by the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide
Although it's also all the rage these days, looking back, fuel economy was the primary focus for Ford trucks during the 1980s -- a fact substantiated by styling changes, revised powertrains, and the development of smaller truck offerings.
Greeting the new decade was a restyled Ford F-Series pickup with a more aerodynamic front end. Cabs were a bit bigger, too, and four-wheel-drive versions got independent front suspension in the form of Ford's Twin Traction Beam setup.
Want to see how these innovations impacted the look of the trucks? Continue to reading and have a look at some of Ford's trucks from 1980.
1980 Ford Trucks
Major Ford truck changes for 1980 included revised styling on F-Series trucks and Broncos, and the fact that 434 versions of Ford trucks got independent front suspensions. Late in the model year, medium- and heavy-duty Ford trucks were offered with engines that ran on Liquid Propane (LP) gas.
Coors Beer custom-commissioned Courier
Coors Beer commissioned a custom Courier that featured period-popular hood scoop, spoilers, sunroof, and big-rig-style chrome exhaust stacks. The Flareside bed was specially made, as it wasn't offered on the Courier that year.
1980 Ford Bronco
Broncos and F-Series pickups got a new face for 1980, and pickup trucks continued to offer both Styleside and Flareside beds.
1980 Ford Ranger
Bronco and F-Series four-wheel-drive truck models adopted Twin-Traction Beam independent front suspension for 1980. Rival GM 434s wouldn't get independent front suspension until 1988.
1980 medium-duty Ford truck
Ford redesigned its medium-duty trucks for 1980, giving them a sleek, modern look that bore a kinship to their heavy-duty siblings. Both gas and diesel engines were offered.
1981's Ford truck options included a number of custom-decor packages for light-duty pickups.
1981 Ford Trucks
In 1981, all Ford truck lines carried over virtually unchanged, although Ford added the F-100 option with a "downsized" 255-cubic-inch V-8 engine. Smaller than even the standard 300-cubic-inch six, this engine may have been more marketing hype than fuel-economy help, but it showed Ford's commitment to increasing gas mileage.
Two-tone 1981 Ford F-150 Flareside
F-Series Ford trucks had long received an annual styling update -- even if it only amounted to a slight change in the grille -- but that practice ceased with the 1981 models, which were virtually identical to 1980's. By this time, the Ford F-Series was on a roll as the best-selling truck in the land, so there was little incentive to mess with success. Besides, the 1980-81 was a good-looking design, as evidenced by this two-tone F-150 Flareside.
Custom-decorated two-tone Ford light-duty pickup
Several custom decor packages were available for light-duty pickups in the early Eighties, one of which included the two-tone paint and white-painted wheels shown here.
Custom-decorated Ford truck with Flareside bed
Flareside beds, once considered more utilitarian than the smooth-sided Styleside versions, were now considered more stylish. This Ford truck illustrates another example of the custom-decor packages available in 1981.
More customized decor options
This customized 1981 Ford truck features a blackout grille and aluminum wheels.
Introduced for 1976, the LTL-9000 remained Ford's top-line heavy-duty truck in the early Eighties. It came standard with many custom touches -- both inside and out -- and was marked by squared-off grille and fenders that capped an extended-length front end.
The classic Ford lettering across Ford trucks' hoods disappeared in 1982.
1982 Ford Trucks
1982 was the final year in which Ford produced the Courier pickup. This year Ford introduced a mildly restyled front end for F-Series pickup trucks and the Bronco.
1982 Ford F-Series pickup truck
An ´82 F-series differed in appearance from an ´81 courtesy of a Ford blue oval that was placed in the center of a grille with fewer vertical bars. This prompted the deletion of the Ford lettering that previously graced the leading edge of the hood. In a further bow to fuel economy, the F-100 came standard with a new 232-cubic-inch V-6 for 1982.
1982 SuperCab Ford truck
SuperCab Ford trucks had a longer cab that allowed for a three-passenger rear bench seat or a pair of jump seats. The divided rear side window first appeared in Ford trucks for 1980.
1982 Ford F-Series trucks with custom decor
Spoked wheels and tape stripes continued to dress up F-Series trucks, with some new designs being offered for 1982. During this time, pickups were becoming more popular for regular passenger use, largely replacing high-performance cars -- long since regulated out of existence -- as trendy transportation.
Caterpillar 3208 V-8 diesel engine
Offered in the 1982 LN-Series was a Caterpillar 3208 V-8 diesel with 165 to 200 horsepower. The Cat provided a broad torque range that minimized shifting in city traffic.
