Looking Back: 1961-63 Ford F-100 "Unibody" Pickups

Looking Back: 1961-63 Ford F-100 Unibody Pickups
By Wes Grueninger for PickupTrucks.com

The design of Ford's F-Series is like a taproot, with each previous generation forming the basis for the growth of the next. Engines, transmissions and chassis carry over from one generation to the next, with major redesigns often happening independently of body styles.

Some features, like the Twin I-Beam front suspension, would prove to be central to the continued growth of the brand, spanning generations from its introduction in 1965 up through today's two-wheel drive Super Duty. Others, such as the 3.8-liter Essex V-6 launched in 1982, proved to be offshoot tendrils that lasted less than two years.

Then there are some designs that were so out there, so far ahead of their time, so far ahead of the technology needed to make them work properly that it's hard to believe Ford's engineers managed to get them off the ground. Such designs were the one-piece unibody trucks, available on the fourth-generation F-100 and F-250, that would leave some serious cricks and crags in the F-Series' lineage.

Ford originally referred to them as the “integrated pickup,” but calling them “unibodies” is a bit of a misnomer. The nickname derives from the fact that the cab and box are one continuous piece, with no gap between them. The same stamping forming the back of the cab was also the leading edge of the bed, and the single-wall bed sides were spot-welded directly to the door sills. The one-piece body was then set atop a traditional frame-style chassis, making the unibody pickup more similar to a body-on-frame car than a true unitized assembly, like the contemporary Falcon-based Ranchero.

1961 Ford F-100
1961 Ford F-100 (top and above) photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Why Ford chose such a risky design direction for its flagship pickup is the result of several factors. There's the ever-present matter of cost – the unibody truck required fewer stampings, fewer welds and a less complicated path through the assembly plant's paint shop. Then there was packaging. 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 was Ford's desire to create a paradigm-shifting breakthrough. The company saw the market for pickup truck buyers expanding from farmers and tradesmen to include suburbanites who needed more versatility than what a station wagon could offer. Those buyers demanded the slickness of post-Atomic Age industrial design. By making the new F-Series more stylish and genteel, Ford hoped to reach out to previously untapped markets.

Advertisements focused on the new F-Series' carlike 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.

At the same time, Ford couldn't alienate its existing base of F-Series buyers, many of whom ordered stripped-down trucks as farm vehicles or no-frills delivery beaters. Seat belts, mirrors and even rear bumpers were optional.

1962 Ford F-100
1962 Ford F-100 photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The powertrain options remained tried and true. 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.

Production was set for 12 U.S. assembly plants, as well as Ford's Oakville, Ontario, plant, which would build both the F-Series and a nearly identical Mercury M-Series to be sold at Canadian Lincoln-Mercury-Meteor dealerships. Other factories in Argentina and Mexico would come online during the production run.

So confident was Ford in its new unibody trucks that, when they were introduced in 1961, the unibody was the model used for short- and long-bed F-100s and F-250s. These “styleside” models, as Ford called them, were available only in two-wheel drive. Buyers who wanted a step-side cargo box could opt for a “flareside” model that used a separate cab and bed.

Four-wheel-drive trucks, in either styleside or flareside models, also retained a classic cab-and-bed design, ostensibly because the unibody couldn't withstand the abusive twisting and flexing that four-wheel-drive trucks were subjected to. Those concerns would prove to have some merit, and would ultimately be the unibody's downfall.

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.

1963 Ford F-100
1963 Ford F-100 photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

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.

Despite being a dead-end tributary off the central F-Series root, the unibody trucks have since shown to be profoundly influential. The Chevrolet Avalanche body-on-frame sport utility truck, introduced as a concept at the 2000 North American International Auto Show, owes no small part of its design to the pioneering Ford. Yet beyond sharing unitized construction, the unibody F-100 also went after the Avalanche's target market decades before it became a driving force. Unfortunately for Ford, timing – in design, technology and marketing – proved to be everything.

Comments

Too bad they flopped, they certainly looked neat. Never heard about the doors popping open, just that they would sometimes jam shut. Rust was a big problem. The large rear window is very rare.

Proof that even back then newer isn't always better.

This reminds me of the Ford Econoline Pickups we had back in the mid 60's. Basically they were van noses with pickup beds, but, IIRC, they were done in the same unibody style. I always hated driving in those things, with such a short nose it felt like you were sitting right on the road.

I remember my dad telling me about these trucks. He had seen one that cracked open between the box and cab. He said the back had been loaded with full 65 gallon drums of diesel.

They did they test the trucks before releasing them?

Even now days, with super tough frames (no matter if it's a half ton or 1 ton) there is always a movement between cab and bed while even driving empty on rough surface.
I can't believe ford even consider to make a "unibody" full size truck.

Great article, Mike! It's always cool to see trucks that are made of good, old fashioned metal.

To bad PickupTruks.com didn't have its light duty Shootout's in the 1960's.

