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Ford F-100/F-150 Spotter’s Guide

Posted in Features on June 2, 2015
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The Ford F-Series pickup trucks were introduced to the American public for the ’48 model year and continue to roll off the assembly line today after more than a dozen generations. These trucks have changed a lot over more than six decades.

We scoured nearly 50 years of production data, and with the help of Randy Harral, Ford aficionado and owner of Driven 4x4 Parts in Phoenix, Arizona, we came up with a ton of good information. We’ll take a look at the popular 1⁄2-ton 4WD versions that have helped four-wheelers travel and play off the highway.

5th Generation (1967-1972)
The late ’60s Ford pickup was the F-100 model. The 6 1⁄2-foot bed sat on a 115-inch wheelbase and the full 8-foot bed on a 131-inch wheelbase.

The ’59 model marked the year of the first factory-produced 4WD F-100, several generations before this truck. This is a ’72 F-100 Ranger XLT that would have come only with a NP435 four-speed manual and a Dana 21 single-speed transfer case.

Up front, Ford offered its Mono-Beam Suspension with coil springs and forged radius arms. The straight front axle was also located using a lateral track bar. Conventional leaf springs were used in the rear. Steering was via a worm-and-roller-style steering box mounted to the driver-side framerail.

A number of carbureted engines were offered in the fifth-generation F-Series. These included the 240ci I-6, 300ci I-6, 352ci V-8 (’67 only), and 360ci V-8. Ford never offered a three-speed manual transmission in the 4WD trucks like it did in the Bronco. Instead, the fifth-generation F-100 trucks were all equipped with the sturdy New Process NP435 four-speed (6.69:1 First gear). These trucks used a single-speed Dana 21 transfer case, meaning there was no low range gearing. A PTO output at the transfer case was also available during these years in the F-100.

Early powerplants included inline six-cylinder and V-8 models and all were carbureted. The earliest 4WD F-100 models came with a 240ci or 300ci I-6, or a 352ci or 360ci V-8.

Front axles with optional freewheeling hubs were kingpin Dana 44 units. Rear axles were often the 28-spline Ford 9-inch, but could have been a Dana 44 or Dana 60 in the first couple of years of this generation. Gearing for the fifth-generation F-Series trucks ranged from 3.50 to 4.11. A limited slip or Traction-Lok was optional in the rear axle. Early brakes were front and rear drum systems, with power assist optional starting in ’72 models. Options on the early models also included items such as snowplows, front overload air springs, and winches.

6th Generation (1973-1979)
Ford changed the body style of the F-Series trucks in ’73 models, moving the gas tank from inside the cab to under the bed. The new truck offered increased cabin space and beds with double-wall construction. The wheelbase grew to 117 inches for the shortbed and 133 inches for the longbed.

The new ’76 4WD F-150 was designed to meet the needs of a payload capacity between the F-100 and F-250 models. With the popularity of the new F-150, the F-100 was soon discontinued. Trucks up through the ’77s came with round headlights. For the ’78s, square headlights debuted on all models except Custom, which would convert a year later.

Ford introduced the 2WD version of the SuperCab, which stretched each wheelbase another 22 inches. The 4WD SuperCab would arrive on dealer lots about four years later as a ’78 model. The ’75 2WD F-150 debuted offering a payload rating between the F-100 and the F-250 models. The 4WD F-150 would follow a year later, spelling an end to the 4WD F-100 model. The heavy-duty 1⁄2-tonner F-150 could run on regular gas while the F-100 was restricted to running on unleaded.

Engine choice for the sixth-generation trucks included the 240ci I-6, 300ci I-6, 360ci V-8, plus the 351M or 400M V-8 engines in the later years. The ’75 engines began to feature a “breakerless” solid-state ignition system standard. Transmission choices were the NP435 or the C6 three-speed automatic transmission used with the V-8.

The late ’60s and early ’70s interiors were simple and spartan. The early 4WD F-Series trucks would not see an automatic transmission until the C6 three-speed was offered in ’73 models.

The Dana 21 single-speed transfer case continued to see use in the F-100 models of this era, and some trucks got the part-time 4WD NP205 iron-case, gear-drive transfer case (1.96:1 low range). F-150 models used either the NP205 or the full-time 4WD NP203 iron-case, chain-drive transfer case (2.00:1 low range) behind auto transmissions.

The full-time 4WD NP203 transfer case was introduced in the ’80 F-150. This case used a differential gear allowing for full-time mode. The action could be locked out and there were kits to eliminate the action and convert the transfer case to operate in part-time mode to save on fuel consumption and wear of the front 4WD components.

The front axle remained a Dana 44 straight axle but was changed to use ball-joint knuckles. The rear remained the Ford 9-inch in both 28 and 31-spline flavors in the first four years and going all 31-spline models with heavy-duty housing in the remaining years. Axle gearing usually ranged from 3.50:1 to 4.11:1. Early brakes were optional power front and rear drum, with power front discs optional on the ’76s and standard on the ’77s. A power steering option was also added with this generation truck.

The F-100/F-150 4WDs were introduced with the Mono-Beam Suspension up front. Forged steel radius arms located the Dana 44 front axle. When shopping for a project straight axle, the ’76-’77 disc brake axles are preferred due to the weld-on C-bushing perches that can be ground off and rewelded to change caster angle. The ’78-’79 axles have a hollow cast perch that cannot be cut and rotated.

