Curbside Classic: 1963 Ford F100 – Ford Pulls a Studebaker

This is the most embarrassing F-Series pickup in that long line of fine classic Ford trucks. Maybe to some of you what makes it so embarrassing is not immediately obvious. Let’s just say they resorted to what Studebaker did back in 1961; meaning, in this case the front half of the truck is the cab as used on 1961-1966 trucks, just like my ’66; it’s even the same color. But the rear half, the bed, is from Ford’s old 1957-1960 trucks, and doesn’t match the front half the slightest, starting with lack of that deep character line on the cab which suddenly ends, wheel openings a totally different shape, and as we’ll see from the rear, a primitive tailgate and latching system, as well as other details.

So why would Ford put on old bed on its next generation pickups?

Because they screwed up.  This is how it looked when it came out in 1961. It looked great. It was called “integrated pickup” by Ford, although the term “unibody” soon came to be used to refer to them, despite that being a misnomer. They’re not a true unibody at all; it’s just that the cab and bed are integrated, sharing stampings and welds to create a single structure sitting on its frame, like a typical sedan or the Ranchero.

We recently had a post here about these 1961-1963 “unibody” Fords, also sometimes referred to as ‘slicks”. But that article focused only on the stylistic aspects, assuming that was the only or primary reason for their existence. The styling was a factor, of course, as this was an era where manufacturers were making their trucks more appealing to buyers other than the typical farmer-tradesman-woodsman demographic. The Styleside’s optional large rear window and nicely-trimmed Custom Cab were all part of that. But it would have looked just about as good if there had been a narrow seam between cab and bed.

The real motivating factor (as is so often the case) was reduced cost. The “unibody” had a single side stamping from the door back, as well as a single stamping that separated bed from cab, instead of those being duplicated. There were fewer welds overall. It also simplified painting, as the whole body could be painted together, instead of the cab and bed having to be painted separately, then joined. All this contributed to lower production costs.

This type of construction also saved space, and Ford bragged about 16% more load space.

In addition to its other qualities, Ford advertised a lower price in all of its advertising for these trucks. Ford had turned the new  trend of full-width pickup bodies from a somewhat pricey extravagance into a very affordable commodity. It all made a lot of sense, which reflects the sensible McNamara era quite well.

But there was a problem, or several of them.

When these pickups were heavily loaded, problems began to pop up. Like welds between bed and body opening up. And doors popping open when the body was twisted or went over a rough rail crossing when loaded. Or doors that wouldn’t open at all. A Ford had failed to put this new construction to the test.

Although Ford knew there were structural limitations from the start, which explains why the 4×4 versions weren’t unibody, but instead carried the old bed from the previous generation, just like our featured truck. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

For that matter, so did the 2×4 F350. The unibody was clearly not intended for really rugged work. But not all Styleside buyers were suburbanites looking for a stylish weekend hauler.

The solution to growing issues with the unibodies led to a very pragmatic solution: offer the same “hybrid” of new cab and old bed like on the 4x4s and the F350 in the F100 and F250 range, starting in mid-year 1962. And that’s what we’re looking at here, a 1963 version. Although it may have looked a bit off stylistically, it was embraced by the buyers. In 1963, the separate bed and cab version like this was outselling the unibody by 2:1. The unibody’s time was up. And Ford was scrambling to replace it with a proper Styleside, not one that reminded folks of the Studebaker Champ.

Admittedly, the Champ’s borrowed old Dodge bed fit even worse, sticking out the sides by a few inches. Have you no shame?

Ford not only created a completely new double-wall bed body for 1964, but also put a new longer (128″ with 8′ bed) wheelbase frame under it. It now looked like the definitive Ford pickups of this era. But looks can be deceiving.

The 1964 had the longer wheelbase and new bed, but still had the same leaf-spring solid axle front end and steering geometry from 1961. For 1965, Ford’s continuing effort to re-invent their pickup reached something of its peak. A completely new front end with Twin I beam independent suspension and new steering geometry substantially improved the ride, handling and steering. The two new sixes (240/300) were icing on the cake. In reality, for several decades to come, until 1997, Ford pickups were just mostly new body styling and subtle continued refinement, but not really ever a drastic change under the skin. If we’re asking about when modernity setting in for Ford pickups, 1965 would be it.

This ’63 has had its stock steering wheel replaced by a substantially smaller aftermarket wheel. Which might explain why this truck hasn’t moved in quite a while; if the steering on these pre-’65 trucks was hard enough, this smaller wheel would really require some upper body strength. Power steering on these trucks wasn’t even an option; it first was available in 1966. The HD four speed with granny low has gotten an extension and new handle on its shifter.

The hood emblem indicates the presence of a six under the hood, which in this case would have been the somewhat elderly 223 cubic inch “Mileage Maker”, an engine that developed a good rep for being reliable and rugged. But the new 240 that arrived in 1965 was significantly peppier, with its better breathing head and 12 ports, never mind the 300, which was a monster in its early years, rated at 170 hp, the highest ever for a pickup truck inline six from the old days.

What’s more than a bit embarrassingly old school on these beds is the lack of a modern latching system, which the unibodies had. here it’s back to chains and hooks.

So although the featured ’63 may look mighty similar to my ’66 at first glance, they’re actually very different. The cab and front end sheet metal is mostly the same, but everything else is different. Oh, right; the yellow paint is the same. And oddly enough, in both cases it’s a respray of a similar stronger yellow than the original.

Ford stubbed its toes with the “unibodies”, but within a couple of years they had perfected the pickup.



CC 1962 Ford F100 Styleside: That Most Feminine of Trucks  PN

Truck Of A Lifetime: My ’66 F100 – 30 Years of Hauling Shit