Rust? Truck bodies that flex too much? Sounds like Toyota! LOL

I bought a 1962 unibody in 1970,with a small back window. Great truck other than every time I went around a corner I would lose all oil pressure for a few seconds in the old 292 V8 engine. I put a 1970 engine and transmission in it and drove it to almost 200k miles when a guy driving through town on his way to California saw it, fell in love with it and paid a ridiculous amount for it so he could take it home and customize it. That was in 1977. Yes, doors jammed closed a few times, and rattled all the time, but a fun truck for the time. Was not a smooth ride though.

I don't know who keeps deleting my posts but I'm getting sick and tired of it. Fords are ugly and Chevrolet trucks are superior. What does a ford truck want to be when it grows up??? A Chevrolet Truck!

@Bob

If that were true, Fords wouldn't sell better, have higher payload capacity, higher towing capacity, and a stronger frame.

Nick,GM outsells Ford,Chevy and GMC are the same truck,so I guess unfortunately Bob is somewhat right.Ford doesnt sell as many trucks as GM,get over it.

Well when you get old you tend to get weak slow and fall apart. So I have to give Bob credit for being right.

Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

@Bob Somebody needs to be deleting your posts buddy....

Government Motors fanboys crack me up. The F-Series trucks have been the best selling in America for 33 years for a reason. If GM knew how to make a decent vehicle they wouldn't have needed to be bailed out. No reason to be mad at Ford, be mad at GM for making you feel inadequate about your truck.

I agree with Nick on that one. My friends 2002 GM truck(Silverado) had 4 wheel bearings go out all within a month!! How does that happen? Then the coil pack went around 33K then the 4 wheel drive had problems..The truck had 52K on it when he decided he had enough! You GM boys keep loving your GM products..i'll stick to my Fords..

studebaker champ, 1961. good truck.
at least, studebaker died with dignity.

Hay Dan , I'm not your buddy. And for the record Ford's bogus claim of being the best selling truck for 33 years is an out right Barack Hussein Obama LIE!!!! NOBODY SELLS MORE TRUCKS THAN GM PERIOD! No matter how many times I have to try and get that through these idiot Ford humping truck lovers I will keep stating the facts. Chevrolet and GMC are brands of GM trucks and together they sell more trucks than Ford does!

Those are the facts and nothing but the facts! And they are much better looking than ford trucks.

Folks - this is *not* the post to go off topic and start brand bashing for the sake of trolling. If you have a related comment to make, please, by all means, do so. But if you're posting a comment simply to get a rise out of other readers, you're in the wrong place. Let's stay on topic. Please.

Who cares how a truck looks? What matters is function. When it comes to what makes a truck a truck, Ford wins over GM every time. I personally prefer the way the Fords look. GM is going the same route as Dodge, make it look tough on the outside without having the guts to back it up on the inside.

The only reason ford sell as much trucks as they do is because they give huge discounts on fleets, most airports have stripped down fords and lots of other big companies, and that is a matter of one mans decision to have a fleet of fords trucks.
Personally I prefer quality over quanity and GM shows a great quality.

Dan, If you want someone to believe your story, tell it to some grandma.

Hay Nick, your statement "ford wins over gm everytime" Says who? you? What does Ford do better than GM'S trucks? Rust? check, deprieciate? check, payload capacity? nope, towing capacity? nope, fuel economy? nope, dependability? nope,

Hay Nick, I guess GM trucks win again.

@Bob you must be a gm fanboy get it right GMC/Chevy are the same truck and barely out sell ford, if you cant figure that out for yourself, your an idiot, chevys are built to fall apart, and facts are GM trucks rust more than fords. Ford intriduces everything good in a truck GM/Dodge always copy to stay in the game.

Hey guys do we really have to start up a brand loyalty thing here? We're all truck lovers here. Let's just look at the truck for what it is. A beautiful piece of history. Even if it is a unibody I think it looks fantastic. I love tucks from the 60's all the way up to the 90's, doesn't matter the brand.
Hey since it's a unibody does that make it lighter?

"GM is going the same route as Dodge, make it look tough on the outside without having the guts to back it up on the inside."

In 99 ford raleased superduty which in a way resemble the look of Dodge Ram. superduty is most unreliable truck in America, Duramax proven to be reliable and very powerful.
ford might look like massive and tough, but it doen't have the guts to back it up.

Lex,My Dodge will out tough any junk pile Ford !!!

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned the rumored 2013 unibody F-100 yet.

People don't like the Ridgeline, but if they made a unibody truck that looks this good they'd have one hell of a market. Seriously, that truck's a looker.

I can't really see a scenario where I would buy a unibody truck, unibody is for cars and "car-trucks." Not only because of the problems listed in this article, but I just have a real hard time thinking of a unibody truck as actually being a truck, they are car-trucks. Vehicles for people that want cars but for whatever reason feel they need a truck. Most of which would be happier with an SUV anyway, but SUV's are the new "minivan" and aren't cool enough anymore i guess.

Mike is right guys. Stop trolling the same worn out arguments. Gaza will be settled before this stupid argument is.

As far as the unibody. I cant speak for what people thought back in the 60's but some things are intuitive enough that you do not need to build them to figure out its a bad idea. Im certain the Ridgeline et al would still exist if this vehicle had not because 40 years later we were much better at designing and testing components such that stress and strain can be factored out of the design. This truck should exist as a curiosity and nothing more like the atomic powered plane or the bubble top car.