1982 LN-Series medium-duty Ford truck
Covering a similar 24,000- to 27,500-lb GVW range were the big-rig-styled LN-Series medium-duty Ford trucks. From the front bumper to the back of the cab, they were about seven inches shorter than their F-Series counterparts.
1983 signaled the end of the Mazda-built Courier truck and the rise of the Ford-built Ranger compact pickup truck.
1983 Ford Trucks
Ford showed even more of a commitment to improved gas mileage in 1983 when the slow-selling Mazda-built Courier truck was replaced by the Ford-built Ranger, which quickly became the most popular compact pickup in the land. Higher GVW Ford F-Series medium-duty trucks also were introduced in 1983.
Wind tunnel testing on a Ford truck in 1983
In an effort to reduce drag, a Ford pickup truck undergoes wind tunnel testing. Because many customers showed increased interest in fuel economy, even trucks were tweaked for maximum efficiency.
1983 Ford Ranger
Replacing the Mazda-built Courier for 1983 was the Ford-built Ranger truck. Introduced early in the 1982 calendar year, the Ranger was nearly the same size as the Courier and also offered six- and seven-foot beds. Unlike the Courier, however, it was available not only with a regular four-cylinder engine, but also with a V-6 or four-cylinder diesel engine, and -- later in the model year -- with four-wheel drive.
1983 Ford F-350
Among F-Series pickups, only the F-350 was available in a four-door, six-passenger crew-cab body style for 1983. All 350s also came with an eight-foot bed, meaning the truck pictured above stretched more than 237 inches -- just shy of 20 feet -- bumper-to-bumper.
1983 Ford FT-8000 heavy-duty truck
New for the 1983 F-Series medium-duty line was a trio of trucks with GVW ratings that edged them into the heavy-duty range. The FT-800 and FT-900 were tandem-axle vehicles with gasoline engines; the FT-8000 (pictured above) was a tandem with a diesel engine.
The Bronco II was born in 1984, but a popular Ford truck model was discontinued.
1984 Ford Trucks
Further testament to Ford's desire for improved fuel efficiency appeared in 1984 when the Ranger-based Bronco II sport-utility vehicle was added to the lineup. Both the Ranger and Bronco II carried styling cues that linked them to their F-Series and Bronco big brothers, which was probably both helpful and intentional.
Another bit of noteworthy news for 1984 came not in the form of a change or addition, but of a loss. The Ford F-100, a model name that had been around since 1953, was discontinued (as was the E-100 van), probably because its gross vehicle weight (GVW) fell below the threshold that would have allowed it to get by on the less-stringent emission standards that applied to heavier-duty trucks.
But this was more of a historical loss than a sales one, as the slightly beefier F-150, which had been introduced in 1975, absorbed those buyers -- as evidenced by the fact it would soon become the nation's best-selling full-size pickup, and soon after the best-selling vehicle of any type.
1984 Ford Bronco II
Ford entered the compact-SUV arena with the 1984 Bronco II. Introduced early in the 1983 calendar year, it closely followed the Chevrolet S-10 Blazer and GMC Jimmy to market in what was essentially a new segment -- and was closely followed by the Jeep Cherokee. All were designed in response to the 1979 gas crisis, which is why these direct competitors went on sale at about the same time.
Bronco II was based on the compact Ranger pickup, introduced the previous year. All models came with four-wheel drive and a 2.8-liter (171-cubic inch) V-6. Compared to its big Bronco brother, the Bronco II was shorter by 10 inches in wheelbase and 19 inches in overall length, and -- most significantly -- lighter by more than 800 lbs. A sporty XLS package added tri-color tape stripes and wheelwell "spats."
1984 Ford Ranger
After siring its SUV stablemate, Ranger was given a rest for 1984, and saw no significant changes. Note the similarities between the Ranger and Bronco II, particularly from the cab forward.
1984 XLS Ford Ranger
This alternate look at a 1984 XLS Ford Ranger reveals its similarities to the previous model year.
1984 Ford Bronco
The full-size Bronco remained in a rut, as it once again didn't see any significant changes -- and hadn't since 1980. It retained its removable rear roof section, which allowed the back seat and cargo area to be uncovered.
1984 Ford F-150
Because the Ford F-100's GVW rating put it below the threshold that allowed heavier pickups to get by with meeting "looser" truck emission standards, the model was unceremoniously dropped for 1984 -- after 30 years on the market. With that, the F-150 became Ford's base full-size pickup truck. Options included Explorer special-value packages that provided numerous uplevel features at a discounted price.
Ford debuted the fuel-injected truck engine in 1985.