7th Generation (1980-1986)
Another redesign occurred for the ’80 F-150. Ford made a drastic change to the chassis, front axle, and suspension system with the use of the Dana 44 Twin-Traction Beam (TTB), a style of independent front suspension. Coil springs remained as the spring of choice up front and leaf packs remained in the rear.

The ’80 model was the beginning of the seventh-generation F-Series trucks. Over the years, Ford offered their Styleside and Flareside beds.

Ford offered the reliable 300ci I-6 along with several larger engine options. Among these were the 302ci V-8 and 351M V-8. Also, multi-point fuel injection was introduced on the 302ci V-8 in the ’85s. Transmissions included the BorgWarner T-18 (6.32:1 First gear), the NP435, C6 automatic, and the Ford AOD overdrive automatic (0.667:1 Fourth gear), beginning in ’85 trucks behind the 302ci V-8. Transfer cases were either the NP208 (2.61:1 low range) or the BorgWarner BW1345 (2.72:1 low range). Both were part-time, aluminum-case, chain-drive units. Output yokes could be either slip type or bolt-on, depending on truck wheelbase and driveshaft used.

With the new generation, the ’80 models came the Dana 44 Twin-Traction Beam (TTB) suspension. Two beams pivot independently with a U-joint in the center. Aftermarket support has been substantial for this suspension, and it takes well to modification to higher performance levels with longer radius arms or modified arms.

The 31-spline Ford 9-inch rear axle was available in this generation truck, and starting in some ’83 F-150s, the Ford 8.8-inch axle started appearing. Axle ratios ran from 3.00:1 to 4.11:1, and new automatic hubs allowed shifting from two-wheel to four-wheel drive while the vehicle was moving.

The Ford 9-inch rear axle was introduced in the ’50s. It was the most popular rear axle in 1⁄2-ton Ford 4WD pickups until the mid-’80s. Early versions used 28-spline axleshafts, while later versions used 31-spline ’shafts. There was also an upgrade from small bearing housings to large bearing housings. The aftermarket now drives the ability to build a huge variety of 9-inch axle variations with significant strength improvements.

8th Generation (1987-1991)
The ’87 F-150 trucks underwent minor cosmetic changes with a more rounded front clip over the previous generation. The TTB front suspension and leaf-sprung rear remained.

The eighth-generation trucks would move to flush headlights mounted to a new front end with wraparound parking lights. The ’87 F-150 would be the first truck with rear-wheel anti-lock brakes.

The ’87 300ci I-6 got multi-point fuel injection to match the 302ci V-8 that got it a few years earlier. The Mazda-built M5OD-R2 five-speed manual overdrive (0.80:1 Fifth gear) transmission was introduced and the NP435 mostly phased out, save for some special order options. The C6 three-speed automatic was still available, as was the AOD four-speed auto. Another four-speed auto, the E4OD (0.71:1 Fourth gear), would be introduced in the ’90 trucks. The transfer cases in this generation were the magnesium-case, chain-drive BW1356 (2.69:1 low range) or the BW1345. Electric and manual shift types were used.

Ford would introduce rear ABS in the braking system in the ’87 models. The Dana 44 TTB axle setup remained up front, as did the Ford 8.8-inch axle (now with ABS sensor port) in the rear. Axle ratios were typically 3.08:1 to 4.10:1.

9th Generation (1992-1996)
In 1992, the F-Series pickups were updated again, smoothing the body lines and making the front of the trucks more aerodynamic. Previous SuperCab models had two side windows, but this generation changed that to a single pane for backseat passengers.

The ninth-generation ’92-’96 F-Series was pushing pickup truck comfort levels upward to please consumers. The upscale Eddie Bauer edition was introduced in ’95 models.

Ford offered the 300ci I-6, 302ci V-8, and 351ci V-8 fuel-injected engines in the ninth-generation trucks. OBD-II engine control and monitoring was introduced in ’96 vehicles. Transmissions were the Mazda M5OD-R2 manual, the C6 (through about 1996), or the AOD/E4OD four-speed overdrive autos. The transfer case was the BW1356 with manual shifter or electric shifter. Optional Electric Touch Drive allowed one to shift “on the fly” from 2WD to 4WD and back again at normal road speeds at the touch of a button. Auto hubs were standard, with manual hubs optional. Ford continued to use the Dana 44 TTB up front and the Ford 8.8-inch rear axle.

10th Generation (1997-2003)
The ’97 F-150 was drastically redesigned from previous generations, with an even more rounded body. The SuperCab offered the first standard third door in a fullsize pickup, which improved access to the rear seat. The SuperCrew body was introduced for ’01s.

Ford made a drastic change to their best-selling F-150 for the ’97 model year and introduced a much rounder body style with a lowered hood line to improve aerodynamics. It was at this time they also shed the front TTB suspension for a more traditional IFS configuration.

Ford went to a new line of engines, offering the 4.2L V-6, 4.6L V-8, and 5.4L V-8 in the F-150 trucks. The Mazda M5OD-R2 remained as the manual transmission choice while new autos were introduced. They were the 4R70W light-duty and R4100 four-speed overdrive transmissions. The transfer case was the part-time BW4406 aluminum-case, chain-drive unit with 2.64:1 low range.

The front suspension was changed. It was now a twin forged independent short/long arm (SLA) suspension with forged upper and cast iron lower control arms with torsion bars. A 28-spline Ford 8.8-inch differential used a vacuum disconnect to engage/disengage 4WD. Also ’97 F-150s began using a new rear axle, the 34-spline Ford 9.75-inch. The Ford 8.8-inch was also still used in some trucks. There was a mix of both drum and disc brakes for these two axles.

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