminum cabs, totally different trucks.

        • avatar JimDandy

          General conventional

          • avatar JimDandy

            Astro COE.

            Sure look like they were both woven on the same loom.

          • avatar Bob B.

            Doors were the same. General cabs were similar design, but narrower and of course no doghouse.

          • avatar xr7

            I don’t know if the doors inter-change. Even if they are the same door using the same door hardly qualifies as “they put a hood in front of the Astro cab to create the General.” Having worked on many of these trucks, they are not remotely similar.
            The Astro’s and Generals switched from steel doors to “plastic” doors around 1980. Some minor issues with the “plastic” ones. The doors would “bounce” in the door frame which was noisy and may eventually cause the window regulator to fail. These doors used the “tape” style regulator. When the regulator fails the window will drop hard into the door sometimes breaking. GMC’s fix was to install some tapered nylon wedge blocks to take up the vertical movement. Had more then a few customers come in with the window duct taped in place.

    • avatar slow_joe_crow

      The Freightliner FL series cabs I’ve seen had the wheel cutout from the original Mercedes cab visible at the rear corner of the door. Mack actually went firther with the Midliner conventionals ad reversed the doors so the vestigial wheel cutout was at the front corner. I think this was a unique approach for the “Club of Four” since Iveco used the doors as is.
      FWIW the early Freightliner conventionals borrowed a lot of sheetmetal from the classic cabovers.

    • avatar kiwibryce

      Piano cab inters had less hood than that it seemed like just enough to mount a radiator under

  8. avatar Bob B.

    The H was a quick and dirty design, but it got Ford in the over-the-road market. The cab came from the C series, chassis was very similar to design used on the larger diesel N series trucks. The ‘Two Story Falcon’ nickname was not a complement, the H had a pretty poor reputation from what I understand. Very few exist today, I have not seen one since 1985! Funny that Ford offered a gasoline engine option, but IH and GMC also briefly did on their large cabovers as well. Also worth noting is that while Ford’s first attempt at a cabover heavy truck was a cobbled up affair Dodge came out with a well engineered large cabover a few years later in the L1000 series. Whatever mistakes Ford made in the H series they seemed to have learned form them, the W series was a much better truck.

    • avatar Ted Warren

      I have a 1965 HT 950;;

  9. avatar Bob B.

    Funny thing about Pacific Intermountain Express, they tested the Ford H prototypes but supposedly never bought any.

  10. avatar xr7

    If I remember correctly PIE and CF used Freightliners. If I’m not totally out to lunch I seem to recall CF maybe started or bought Freightliner? Then Mercedes comes in eventually and screws everybody.

    • avatar slow_joe_crow

      You’re right, CF started building Freightliners for internal use then expanded into selling them with White handling distribution and badging them as White Freightliner. They split in 79, and Mercedes bought Freightliner in 81,Volvo bought White in 8o and Mack had hooked up with Renault in 79 starting the consolidation and European takeover of the US heavy truck industry. The outlier is Paccar which ran in the opposite direction buy buying Foden in 1980-81 followed by DAF and Leyland in the 90s.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.