Home » We Really Ought To Give Iowa A Try: 1995 Chevy S-10 vs 1986 Ford F-150

We Really Ought To Give Iowa A Try: 1995 Chevy S-10 vs 1986 Ford F-150

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Welcome to another Shitbox Showdown! Today, in my contuing efforts to spread the pins in the map out a bit, we’re heading to the Midwest, to look at a couple of Iowa farm trucks.

But first, we need to see which weird engine layout you’re leaving Delaware with:

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I’ll be damned. From the vocal support for the Suzuki in the comments, I expected this one to be closer. But that’s about as big a blowout as we’ve ever had.

The middle of the country is a big flat enigma to a lot of coastal natives; they just can’t grasp why anyone would choose to live there. There’s the boring scenery, the harsh winters, the hot summers, the rust, the massive distances to cross to get anywhere… actually, maybe they have a point. But what the heck, I’m a proud Midwestern native, and I have a lot of fond memories of what so many others blithely call “flyover states.” So let’s head for the plains, and check out a couple of weather-beaten pickup trucks.

1995 Chevrolet S-10 – $2,750

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Engine/drivetrain: 4.3 liter overhead-valve V6, four-speed automatic, part-time 4WD

Location: Hubbard, IA

Odometer reading: 253,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yep, and quite well, it sounds like

Chevy’s second-generation S-10 pickups were often overshadowed by the Ford Ranger and Toyota trucks, and unfairly, I think. They were handsome trucks with two good engine options that no longer included the anemic and trouble-prone 2.8 liter V6. Instead, the optional engine in the later S-10 was a 4.3 liter V6, basically a small-block 350 minus the front two cylinders. This one sends power to all four wheels on demand through a four-speed automatic.

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Now, I know this crowd well enough by now to know that the automatic will draw a lot of complaints. It won’t last, you’ll say. It’s a ticking time bomb, because you don’t know how well it was maintained. But here’s the thing: this truck has already passed a quarter million miles. If transmission troubles were going to happen, they have happened already and been remedied. Pull the dipstick, look at the fluid, and if it looks good and doesn’t smell burned, you can probably safely assume it’s fine. If you just don’t like automatics, that’s fine too. Just sit tight; the other truck is a stick.

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The ad for this little Chevy includes a laundry list of recently-replaced parts, and the seller says it runs fine. The inside isn’t trashed, either, like so many hard-working truck interiors are. So what’s the catch?

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Ah. Right. That old Midwestern automotive nemesis. Rust has not slept, nor even taken a minute to rest its eyes, when it comes to this truck. The driver’s side rocker panel and back cab corner are gone. Not even there any more. And the passenger’s side isn’t far behind. The gap between the can and bed looks all right, so nothing is sagging, but it might be wise to fire up the welder and put some metal back where it belongs, not to make it pretty again, just to hold it together.

1986 Ford F-150 – $2,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 300 cubic inch overhead-valve inline 6, four-speed manual, part-time 4WD

Location: Dubuque, IA

Odometer reading: 273,000 miles

Runs/drives? “No problem” the ad says

Need something a little bigger than an S-10? How about big blue here, all nineteen and a half feet of it? This extended-cab, long-bed version of Ford’s venerable F-series has a wheelbase longer than a lot of economy cars’ overall length: 155 inches. Maneuvering this beast around must be a real chore; it probably has a turning circle the size of Madison County.

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Propelling all that massive length is an equally long engine, Ford’s classic inline six, here with a one-barrel carburetor and its accompanying rat’s nest of vacuum lines. It’s backed by a four-speed stick and 4WD for getting out of muddy fields and snowdrifts. With a six in this truck, you can expect tectonic plates to beat you in a drag race, but few engines will chug along as relentlessly. Even better, this is a remanufactured engine with fewer than 10,000 miles on it.

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This truck has clearly been worked hard, and has earned its keep. The five-digit odometer has been around twice already and is well into a third trip. Based on the toolbox and what looks like drywall dust on the seat, I’m going to guess this truck was used by a contractor instead of a farmer. The seller says it spent most of its life down in Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plain (I’m in a musical mood today, I guess), but the trucks don’t rust as badly.