1985 Ford Trucks
Fuel injection arrived for 1985 Ford trucks, but only on selected engines: the 5.0-liter (302-cubic-inch) V-8 in F-Series and Bronco, and the 2.3-liter four in the Ford Ranger. More Ford truck engines adopted it over the next few years, and all were fuel-injected by the end of the decade.
1985 Ford Ranger
Newly standard for the 1985 Ranger was a fuel-injected 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine that was more powerful than the carbureted version it replaced. A carbureted 2.8-liter V-6 remained optional, and newly available was a four-speed automatic transmission.
1985 Ford F-Series pickup
Ford F-Series pickups offered an optional fuel-injected 5.0-liter engine for 1985, and F-350 crew cab trucks got a dual-rear-wheel option, but otherwise the line saw few changes. Other gas engines in Ford trucks remained carbureted.
1985 Bronco II
Aside from a five-speed manual transmission replacing a four-speed as standard, and the newly available four-speed automatic as an option, Bronco II saw few changes for 1985. It could look quite ritzy when dressed up with optional decor packages.
1985 Ford Bronco
Big-brother Bronco got some new dress-up packages for 1985, along with the optional fuel-injected 5.0-liter V-8 offered in the Ford F-Series pickups.
Ford C-Series Tilt Cab truck
Now looking like something out of a trucking time warp, the tried-and-true C-Series Tilt Cab, which dated from 1957, continued in Ford's lineup -- mostly because it continued to be popular.
The Aerostar minivan and a new medium-duty truck joined Ford's roster in 1986.
1986 Ford Trucks
In response to the surprisingly popular Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager minivans introduced by Chrysler Corporation in 1984, Ford brought out the Aerostar for 1986. Being built on a rear-wheel-drive Ford truck frame, the Aerostar was closer to a traditional van than the front-drive/unibody Chryslers, and that -- along with its available V-6 -- gave it a higher towing capacity.
1986 also brought a new name to Ford's medium-duty truck lineup: the Cargo. Unusual in that it carried a name rather than a series designation, it was referred to as a "low tilt cab," although the cab was in fact rather tall.
Designed around European styling themes, the Cargo was intended to replace the boxy ´50s-vintage C-Series Tilt Cab -- still in production -- but the two were sold side-by-side through the end of the decade. Also new that year was a SuperCab version of the Ford Ranger pickup truck.
1986 Ford F-150
With the F-150 firmly ensconced as the best-selling vehicle in the U.S., there was little reason to change it for 1986 -- and Ford didn't.
Newly offered on Ford's heavy-duty Cab-Over-Engine truck models for 1986 were aftercooler systems that coaxed more power and better fuel economy out of their diesel engines. Available options now included a chrome front bumper and exterior-mounted sun visor (both fitted to the CLT-9000 shown above), along with a Jacobs Engine Brake. A "Jake Brake," as it was often called, used the engine's compression to help slow the vehicle when coming to a stop.
1986 SuperCab Ford Ranger
Ranger offered a SuperCab body style for 1986 that added 17 inches to the back of the truck's cab. A pair of rear jump seats was optional. SuperCab trucks came only with a six-foot bed, while regular cabs also offered a seven-footer.
Newly available on the base Ranger S was a 2.0-liter four, while other models came with a 2.3-liter four or new fuel-injected 2.9-liter V-6 engine. Also offered that year -- but rarely ordered -- was a 2.3-liter turbodiesel. Four-wheel-drive Rangers got a new "shift-on-the-fly" system in 1986. The V-6 and diesel engines, along with the 4x4 system, were shared with the Ranger's Bronco II stablemate.
The long-awaited redesigns for Bronco and Ford's light-duty F-Series trucks arrived in 1987.
1987 Ford Trucks
In 1987, Ford's light-duty F-Series trucks and their full-size Bronco companions were treated to a long-awaited restyle, again getting more-aerodynamic front ends. They also got rear-wheel anti-lock brakes, as did the Bronco II. Also in 1987, Henry Ford II, who had taken over and essentially "saved" Ford Motor Company in the 1940s and had run it until 1980, died of pneumonia at the age of 70.
1987 Ford F-Series truck
In their first major update since 1980, Ford's F-Series trucks got an aerodynamic restyle for 1987 that featured rounded-off front corners and flush-mounted headlights. The trucks' interiors were also redesigned. The base 4.9-liter six engine gained fuel injection -- and a 25 percent increase in horsepower -- and rear-wheel anti-lock brakes were added as standard equipment.
1987 Ford Bronco
The 1987 Bronco got the same front-end and interior restyle as the Ford F-Series pickups, along with standard rear-wheel anti-lock brakes and a fuel-injected six-cylinder engine.
