Historic Truck Brands


In 2017 Ford commemorated the centenary of its first purpose-built truck. Ford’s F-Series light trucks became iconic vehicles in North America: the USA’s best-selling pickup for 43 consecutive years and for 54 years in Canada. 

Ford’s global manufacturing and heavy truck marking, however, have an entirely different history that we’ll cover later in this report.


Light trucks

The first Ford Model Ts hit the US roads in 1903 and by 1909 a Ford sales team arrived Australia and imports from Canada soon followed. The Canadian-produced Model T cars took advantage of favourable Commonwealth Nation import duties, rather than higher duties on US-made goods.

Australian ‘Tin Lizzies’ arrived in knocked-down condition and were fitted out according to customer need. Although early Model Ts were available in several colours, black became the standard, because it apparently dried faster than other colours – important when mass production is required.

Nine years after the early Model T cars prompted Ford customers to ask for a vehicle that could haul heavier loads and provide greater utility for work and deliveries, Ford responded with the 20hp Model TT that retained the Model T cab and engine. The Model TT came with a heavier-duty frame capable of carrying one ton of payload. The factory price was US$600 and 209 were sold that year. Interestingly, production line development saw the price drop to US$360.

Similar to the Fordson tractor introduced in 1917, the TT chassis could accommodate third-party cargo bodywork and that flexibility was a formula for success. There were also several bus variants. 

In World War One Ford didn’t supply vehicles, but did produce Liberty aircraft engines. Ford entered aircraft production after the War, producing the metal-bodied Trimotor until 1933.

By 1928, Ford had sold more than 13 million Models Ts and 1.3 million Model TTs globally, before replacing the truck with the more capable Model AA with a 1.5-ton chassis.

Like the Model TT, the Model AA was available exclusively as a cab/chassis, offered in two wheelbases, with new powertrain and axle options for greater capacity. To stay ahead in what had become a hotly competitive business, Ford replaced the Model AA with the Model BB in 1933. Many were outfitted as mail and freight vehicles, ambulances and stake-side trucks.

Two years later, Ford introduced the 1935 Model 50 pickup, powered by the innovative, side-valve Ford ‘Flathead’ V8 engine; a powerplant that had been years in development.


By 1941, Ford had sold more than four million light trucks. Changing over to war production gave the company invaluable experience building heavy-duty truck chassis and four-wheel-drives.

A year after consumer production resumed in 1947, Ford used that knowledge to provide even more innovations for its customers.

The 1948 generation Fords were known as F-Series Bonus Built trucks, covering the US weight Classes from 2 to 7 capacities: from the half-ton F-1 to the 15-ton F-8 cab-over truck.

With the arrival of the second-generation F-Series in 1953, Ford increased engine power and capacity, and rebranded the series: the F-1 became the F-100;  F-2 and F-3 trucks became the new F-250 line and F-4 became F-350. 

At the same time, some Ford F-trucks trucks looked less utilitarian, sporting two-tone paint, automatic transmissions and improved heater and radio offerings. 

In 1961 Ford introduced its fourth-generation F-Series and the revolutionary twin I-beam front suspension debuted in 1965. A larger SuperCab option introduced in 1974 and featured more comfortable seating to attract dual-purpose work and family buyers.

With the arrival of the sixth-generation F-Series in 1975, Ford dropped the popular F-100, replacing it with a higher-capacity F-150 pickup, to combat General Motors’ products.

By 1978, in the USA and Canada, F-Trucks were fast becoming universal family vehicles. Instead of renting a truck for a big job or for towing, people now bought pickups they could use for work during the week, then double for weekend getaways.

In 1982, Ford added a compact truck, the Ranger that was produced until 2012. The Australian-designed Ranger was re-introduced to North America in 2019.

Ford USA introduced the F-Series Super Duty range in 1998. Super Duty F-250s up to F-750s were aimed at fleet and other heavy-duty applications.

Heavy trucks

In the early 1950s, new Class 8 (15+ tons, three-axle and prime mover) trucks were built by a new C-Series commercial truck unit that produced C-, H-, L-, N-, T- and W-Series Ford trucks.

The line-up of heavy trucks made by Ford for the North American market before the end of the 20th Century looks like this: F-Series Super Duty/Extra Heavy Duty (1958-1962); the ”Big Job” (1951-1957); N-Series (1963-1969); L-Series ‘Louisville’ trucks (1970-1998); Aeromax (1988-1998); Sterling (1998-2009); C-Series (1957-1990); Cargo/CF-Series (1986-1997); H-Series (1961-1966); W-Series (1966-1977) and  CL-Series (1978-1995).

In 1999, Ford stopped producing medium-duty trucks, but in 2001 the company entered into a joint venture with Navistar International, to share a common Class 6-7 truck chassis, built in a Navistar facility in Mexico, with each manufacturer supplying its own powertrain and bodywork, with the Ford F-650/F-750 Super Duty and International 4000/DuraStar sharing an assembly line.