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But still, it ain’t pretty. There’s a sort of grandeur to a well-worn truck like this, however, that’s as attractive and comforting as Midwestern home cooking. The bumps and bruises are like a scar or a broken nose in a kindly face: they tell a story, and it’s a hell of a tale, best told sitting at a bar. How much of that story is true? You decide.

Midwesterners are a frugal bunch, and it shows in the sky-high odometer readings of these two. Both of these trucks have put in lots of hours, but they still have some life in them. Which one is more your style?

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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60 Responses

  1. I remember when that generation of S-10 came out with that godawful grey switch gear. In contrast I’ve driven an 85 Ford and it’s a better place to be, although I prefer the subsequent waterfall hood models with EFI and a more modern dash.

  2. The full size Ford is now a modern classic. You’ll get back what you put into it. All the HS kids want to drive OBS Fords (for some ungodly reason)

  3. Oh man. Unlike the last couple of these where I didn’t want either, today there are no bad choices. These are both excellent trucks. I’m voting for the S-10 because they have a soft spot in my heart, and I know it’s going to lose because the 1-300/manual trans is and will surely remain undefeated in the Shitbox Showdown.

    1. That 300 with a stick is a stump-pullin’ machine, as my granpappy used to say, but I’m with you. The S-10 is right-sized, compared to the Ford so long that the tailgate will still be in Illinois when the front bumper is crossing into Nebraska.

  4. For work trucks I’ve owned a ’94 F-150, a ’98 Ranger, a ’99 F-250 and an ’00 E-150 (still have the last two). They’ve all been great in their own ways, so I’d probably stick with Ford for another truck. That said, used car prices apparently still suck at this end of the spectrum as neither of these should be priced more than a grand.

  5. I bought a Sonoma very similar to the S-10 shown about 5 yrs ago. Although it had lived in the Ft Wayne area up to that point, some type of rustproofing was applied early on and was pretty solid. 150,000 miles and the trans had been recently replaced with a reman. $3000. So prices are stable to trending up.

    Because of the very long model run (and perhaps because the Post Office LLV trucks are built on an S-10 chassis), parts are some of the cheapest and most available of any platform.

  6. It seems to me that lately all of the worst weather and disasters is on the coasts. Hurricanes, bomb cyclones, biblical floods, ice storms, millions of acres on fire, and eternal droughts. An occasional snowstorm is as bad as it gets here in the Driftless Region.

  7. As of 5:15 eastern time the s-10 is reduced to $2400
    I’d rather have the Lil truck. Love the engine But, omg that rust,

    sorry it’s the ford this time

  8. The Ford looks like The Marshal’s older brother. The one who can’t seem to keep a girlfriend or job for more than a few months and has been in and out of the joint.

    Still, he’s my pick. Glad I have the slightly younger version of him with port fuel injection tho

    1. I wonder if Jason has written “THIS THING’S EASY TO GET PARTS FOR” on the dash as he promised to do a while back.

      At least he’s lucky The Marshal has a vinyl seat. The one in that blue Supercab is nicely untorn and must’ve been plush when new, but I wouldn’t want to shine a blacklight on it.

  9. F150 with a 300, T18 and an NP208?

    Is there a better spec for a truck anywhere?

    It even has the sliding rear window and two tanks. Take my money.

  10. Lots of comments liking neither of these vehicles, I like them both. The S10 looks to be in pretty good shape (except for a little oxidation) and the interior is pretty clean. I was ready to pick it, then I started reading about the Ford. Unkillable Ford straight six, manual, 4wd, long bed, ratty interior. I love the ratty interior, I want my truck to be a vehicle I can hop into sweaty from working in the yard, or greasy from working under a car, and not worry about it, or best yet out the hairy dog in and not feel like I have to vacuum it out when I get home. That to me is the beauty of a truck, allows you to work without interruption or concern with things besides the work. Slow is fine too, I have plenty of cars to race around in. Let’s go pick up a load of gravel.

    1. I picked the S-10 because I love them and it will surely lose among this crowd, but I’m with you that these are both great trucks. I’d gladly do truck things in either one of them.

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