Firing Order: Four- and Six-Cylinder Engines in Fullsize Pickups—Yes or No?

Firing Order

"Why would I buy a pickup truck with anything but a V-8?"

This was recently said to me by a reader who was incredulous at the proliferation of 1/2-ton pickup trucks with an array of non-V-8 options. His opinion of anything other than a V-8 was clearly less than positive. "No six-cylinder in my truck," he said. And don't even get him started on GM's new 2.7L four-cylinder. "A four-cylinder in a fullsize pickup? Hard pass."

The conversation put me on yet another trip down Memory Lane. It was spring of 1982 when I met my farmer father-in-law for the first time. Of course, I didn't know he would be my father-in-law at the time. It was my first date with his fiery red-haired daughter, so I nervously went to his barn for the official meet 'n' greet. At the time he was a dairy farmer, and he was in the middle of evening milking. When he saw me, he smiled, thrust out his right hand, massive and calloused, and shook my hand. My father-in-law, as I would quickly learn, was a kind man of few words, with an incredible work ethic. That farm and his hard work put food on the table for his family of six until he "retired." But to be clear, he never really retired. That was just another word for fleeing Illinois for Florida in the fall to escape the harsh winters, and then he was right back "up north" planting in the spring and harvesting in the fall.

Like most farmers, my father-in-law put great stock in his tractors (which were red in color, never green, blue, or any other color) and his pickup truck. His truck for decades was a '79 Ford F-250 powered by a 300ci six-cylinder engine mated to a four-speed manual transmission. I wish I had a photo of the truck, but alas, I can't find one, so here's a description for your mind's eye: regular cab, longbed, dark brown with beige stripes. He purchased the truck off the dealer lot in Durand, Illinois, and it had zero options to the best of my recollection. It had manual rollup windows, vinyl flooring, and no A/C. The fact that a stripper truck like this was on the dealer lot proves that the late '70s were a different time for trucks compared to nowadays. A DMI rear bumper and a set of tall white stock racks on the bed so he could haul livestock were the only modifications he made to the truck.

My father-in-law used the heck out of that truck. It was a tool, not a toy. Over the years I saw that truck loaded with just about every farm-related item you can think of. The truck wasn't fast, and the throw on the trans shifter seemed to be measured in feet. Horsepower wasn't so hot, but torque came on relatively low in the rpm band, and when matched with the granny First gear in the four-speed manual trans, the truck could pull a surprising amount of weight. From what I remember, the ratio between First and Second gear was a tad too wide though, so thought had to be given before planting it into Second gear to keep the engine from lugging.

After a couple decades of farm work and life in the Rustbelt, the truck was showing its age. In the late 1990s I drove it to work often when my '84 XJ was broken, and people found it amusing that when I applied the brakes the driver-side front turn signal illuminated. By then the majority of the truck's panels weren't straight. They resembled aluminum foil after it's balled up and then straightened out. Oh, and add rust.

But here's the thing: That bulletproof 300ci I-6 was still running strong. It wasn't economical on fuel and it wasn't a house of horsepower, but it was a reliable workhorse.

Looking back in fullsize pickup truck history, there have been a number of non-V-8 offerings, and compared to modern pickup trucks the horsepower and torque numbers were very low. Me? Well, I love a V-8 too, but I have a deep respect for that ol' 300ci I-6, and I wonder if any of the new crop of non-V-8 offerings will go down in the "legendary" category of engines.

Have you owned a truck with one of the old non-V-8 engines? Like Ford's 300ci I-6, Chrysler's Slant Six, or GM's 292ci I-6? Or, do you have a new fullsize truck with a four- or six-cylinder engine? If so, drop an email to the address below and let me know what you like(d) or dislike(d). Or, if you have no time for anything other than a V-8, lemme know why. And please include a high-res photo of your rig!
—Ken Brubaker
ken.brubaker@fourwheeler.com