Cold Start: Was This Peak Rationality In Truck Design?

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You know the eighth (8th, or maybe 8nd or 8st or 8rd) generation of Ford F-150 trucks? It was the only one to feature a remarkably pure Late Cold War-Era Car Face, and I think it may be one of the most pleasingly rational and clean-looking of all F-150s, which are now on their 14th (!) generation.

These F-150s looked substantial and capable, but were also interestingly unassuming. Where modern trucks feel the need to shout about how tough they are and all the shit they can do, I feel like it’s trucks that look like this that are getting the work done behind the scenes, and would be embarrassed if you called them out.

This generation of F-150 has styling that feels, compared to modern truck, strangely modest. There’s humility in this truck design, a certain agreeable practicality and freedom from pretention and bullshit, qualities that are just about extinct in modern trucks.

These were so common that they once blended into the very grain of society. Now that there’s less of them, I think they stand out, at least a bit, though I bet they’d hate to know that.

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67 Responses

  1. Bought an early model year 1989 F150 off the dealer lot, was around $12k. White over blue, just so nice. Seat was a big cushy sofa. 302 with 5speed, perfect. But. The clutch pedal had a long throw, and zero feedback from the clutch. I could never isolate the point where the clutch would engage, and I was forever stalling and lurching. I’ve driven farm tractors, dirt bikes, HD hogs, hopped up Mustangs, over the road trucks, and GMC 4104 motor coaches, all with manuals, and could shift smoothly with or the clutch. Not that truck. Sold it, bought a new late year 1989 Silverado, 350 automatic. It was a dream truck. Quick as hell, very comfortable. The seat was firmer, flatter, and nicely contoured. Loved it. Now have 2000 Silverado, 4.3, love it, except for the cheap ass dash.

  2. I would actually argue the 9th gen “aero nose” F-Series represents peak design. Simple, purposeful design, both inside and out, but with just enough of a modern feel that you don’t feel like you’re in a really old truck (even though you are).

  3. The only pickup trucks (other than the Dakota convertible) that ever caught my fancy were the Toyotas and Datsuns circa 1970. IIRC, each of these two manufacturers sold a nice red color that went well with their pickups. Of course, I am three years older than dirt so my fondness for smaller and simpler vehicles may just be nostalgia.

    1. i mean, i love these f150s, but I’m grudgingly going to agree. I learned to drive in an orange 76 toyota long bed. what an absolutely amazing, indestructible machine. that 20R is still maybe the most awesome, simple, nuke-proof motor ever built…

  4. My dad had one of these for our farm. I drove it quite a bit on the farm and then a few years later when I was moving it was my DD for about a month as I was traveling back and forth moving stuff between two cities. That thing served me very well and was easy to drive and handle.

  5. I’d say the early 90s was peak rationality in Truck design. Everything had ABS, everything had just enough airbags, had relatively simple EFI systems on durable and proven engines, simple emissions controls and OBD 1&2, had improved aero without compromising driver visibility, usability, durability, etc., and we still had compact pickups!

    The Ford Maverick Pickup is supposed to be a “compact” pickup but my 1994 Toyota pickup that seats 5 (legally not comfortably) and has a 6ft bed is narrower than the Maverick by 5.9 inches (66.5 vs 72.4) and shorter than the Maverick by 6.6 inches (193.1 vs 199.7)!

    It does seem like Kei Trucks have stayed mostly as rational as they were in the early 90s but the tax laws that made Kei Trucks and Kei Cars worth it are said to be going away, and so will end the era of Practical Trucks.

    With how expensive, complex, and fragile modern Trucks are Honestly unless you need a 5th wheel hookup I’d just get a practical car that can tow the trailer you need. I don’t feel bad when a work trailer of mine gets scratched or dinged, I do feel bad if my car does. For my usage a Modern Toyota iQ remade as a hybrid with AWD-e would be able do 99% of the towing I need to do and it would be infinitely more practical for me to drive around when not towing than my pickup is.

    I just need said remade AWD-e Hybrid Toyota iQ to have a tow hitch (at least as an option), to come in a tire size you can get snow tires for in the US, to seat 3, and to turn as tightly or nearly as tightly as the original while getting 35+ MPG.

    The only reason I could see myself buying a new pickup is my old Truck has given up the ghost and I need a summer to acquire another old Truck then rebuild everything to my specs, and in that case I’d probably get an XL Maverick Hybrid and put tons of miles on it and tons of stuff in the bed, using it like a driven trailer.

  6. I own a 96 Eddie Bauer but have had and prefer the 8th gen for all but the dash. The 9th gen added multi speed wipers which I very much missed but does have the left foot brights which I rather prefer. The i6 with a 5 speed (the maligned Mazda or the zf5) have both treated me very well.
    I have also mentioned before half my family is GMC and the 400/800s have been stout and robust for them as well, mostly in suburban form. These trucks are really getting hot both Ford and Chevy so grab a clean one while you can. Take care of it and it’ll outlast you.

  7. I don’t know when it happened or which manufacturer did it first but I blame the invention of the interior side view mirror adjuster for all the truck bloat that came after.
    There is something about rolling down the window (rain or shine) and manhandling that big rectangular mirror into the perfect position to back up a trailer that says “this thing is for work” and nothing else matters.

  8. Imma go with the 7th Gen as peak rationality. After that, the bean counters started de-contenting regular trucks. The 8th was where we started seeing lifestyle malarky like the 1991 blacked out Night Edition. It makes me shiver just thinking about the commercials. Gahhh…

  9. I would prefer whatever was the newest to have standard-size headlights, so I can replace them with proper Hella or Cibie e-codes and actually be able to see at night. But otherwise, I love old trucks. Make mine hose it out spec with the I-6 and the OD manual, with the only option being A/C. Had a job in High School maintaining cemeteries where I got to drive such. Also got to drive the ’74 Cadillac Hearse on occasion too – my best friend’s family owned a funeral home.

  10. If we’re comparing old Ford trucks.. I think I prefer the OJ-era F-150 which I believe was the one that immediately followed this one? I had a ’96 Bronco (I think OJ had a ’94) and it was just an absolute champ, so I have to assume the F-150s of that same year-span were champs too.

    Hey… ALLOW PICTURES IN COMMENTS PLEASE!!!

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