I don't really get the advantage of a BOF truck versus a unibody. Back in the C-frame days, the pickup truck bed was easier to reach into (lower). Then when Ford started the "fully-boxed-beam" campaign with that C&W "beer for horses" singer (oh what is his name?), eventually GM followed suit. And guess what, both trucks now sit higher!

My Jeep Comanche is unibody and sits low enough to reach into easily. Yes, I know, it is dependent on bed wall height. But I still don't see the advantages of BOF, especially since I understand that the "fully-boxed-frame" (Ford) can't be straightened in the event of a wreck, it must be replaced and is more expensive than a C-frame.

Comments Mike? Anyone?

Back when ford built a good truck

@JPTrucker- The advantage of a full-boxed frame is that it's drastically stronger. When you have a full load in the bed and take a bump the only thing that will keep that truck from flexing is that frame and a strong frame means less flex and better stability. A unibody will have alot more issues under load than a BOF truck. If you are in a wreck and destroy your frame I guess you are just out of luck when it comes to a fully-boxed frame.

@JPTrucker - the idea behind unibody construction is that the whole structure becomes load bearing, and impact adsorbing. One should be able to make a lighter, stronger, and safer vehicle. I suspect we will see many new compact pickups come out in the next few years with unibody architecture.
The biggest advantage of body on frame is ease of modification. Various cargo boxs, flat decks, tow rigs etc. can be fit to a body on frame truck.
How does a topic about an old Ford p/u turns into a brand bashing session.

I have a 1961 Unibody shortbed with a 292 that I'm restoring. It's got cool lines and looks like nothing else in town.

One statement from the article that needs to be corrected:

"Some features, like the Twin I-Beam front suspension, would prove to be central to the continued growth of the brand, spanning generations from its introduction in 1965 up to the tail end of the century."

The Twin I-Beam is still used on the F250 and F350 4x2 pickups today. It was only dropped from the F150 4x2 when it was redesigned for MY1997.

@RoadTrip: Thanks for the catch! It's fixed.

well i have been driving trucks for 50 years .i own a 61unibody and 90 chevy .and a vw trike .people will walk right by the90,andthe trike, to look and talk about the61 ford. being in the auto and truck s all my life i have seen 2 of them.1 i painted one and the other onewas given to me from a feild .the bodywas complete and no tears in the seams, and both doors opened fine. i think that about rounds it up rick

I have always been a GM fan. A good friend of mine is a Ford fan. We each like our trucks and brands for our own reasons. No competition, no ill will. I leave him alone about his purchase and he is the same with me. The truck featured in the article looks cool, they way trucks are supposed to look. This article isn't about Ford vs GM or who has the bigger, stronger schlong. It's about some forward thinking a long time ago that, for a number of reasons, didn't pan out.

i have a 62 uni-body.i carried an overhead camper on it for years.it road great and handled the weight just fine.i thought it was great because it did not flex when going around corners with the added weight of the camper on it.and it would be loaded down pretty heavy.

Who frickin' cares what trucks are superior,..just depends on what you're used to working on,.. I grew around nothing but chevy's, but I still can appreciate certain old fords. Just seems likes theres alot more serious things out there to be at eachothers throats about.. Its just cool to restore old $h!t..
I just stumbled upon an old 63 uni for trade,.. sucks to hear the problems with cracking but I think its kinda cool cuz it just made them a little harder to come by which makes it even cooler to restore..

i have had three uni body trucks one mercury and two fords i heard about the twisting and cracking but didnt have any problems, but ididnt load any of them to much ,i am restoring a 61 now i`m putting a 460 lincoln engine in it hoping to livin the old dog up a bit.Dave

I have had a 1963 Ford F=100 unibody pickup since 1982 and the bed is finally shot. Does anyone know where patterned metal rust panels can be found? All I find is 1964 and they do not match.
Please help!
thanks
Ken Barnes

i have a 1964 f100 step side, i also have a 1988 full size bronco.
my question is; will the step side body fit onto the frame of the bronco?

this unibody pick-up was my first vehicle it was a great truck it had the small 223 6 three on the tree and it was super dependable it gave me 22mpg. constantly I wished I had never sld it the guy will not sell it back to me today andI owned this truck from 1980-1985 it is still running today

I've never heard of ford even selling a unibody at all. I was just scrolling around and you're site caught my eye, and I just had to see it. Tell bob that ford has alot more experience in building vehicles than GM, which means that they are alot better. I know I've had time enough to compare.

Which is probably why the Honda pickup had the stress runners transitioning from the back of the cab to the bed. I can't believe Ford didn't weight stress-test the prototypes . . .

I have a 61 Mercury Short Box Unibody, Google that and see how many you can find besides mine

I have a 1963 F-100 unibody short box. It was a straight six, three-on-the-tree truck that I converted to a v8 c6 automatic. Great truck. Now want to put small block, c4 in it. Have owned it since 1976. Only seen one other

I am trying to find out the origianl cost of a 1962 Ford Unibody. Also, what their value would be worth today.

If anyone can help, comment here or sent info to picpaul@yahoo.com



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