Ford F-Series: A Look Back at 1961-63 Unibody Beauties

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We take an in-depth look at Ford’s most controversial creations, as well as the rise and fall of the unibody Ford truck.

Ford Motor Company has been around for 113 years. Without a doubt, they’ve tried many, many things — some successful, and some not so much. Many folks think the modern-day Honda Ridgeline was the first unibody pickup on the market, but that’s far from the truth. Ford built an integrated pickup, aka unibody, back in the early 1960s.

The integrated pickup made its debut in 1961 and would only stick around until 1963. In 1964, Ford switched back to the traditional separate cab/bed design known as body-on-frame. While short-lived, the integrated pickup is an interesting oddball in the 100 years of Ford trucks, and is visual proof that Honda wasn’t the first company to do this.

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The design of these unibody trucks called for one continuous piece of steel connecting the cab and box without a gap between them. Therefore the term uni-body. The same stamping form creating the back of the bed was also the back of the cab, and workers would spot weld the single-wall bed sides to the door sills. Finally, the entire body was then set on top of a traditional frame-style chassis.

This is quite similar to how the Honda Ridgeline is built nowadays, with the unibody riding on top of the frame instead of bolted to it.

The idea behind this design comes from several factors. First, Ford realized they could save money with this design since one piece of stamping was more cost effective than several smaller pieces, as well as the reduction in the number of welds. Also, assembly costs were cheaper since the truck was easier to build and paint. In the end, the design allowed for a larger cargo loading area and “promotional material bragged the 1961 truck had 16 percent more load space than its predecessor,” according to Pickuptrucks.com

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An additional factor in the design was the Motor Company’s quest to shake up the market with a unique product. With the popularity of the El Camino and Ranchero (common those days), they figured a unibody truck would be perfect for suburban dwellers who needed more versatility. The thinking was that such customers wanted a sleeker vehicle with a ride quality similar to a car, and this potentially untapped market was too much for Ford to ignore.

Other design changes included 23 pounds of sound deadening in the cab, additional foam in all seats, cab doors designed to swing wider, and the elimination of wrap-around windshields for improved entry/exit from the cab. Also, dealer installed “Polar-Aire” air conditioning was an option, as well as a large rear window which curved around the B-pillars for a panoramic view behind.

Seat belts, mirrors, and the rear bumper were all optional in order to keep costs down for the traditional farm and ranch customers.

Powering these trucks was the standard 223-cubic-inch, 137-horsepower straight-six with either a, three or four-speed manual transmission. The three-speed Ford-O-Matic automatic transmission was optional, along with a 292-cubic-inch 186-horsepower V8.

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Confident buyers would love these “styleside” trucks, and Ford offered them in short and long bed F-100s and F-250s with two-wheel-drive only. A “flareside” model was also available, and this was a step-side cargo box with a separate cab and bed.

All 4×4 Ford trucks used the separate cab and bed design since the unibody design couldn’t withstand the twisting torque four-wheel drive trucks often endure.

When the unibody trucks hit the market consumers quickly discovered another short-coming: weird bed-flexing due to heavy loads. Stories would circulate about the truck doors opening up over railroad tracks, or the doors wouldn’t close after a heavy load was put into the bed. If you ask us, these are quite hilarious.

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In response, Ford quickly rushed a new design into production midway through the 1962-model-year. It used a separate cab and bed, however, this rushed design used boxes from the 1960 F-Series and they didn’t match up exactly to the 1962 and 1963 models. By the end of 1963, the normal body-on-frame trucks were outselling the unibody two to one. In 1964, the unibody truck was eventually killed.

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Photos for FTE via: Ford Communications Manager Mike Levine

Tim Esterdahl is a regular contributor to Ford Truck Enthusiasts and YotaTech. He also produces the weekly podcast Pickup Truck Talk.

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