Ford globally

From the early days of Ford truck production, exports were an important contributor to volume. Later, Ford built factories for local assembly and sometimes unique models. Countries where Ford commercial vehicles were formerly produced include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, France, India, Netherlands, Philippines, Spain and UK. 

Ford Canada is still assembling vehicles, but the number of facilities and production levels have been cut drastically in the 21st Century.

Ford of Europe is still producing vehicles. It was founded in 1967 by the merger of the British, German and Irish divisions of the Ford Motor Company.

The front-engined Ford Transit range of panel vans launched in 1965, was the first formal co-operation between the two entities, simultaneously developed to replace the German Ford Taunus Transit and the British Ford Thames 400E.

The truck arm of Ford of Britain once produced the obsolete Transcontinental prime mover (with a cab from Berliet) and the Cargo, but it became part of the Iveco group in 1986. 

Before that, Ford of Britain products were exported to Australia, initially Trader and Thames models, then K, D and Cargo.

At the end of 1996, Ford sold the rights to its heavy trucks division to the Freightliner Trucks division of Daimler AG. During 1998, Freightliner began production of its own versions of Ford-developed trucks in Ontario, re-launching the Sterling truck brand.

In Europe, Ford manufactures the Ford Transit jumbo van which is classed as a Large Goods Vehicle (LGV) and has a payload of up to 2265 kg, with body options of a panel van, pickup or chassis cab.

Ford Otosan in Turkey produces Cargo trucks and a new F-Max prime mover that won the coveted European Truck of the Year Award in 2019.


Ford trucks in Australia

After 16 years of truck imports in Australia, Ford announced that Geelong was to be its Australian headquarters. The first Australian-built Ford was a Model T that came off an improvised production line in a disused Geelong wool storage warehouse in June 1925, while work started on a factory nearby.

In 1928 the new factory switched to the Ford Model A and 1.5-ton truck-model AA that was followed by the V8 in 1932.

In 1934, the company released a coupe utility based upon the Model A ‘Closed Cab Pickup Truck’ that had been produced in the USA since 1928. Ford claims to have invented the ‘ute’, but our research indicates that it was an enhancement of existing designs.

In 1956, the company bought a large tract of land in the northern Melbourne suburb of Campbellfield, and in July 1961 announced that the new Melbourne factory would become the company’s headquarters.

Post-War Australia had a mix of ex-Army Ford ‘Blitz’ 4×4 trucks and North American and British-built Ford trucks.  UK-derived, diesel-powered models proved more popular with road transport operators than big-bore, petrol-powered US trucks.

In the early 1960s Ford USA realised that if it intended to remain in the heavy truck business it needed a truck range that was competitive with purpose-designed Class 7 and 8 prime movers from Mack, Paccar, White and International.

The proposed L-Series, with a mixture of petrol and diesel power, should also have great market appeal in Australia.

As well, Ford hoped its largely petrol-powered light-truck F-Series would continued to have niche-market presence Down Under.

It turned out exactly that way: the Louisville was a huge success and  ‘our’ version of the F-Series – the Ranger – is number two in the ute market.

Sadly, Ford USA made the corporate decision to abandon nearly all its heavy truck business and so there was never a Louisville successor.


The Australian Louisville story

The Louisville was a natural fit in the Australian market, once RHD engineering was done and the specifications carefully chosen. We’re indebted to C A McKenzie  – chief engineer of the Australian project – for his input.

The models selected for Australia were based on three different super to back of cab (BBC) dimensions : LN600-7000 had 2420mm BBC; LN and LNT800-9000 had 2370mm; L and LT had 2675mm BBC, but with forward-set steer axles and the LS and LTS with the 2675mm BBC, but with set-back steer axles. ’T’ models were tandem-drive and 00 models had petrol power, while 000 models were diesels.

Intrinsic to the project was Caterpillar’s involvement. Cat developed the new 3208 V8 diesel with 175hp and 210hp outputs, as the exclusive engine in the 7000 and 8000 models.

The only missing link was COE version, but Ford had no pressure in the USA to derive one, owing to the overall length laws in the USA that allowed unrestricted-length prime movers. Ford’s previous COE efforts – the H, C and CL – never achieved market success in the USA against White, International, Peterbilt, Kenworth and Freightliner.

Another weak link was the Louisville’s lack of line-haul ‘cred’ in Australia, against Kenworth, Mack and Western Star ‘hero’ trucks. The LTL long-bonnet Louisville was developed to compete, but never quite made the grade.

In the mid-1980s, streamlining was the rage, so the LTS9000 Louis’ was reshaped into the ‘Aeromax’ design. In 1992 the LTL9000 received the Aeromax treatment.

In 1995 the HN80 upgrade was announced, but two years later the whole Louisville product line, assembly plant tools and parts business sold for a song to Daimler’s Freightliner Division. Ford kept the naming rights and blue oval badge, so Freightliner revived the dormant Sterling brand and designed a new oval badge to replace the Ford one. 

Ford’s Louisville, Kentucky, factory was reprogrammed to provide F-Series trucks.

The Australian Louisville sold in the thousands: 15,171 were assembled in Ford’s Melbourne and Brisbane plants between 1975 and 1998.

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