Curbside Classic: 1973 Ford F-350 Super Camper Special – Ford Goes Camping In A Superlative Way

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(first posted 4/10/2013)

Notice anything different or unusual about this Ford pickup?

Ford F250 Ranger XLT_73_crop-vert

Maybe this will help, especially if you direct your eyes to the rear wheels, or more specifically, their relative location compared to the regular version above it. Yes, they’re further back, thanks to an extended wheelbase. It was the only American pickup of its kind, and still keep an eight foot bed. Here’s why:

Camper oversized

Ok, that’s a bit of an extreme case, but during the Great Pickup Camper Craze (1950-1973), slide-in campers got bigger and bigger.

Ford Camper tall

Here’s a more typical example: awesome, especially for keeping the kids out of the driver’s hair, up there in the penthouse (I got to ride in one once, and what an improvement compared to sitting in a cramped sedan). The slide-in pickup was a splendid invention; it gave Dad a truck to drive to work during the week while Mom kept the Ranch Wagon. On weekends and vacations, the camper was mounted, turning it into a rolling Holiday Inn/rec room.

But Americans are prone to overloading, and these rigs became famous for their proclivity to end upside down in the ditch. That usually didn’t end so well for Sally, Dick and Jane up there; Mom and Dad’s odds of surviving were probably somewhat better. Although these many sad foreshortened vacation trips didn’t exactly trigger the kind of rampant flood of lawsuits they undoubtedly would today, the manufacturers knew that this was only going to get worse, as the campers got ever bigger and the loads ever heavier. I once got picked up hitchiking by one of these; there were two combined families aboard, with lots of kids and dogs stuffed everywhere.

Of course, one was supposed to only use a 3/4 ton pickup, but even that was asking too much, especially as the “rear porches” kept getting longer. Something had to be done.

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GM did it first, with the 1968 Chevy C30 Longhorn (CC here) (I assume there was a GMC version too). It used the 133″ wheelbase frame from the C30 heavy-duty Stepside with nine-foot bed (rarely seen), with a spliced-in six-inch extension in the front of the bed, for an 8½’ bed. The seam is quite visible here. The Longorn allowed 12′ long campers to be mounted with the GM Legal Department’s blessing. But it turned out to be a fairly rare bird, produced in miniscule numbers. GM dropped it after 1972.

Ford 1973 camper

That must have been the cue for Ford to get in the game, which they did with their 1973 pickups. And they even had their own camper they wanted to sell you along with it. Note that it’s not as tall and excessive as the ones from the sixties. All fiberglass too; pretty nice rig; I’d take it.

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Ford did the bed differently than Chevy. The left it at eight foot long, but extended the wheelbase to a whopping 140″, putting the rear wheels well back for better weight distribution.

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Of course, that ate up the space behind the rear axle where the spare is normally hung underneath. So Ford took advantage of the longer front part of the bed to build in a storage compartment for the spare. That explains the hump on the inside of the bed on the right. Lots of new tooling.

Ford 1973-F350SCS_01

It was common to see these with big , fat high-floatation tires on the rear back then. These were essentially the equivalent of duallys today.

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Ford made the F-350 Super Camper Special through 1979. The Great Pickup Camper Craze was already winding down by then, if not mostly over, having been usurped by the Great Wallowing Winnebago Wave (CC here). From my own observations at the time, I’d say the Ford SCS sold a bit better than the Longhorn, but they still weren’t exactly common. And now, they’ve become genuine Curbside Classics. I hadn’t seen one in some time.

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No different on the inside. This one has a C6 automatic, and I think the owner told me that it had a 360 FE under the hood. The 390 was optional, and starting in 1974, the mighty 460 was available. Now that would move a big camper effortlessly.

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Even without a camper aboard, these make a fine heavy-duty hauler. One of these, with a dumping mechanism for the bed, would serve me very well. But I’ll take the 300 six and a stick, please.

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P.S.: Non “Super” Camper Special versions of the F-100/150 and F-250 were also available (and very popular), but did not use an extended wheelbase.