Ford’s F-Series pickup has long been a strong part of its product line and the company saw that pickups were starting to be more than just farm equipment. Whether this was spurred on by the 1957 Chevrolet Apache with the style side bed or not, the company introduced a new pickup called the “integrated pickup” model in 1961 where the cab and bed were welded into one continuous piece much like an El Camino or Ranchero.
Typically pickups have a separate cargo box and cab to this day so the revolutionary design had several advantages, including the fact that it was easier to build. But the trucks weren’t the hit that the company had hoped for and they quickly rushed to go back to the more traditional ways of doing things.
Today these trucks are highly collectible and I was lucky to run into this version with the 292 “y-block” V8 along with the large rear window on a road trip. This custom, on its way to inevitably winning show trophies, was proudly showed off by the owner who was surprised that someone else recognized what she had.
Ford originally referred to them as the “integrated pickup,” but they’ve since been called “unibodies.”
Why would the company take such a risk? The unibody truck required fewer stampings, fewer welds and a less complicated path through the assembly plant’s paint shop. Furthermore, eliminating the gap between the bed and the cab allowed a larger cargo loading area, and promotional material bragged that the 1961 truck had 16 percent more load space than its predecessor.
But most important Ford wanted to one-up the competition. The more casual truck buyers preferred the slickness of vehicle that just looked different. By making the new F-Series more stylish and city-slickerfied, Ford hoped to reach out to previously untapped markets.
Advertisements focused on the new F-Series' car-like ride and refined interior, with “five inches of foam” on the seat and 23 pounds of sound deadening in each cab. The cab doors were designed to swing wide, and the knee-busting “dog leg” required on older trucks with wraparound windshields was eliminated. Dealer-installed “Polar-Aire” air conditioning was available, as was a large rear window that curved around the B-pillars and offered a panoramic view out of the cab.
Standard was the 223-cubic-inch, 137-horsepower straight-six that Ford sold under the name Mileage Maker. Optional was a 292-cubic-inch, 186-hp V-8 that, owing to its deep skirting, earned the nickname “Y-block.” Three- and four-speed manuals were available, as was a lone automatic option, the three-speed Ford-O-Matic.
Shortly after the trucks went on sale, buyers discovered that putting heavy cargo in the unibody trucks could cause the one-piece body to flex with interesting consequences. Stories percolating through the Internet tell of unibody owners who would load their trucks, only to discover that the sills had distorted enough to jam the doors shut. Yet others tell tales of having a fully laden truck twist badly enough to pop a door open when crossing railroad tracks. Age and corrosion only exacerbated issues as the load-bearing bodies began to perforate and rust.
Ford, which had pinned its volume-selling models to the integrated design, was understandably panicked at potential issues surrounding the unibody. Midway through the 1962 model year, the company rushed a separate cab and bed into production as an alternative to the unibody. So last-minute was the conversion that Ford hadn't tooled up to produce a new bed, instead sending 1962 and 1963 models down the line with the box from the 1960 F-Series, which did not line up with the newer truck's swoopy lines. The unibody style would remain in production through the end of the 1963 model year, at which point the non-integrated styleside pickups were outselling it two-to-one. By 1964, all Ford F-series trucks returned to the conventional arrangement.
I hope the owner of this barn find continues to ply her skills at restoring it and shares those pictures with all of us over time.