1987 Ford Ranger
The Ford Ranger offered an off-road-flavored High Rider package in 1987 that included a bed-mounted light bar and tubular grille guard.
Selections from Ford's 1987 medium-duty truck lineup
Representing Ford's 1987 medium-duty truck lineup are (left to right) an L-8000 with set-back front axle, a Cargo, and a Ford F-Series.
1987 Ford LTL-9000
Ford's Class-8 conventional truck was the LTL-9000. For 1987, it offered a revised cabin and dashboard, while a dash with added instrumentation was optional. Also new that year were improved Cummins and Caterpillar diesel engines with up to 400 horsepower.
Big news for Ford in 1988 was the AeroMax truck.
1988 Ford Trucks
A new line of Super Duty Ford F-350 trucks was introduced for the 1988 model year. These trucks filled a gap between the regular F-350s and the medium-duty F-600s. Standard was a 7.5-liter V-8 engine, while a 7.3-liter diesel was optional. F-Series also dropped its available Flareside bed, although it would return a few years later.
Bigger news for 1988 -- literally -- was the introduction of a sleek new Class-8 truck called the AeroMax. Although the cab was similar to that used for Ford's L-Series Louisville trucks, the front end was given an aerodynamic look and the interior was spruced up.
1988 Ford F-150
Ford dropped its stylish Flareside truck bed for 1988, meaning all pickups carried the Styleside bed shown on the F-150 pictured above. All engines now boasted fuel injection, but otherwise, the F-Series was little-changed after its 1987 facelift.
1988 Ford F-350
F-350s were offered with GVW ratings of up to 14,500 lbs. for 1988, made possible with the addition of available four-wheel disc brakes, heavy-duty axles, and 16-inch wheels. The optional diesel V-8 grew from 6.9 liters to 7.3.
1988 Ford Ranger
The Ford Ranger was a virtual carryover for 1988, although newly available for two-wheel-drive regular cabs was a GT package with sport suspension, front spoiler, and side skirts.
The L-7000 was a lighter-duty version of the heavy-duty L-Series line that effectively fell into the medium-duty segment. Confusing, perhaps, but it made sense to a lot of buyers.
1988 Ford AeroMax truck
Slipping into the limelight for 1988 was the AeroMax, which upped the ante in Class-8aerodynamics. Featuring swept-back front fenders and a form-fitting front bumper -- both made possible by the setback front axle -- it made for a sleek update to what was essentially an L-Series truck. Wraparound headlights added a modern look, while tank skirts and an available "Aero Bullet" sleeper unit made the AeroMax more slippery to the wind.
Ford Rangers and Bronco II finally had their turn for a redesign in 1989. Continue to the next page to find out how Ford finished the decade strong.
1989 Ford Trucks
For 1989, Ford's Bronco II and Ranger were restyled for the first time since their introduction, getting -- you guessed it -- aerodynamically sleeker front ends. The Ford Ranger also added the standard rear-wheel anti-lock brakes the Bronco II had received two years earlier. New for the Aerostar minivan was a "midi" version with a longer body.
1989 Ford Ranger
After many stand-pat years on the styling front, Ranger finally got a sleek new front end for 1989 that mimicked the look of its Ford F-Series big brother. Interiors were also new, as were the standard anti-lock rear brakes. A twin-plug head on the 2.3-liter four boosted horsepower by 10 to an even 100. A 140-hp 2.9-liter V-6 was also available.
1989 Ford Bronco II
The 1989 Bronco II shared the Ford Ranger's restyled front end and interior, but little else was new.
1989 Ford F-150
Two-wheel-drive versions of the 1989 F-150 wore "EFI" (Electronic Fuel Injection) badges below the left-side headlight as shown above. Expanded availability of the four-speed automatic transmission to heavy-duty two-wheel-drive models was the only change of note to Ford F-Series pickups for 1989.
Four-wheel-drive 1989 Ford F-150
Four-wheel drive versions of the 1989 F-150 had a "4x4" badge below the left headlight, as shown above.
1989 Ford Bronco
Ford's Bronco carried over virtually unchanged for 1989. It offered a number of powertrain choices, including a 4.9-liter six, 5.0 V-8, and 5.8 V-8 (all fuel injected), along with four- and five-speed manual transmissions, and three- or four-speed automatics.
As the decade wound to a close, Ford found itself in a rather enviable position. The F-Series was established as the nation's best-selling vehicle, the Ranger was the best-selling compact pickup, and the rest of the trucks -- all the way up to the heavy-duty Class 8 entries -- were strong competitors in their respective segments. All in all, Ford was in fine fettle to enter the Nineties.