Why Old Ford F-Series Trucks Live Forever (Video)

Ford's magic formula: Simplicity + value = longevity.

André and Kase go over the elements that Ford built into TFLtruck’s 30-year-old F-Series pickups: a 1989 4×4 F-350 with a 7.3-liter diesel and a manual transmission we nicknamed Gunsmoke, and a 1990 F-150 with Ford’s legendary 4.9-liter straight 6 mated to a 4-speed automatic. Despite some issues on Gunsmoke (brakes, reserve fuel tank, rust, and exhaust) both trucks fire up with no problem and go. The biggest reason is due to their inherent simplicity. No turbos, no slick touch-button 4WD, no drive-by-wire electronics to fail or go out-of-date.

Ford F-350 Diesel
Gunsmoke, TFL’s F-350

1989 Ford F-350 4×4, a.k.a. Gunsmoke

We call this truck Gunsmoke due to the fact that it came with a gun rack and, being a diesel, it belches out a lot of smoke. The truck was given to TFL by a local Colorado fan, and our plan is to fix it up and then auction it off for charity. As a 30-year-old Colorado truck the body does have rust issues, particularly on the rear, but the truck runs.

The Engine: The giant 7.3-liter diesel is based on an International Harvester powerplant. No turbo-chargers, here! For such a giant engine it only pumped out 185-hp when new, a shockingly low number compared to today’s trucks. However, Gunsmoke’s 358 lb-ft. torque was a mighty number for its day, and even now its a worthy number for a F-350 heavy-duty truck. Our theory is that this mighty engine wasn’t put under too much stress in its lifetime, hence its ability to run strong today. According to Kase, Gunsmoke is essentially a tractor.

Ford 7.3 diesel
F-350’s monster 7.3-liter diesel.

Drivetrain: Gunsmoke’s 5-speed manual transmission with 4-low and manual locking front wheels is dead simple and a joy to drive. Working the clutch and long shift throws to harness the diesel’s grunt is a visceral experience that’s lost with today’s trucks. Fun fact: In reality, the transmission is more like a 4-speed; 1st gear is way too low for use in daily driving. With all the low-end grunt available, we find that starting from a stop in 2nd gear is the way to go.

Body/Suspension: Simple body-on-frame construction for the win with giant heavy-duty Dana axles. Heavy-duty hubs–the F-350 was over-built, as it should be. And it’s the reason that we bought the F-150 to use for parts to get it back to looking and running like the champ it is.

Ford F-150
The F-150. Simple is beautiful.

1990 Ford F-150 Custom XLT

After we purchased for $900 for its relatively pristine truck bed, we soon discovered that this F-150 with its straight 6 engine was a secret gem in its own right, leading us to conflicting feelings over stripping it down. Here’s what we learned.

Ford F-150
Ford F-150’s straight 6.

The Engine: The fuel-injected 4.9-liter straight 6 is a legend amongst Ford owners for its reliability. And it should be reliable since Ford produced variants of this 6 for 30 years. You’d figure by 1990 they knew what they were doing. When new it was good for 150 hp and around 280 lb-ft. torque, decent numbers for a 6-cylinder.

The Transmission: Kase discovered that our F-150 came with a heavy-duty transmission, one that kicks in the torque at a pleasingly low RPM of 1,600. We believe that’s one other reason that this rig is still going strong after all these years.

Body/Suspension: The whole reason we bought this truck is for the condition of the body panels and bed. Thanks to spending most of its life in Southern California, the paint is faded, but the metal is still strong. Plus the topper kept the truck bed out of the elements and in mind-blowing good shape. Underneath, we noticed Ford’s I-beam suspension on the front, famous for making the F-150 easy to modify into a desert runner with long-travel suspension. Again, a very simple idea that’s stood the test of time.

Be sure to check out the video below to see more of these classic trucks as André and Kase walk you through their elegant simplicity.