Pity the 1961–66 Ford F-series pickup. Despite vintage pickups being one of the hottest segments of the collectible-vehicle market, this era of pickups seems to be generally forgotten today — and that really is a pity, since they combine vintage-pickup charm with modern utility.

A cleaner Ford

The new fourth-generation trucks, introduced for 1961, had an all-new cleaner design. Compared with the previous boxy generation, the styling was smoother, more rounded and more svelte.

Part of the svelte look was due to a radical new configuration. Based on the success of Ford’s 1957-and-on Ranchero, the designers combined cab and cargo box with the 1961 Styleside. Today generally called the “unibody,” it was fitted to long and short 2-wheel-drive F-100s and F-250s through 1963.

On all 4-wheel-drives and one-ton F350s, Ford continued production of the 1957 through 1960-era Styleside pickup box. Ford also continued to use the stepside “Flareside” box in all lengths and series. These configurations were due to marked frame flexing in those applications.

But when it came to the Stylesides, Ford figured they were sturdy enough for their assumed lighter-duty roles. That mindset proved to be nearly disastrous.

The Styleside worked fine for light-duty jobs, but farmers and contractors who bought the eight-foot-long “unibody” trucks and loaded ’em past the gunwales found that the bodies distorted under heavy loads — in some cases so badly they they’d jam the doors shut, or pop the doors open over rough roads or railroad crossings.

For 1963, Ford’s immediate Plan B was to offer the choice of the 1960-era Styleside box or the “unibody,” and the former immediately outsold the latter by two-to-one. By 1964, Ford’s proper Plan B was an all-new pickup box with styling that harmonized with the rest of the sheet metal. Then they discontinued the “unibody” for good.

Beaming with pride for 1965

1965 was the year of the greatest change. The biggest news was the introduction of Twin I-Beam front suspension for 2-wheel-drive F-100 and F-250 pickups. While the dual-front-axle configuration had its faults, it was robust enough of a design that it morphed into a 4-wheel-drive Twin Traction in 1980 and soldiered on through 1996.

Just as important was a refresh of the engine offerings. Gone were the Y-block V8s and Ford’s first-generation inline 6 that both dated to the early 1950s. Now a new thin-wall-casting 240-ci straight 6 and the FE-block 352-ci V8 powered the light-duty pickups.

For the final year of this generation, Ford marketed to residential buyers, with additional models and greater creature comforts. The Ranger option package offered bucket seats and a small center console, marketed as something of a Mustang pickup. Plus, this was the introductory year of the Camper Special packages on F-250s.

1966 also introduced the 300-ci inline 6. It may not have been a screaming hot rod, but it had gobs of bottom-end torque and was basically indestructible. Like the Twin I-Beam, it lived on through 1996.

Best bargain for a 1960s pickup

Today, the “unibody” has a cult following among custom builders — yet they and all other 1961–66 F-series still lag behind their contemporary competition in value.

Except for 4x4s, nice stock and mildly modified examples in respectable condition are still not far on either side of $10k. Being less fussy, you’d be hard pressed to spend over $6k on one.

Generally, the newer the model year, the higher the value, even with more built as the years went on.

Understandably, 1966 Rangers bring the most money (when you can find a real one), with any other 1966 being the next in the pecking order, followed by 1965s, and just shy of those are the 1964s (being easily the most valuable of the pre-Twin I-Beam years).

Prices for 1964s are nearly on par with 1965 values due to personal preference — some folks prefer the Y-block over the FE V8s, or the final year of the solid front axle over the Twin I-Beam.

As for the 6-bangers, the heavy 1961–64 223s from these years are generally disdained, while a thin-wall 1965-on 6 is preferable to the FE block V8 in some circles. Yet if you are keen on parking a small-block 302, big-block 460, or modern Coyote under the hood, there’s ample room.

Not only is restoration-parts support good and improving, but you can set foot into any NAPA and walk out with most driveline service parts.

Buy one now

In retrospect, Ford may have gotten the last laugh, as the styling of the 1966 Bronco was heavily influenced by the 1964–66 pickup to maintain a family connection — and especially to the Styleside box. That Bronco has been the most popular vintage SUV for the past decade and a half.

Before everyone else figures it out, pick up a 1961–66 F-series pickup while they’re still affordable.

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