In 1976, the era of the highboy truck was over and Ford was the last holdout. “Highboy” describes the stance, but the reason for that stance isn’t clear to everyone. A true highboy has a divorced transfer case, meaning it is separate and connected to the transmission via a short driveshaft, rather than being married to the back of the transmission as is common today. Among other things, that divorced layout necessitates a very long front driveshaft and, for clearance, the ride height of the truck must be higher.
In the early days of 4x4 pickups, virtually all were in the highboy club because the first 4x4 pickups were conversions of a 4x2 chassis. It was simpler and cheaper to utilize the original 4x2 transmission than to design an adapter to marry them. Those first highboys were even higher than later trucks because there were often clearance issues between the front axle, driveshaft and the engine. The end result was a much higher cargo loading height versus that of a 4x2, more entry/egress effort for the human cargo and a higher center of gravity. This is one reason why the Camper Special option was nonexistent for highboys because they didn’t want to encourage their use with a super-high center-of-gravity truck.
Starting in the late ’60s, a conscious effort was made to lower the stance of 4x4 pickups. Jeep started the ball rolling with the intro of the ’63 Gladiator line. Those trucks were notably lower than the competition and that was a pretty big selling point. GM got on the same bandwagon with the ’67 models. Dodge was fully lowboy by 1975, and International Harvester had not changed over by the time the light trucks were discontinued in 1975. Ford was the holdout and wasn’t fully changed over until the beginning of 1977 (some sources say the end of Ford highboy production was February, 1977). The ’70s-era Ford F-100 or ’76-and-up F-150 do not qualify as highboys because they had married transfer cases and a much lower ride height.
Ford had a limited presence in the 4x4 pickup market through 1973, with only a couple of models available. By 1976, the company was set to explode upon the market. Ford had short and long wheelbase F-100 4x4s, an F-150 4x4 (which was basically positioned as a higher GVW ½-ton) and the F-250. There were no F-350 4x4s offered until 1980.
For 1976, your outfitting choices for an F-250 4x4 were pretty narrow compared to the 4x2s. The base engine was the 300ci inline-six, which was offered only with the NP435 manual trans, part-time NP205 transfer case and 4.10:1 axle ratios. The only engine option was the 360ci two-barrel V-8. That was frustrating because the 4x2s were also offered with an optional 390 four-barrel (190hp) or the new 460 four-barrel (230hp), both of which were substantially more powerful than the 145hp 360, in addition to the 300 Six or the 360. If you opted for the 360, it came standard with the NP435, but you could order the C6 “Cruise-o-Matic” automatic. Also optional, only with the automatic and V-8, was the NP203 full-time four-wheel-drive system, which had been available since 1973. It used a divorced version of the NP203 full-timer and was noted for driveshaft vibration.
Axles were the low-pinion Dana 44 up front and a full-float Dana 60 in back. A Dana Powr-Lok was optional in the rear. The ’76 Ford Data Book says that only a 4.10:1 ratio was available in all F-250 4x4s but some sources list 3.73:1 as well.
The Ford SuperCab, which had debuted in late 1974, was not available in the 4x4 line, so the F-250 only came as a regular cab longbed or a crew cab, which is and was a rare truck. While the Styleside was the more popular bed option, the Flareside was still available, as was a Stakeside. Trim level choices started with the base Custom, which was not such a bare-bone unit in this era compared to some. It actually had chrome bumpers and a decent seat. Up from that was the Custom with the Décor Package. Next was the Ranger, which upped the ante by adding bright exterior trim, molding and hubcaps (on fulltime 4x4s). On the inside, the Ranger added carpets and better door panels, headliner and insulation. Up from the Ranger was the Ranger XLT which offered even more bright exterior trim on the outside along with plusher carpets, and better upholstery on the inside, as well as the convenience group.
Functional options not previously mentioned included power steering (which was an old-style ram-type on the tie rod versus the more modern integrated style), extra cooling or super cooling, 60-amp alternator (versus the standard 40-amp), larger battery, manual locking hubs, heavy-duty front springs, heavy-duty shocks, progressive rate rear springs with overloads, three GVW ratings (6,850, 7,600 and 7,700 pounds), rear limited slip, 9.50R-16.5 off-road tires (lots of others), below-bed storage box, Northland Special Package (block heater, more antifreeze protection, the bigger battery and alternator) and a bunch of little stuff. An auxiliary tank was not available for the 4x4 F-250, unlike some of the 4x2s and the F-100/F-150 4x4, because of the divorced transfer case location.
Cosmetically, besides the trim options, you had four optional two-tone paint combinations and 16 different colors, plus accent stripes. Ford also offered a bed shell, which could be color-keyed to the truck. A sliding rear window was on the options list, as was a bed tonneau. This was an era where the comfort and convenience options made for a short list but they included air conditioning, a high-output heater, knitted vinyl seat, AM or AM/FM radios, remote control left mirror, various towing mirrors and deluxe seat belts with shoulder harness.
Though there were reputedly ’77 model year F-250 4x4 highboys built, Ford transitioned to lowboys early in 1977, so the ’76s can be considered the last full year for the Ford highboy trucks. It’s interesting to note that back in the day, the highboys were not the most popular rig on the block due to loading height issues. Today, they are among the coolest of the cool in old 4x4 pickups. Go figure.
This ’76 F-250 4x4 is another of Brian Steinbrook’s brood (see the February 2014 Backward Glances for another). It’s a one-owner rig from Idaho and is one of approximately 62,000 F-250 4x4s built that year. It’s showing just less than 87,000 original miles, bears its original paint and interior and is largely unmolested. It’s a time machine back to the era when getting into your truck required some effort and you could skip the chin-up bar at the gym.
Vehicle: 1976 Ford F-250 Highboy
Owner: Brian Steinbrook
Estimated value: $15,000
Engine: 360ci V-8, Ford FE
Power (hp): 145 @ 3,600
Torque (lb-ft): 263 @ 2,000
Bore & stroke (in): 4.05 x 3.50
Comp. ratio: 8.6:1
Transmission: 4-spd manual, NP435
Transfer case: 2-spd, divorced NP205
Front axle: Dana 6-CF-HD (Dana 44)
Rear axle: Dana 60 full-float
Axle ratio: 4.10:1
L x W x H (in): 211x79.1x78.6
Wheelbase (in): 133
GVW (lbs): 6,850
Curb weight (lbs): 4,963 (as equipped)
Fuel capacity (gal): 19.3
Special Thanks To:
Steiny’s Classic 4x4 Trucks