Curbside Classic: The Almost Immortal Ford C-Series

(first posted 4/29/2012)    The Ford C-Series truck was one of those vocational workhorses that labored in quiet obscurity for its entire service life.  They were the vocational jack of all trades, finding work in refuse removal, construction, firefighting, food & beverage and parcel & freight delivery.

From the Model T on, Ford Motor Company has had a long and inglorious history of building a strong class-leading product, then proceeding to allow it to stagnate, as the competition passed it by.  The Ford C-series was very much the Ranger pickup of medium duty commercial vehicles with a 33 year reign from 1957 until being retired in 1990.  For longest heavy-duty truck production run, only the 39-year run of the Mack Model R can surpass it.

By the mid 60s, engine options covered the spectrum of Fords gas engines from the 300 CI straight 6, Y-Block 8s with the big block super duty 534 as the Big Kahuna of gasoline motors.  The HD small block 8s came with stronger heads and valves to withstand the heavy use that many trucks receive.

On the compression ignition side of the house, Ford offered their own inline 4 and 6 motors, Cummins C and N series as well as a special order turbocharged 1160 V-8 Caterpillar.  Later in the production run Cat would become the engine of choice for fire apparatus.

Courtesy Cragin Spring

Transmission choices included a 5 speed manual combined with a 2 speed rear end, an 8 speed Roadranger as well as a 6 speed automatic.  Spring rates and axle sizes also were variable. Marmon-Herrington 4 and 6 wheel drive conversions were available too.   The total possible permutations of drivetrains is only slightly smaller than your choices at Starbucks.


The C-Series also had a whole family of badge-engineered doppelgangers.  In Canada it was re-tagged Mercury along with the M-Series pickup.  The tooling was designed and owned by Ford but manufacturing was outsourced to Budd; other truck OEMs used both the entire cab and portions thereof with approval.  Mack used the Cab for their N Model, FWD and Walther used portions of the cab for their airport fire apparatus.

While the COE went extinct as a Class 8 tractor they remain popular in the middleweight categories. In a two axle configuration placing the load in front of the steer axle creates better weight distribution and allows for a larger cargo area and heavier payloads on a given wheelbase. Placing the driver at the front also has the fortunate side effect of giving the driver much smaller blind spots.  The shorter wheelbase allows the equipment to squeeze into spots where the extra 4 to 6 feet of conventional truck with a hood could not fit.

When Ford announced they were discontinuing the C-Series many long time customers grumbled.  The Cargo model that was slated to replace it was a flop, with the Isuzu, Mitsubishi and Hino (Toyota) grabbing most of the middleweight tilt cab market.

Today you can still find many C Series trucks still on the job.  For a smaller roofer or landscaper they offer a lot of utility at a low price and like most vehicles of that era, are shade tree wrenching friendly.  Outside of the Rust Belt they can be kept alive and working almost indefinitely.