1948, 1949, & 1950 Ford F-1, F-2, F-3, F-4 Pickup Truck Buyers Guide
The main goal of this guide is not to be the "be all, end all" source of information regarding the history, operation, use, or maintenance of aforementioned trucks but rather to be a general guide for potential Ford owners to consider when deciding on a truck to purchase. Bear in mind this guide was meant for the individual who is looking for an original, unrestored truck although much of this information can apply to restored trucks as well. My goal is to share some general knowledge I have gathered over the years with many trucks and some painful lessons learned in the hopes others may avoid the same mistakes. Having said that, lets get started!
The first of the redesigned Ford post war trucks were advertised as the "Bonus Built" line and featured all new rounded styling. The hood was separated from the fenders, grille and headlights were recessed, rear fenders were redesigned, among many other improvements. Also referred to on occasion as the "fat fendered truck". These new trucks were also designated, for the first time, with a new identification number to help differentiate various models among dealers and buyers. This is know as the "F" series truck which continues on to this day. Models made in 1948-50 spanned the F-1 through F-8 designations. We will concentrate on the following:
F-1 - 1/2 ton truck, 114" wheelbase, 6 or 8 cylinder
F-2 - 3/4 ton truck, 122" wheelbase, 6 or 8 cylinder
F-3 - 3/4 ton truck, heavy duty, various wheelbases, 6 or 8 cylinder
F-4 - 1 ton truck, various wheelbases, 6 or 8 cylinder
Typical unrestored F-1
All Ford trucks built in these years were marked with serial number (VIN). One serial number can be found on a stamped metal tag affixed to the inside of the glove box door.
ID Plate inside glove box door
I have found that tag may or may not be present for a variety of reasons. If this is the case three sets of the same serial number have been stamped directly into the top side of the left (driver) side frame rails. Two can not be easily seen as one is directly under the cab and the other is under the bed. Fortunately, one is easily spotted in the engine compartment about midway between the radiator core support and the firewall. A wire brush will most likely be needed to clean away many years of dirt, grease, and rust to properly read it.
Red square indicates area of stamped serial number
Once you have found a serial number, be sure it matches the information on the title. In the event no title is available utmost care must be taken that this number is accurately reflected on your bill of sale. In most states a certified inspector will come out verify this information before a title can be issued. Should this number be incorrect it will be necessary to either contact the previous owner for a corrected bill of sale or start another process for obtaining a title.
I will not claim to be an expert on any other state than where I live, Colorado. The process is fairly similar everywhere though. People will try to tell you that this obtaining a title for such a vehicle (lost or no title) is as easy as taking your bill of sale to the DMV and having an inspection done. Nothing could be further from the truth and only shows they have never been involved in this process anytime in recent history. While not usually overly complicated it can quickly become this way should incorrect information be used. Start to finish this should cost $250 or so. Keep this in mind when considering a truck without a title.
Additionally the serial number can tell you much about the truck. Model, engine, wheelbase, and any special configurations. Information regarding the actual serial number decoding can be found online or through the purchase of service manuals/bulletins. This information can be invaluable if one is doing a proper period restoration to insure all equipment matches the serial number factory build of the truck.
Ah, the heart of any good truck! While most are familiar with the venerable flathead V8 one should not discount purchasing a truck with a six. The Model 7H straight six is no slouch however there is one caveat, parts are increasingly hard to find. Whereas the flathead V8 has a rather large core of aftermarket part builders the six does not.
Model 7H Straight Six – 226 CI, 90 HP flathead. Features the new Loadamatic distributor described in further detail below.
Model 8RT V8 - 239 CI flathead. Model number will be cast into the cylinder head. At a glance this model features bolted heads as opposed to studs and nuts of the previous year. Another dead giveaway is the "Load-A-Matic" distributor which is mounted slightly off vertical toward the right side of the engine. This is a more "modern" looking distributor setup in comparison with the front engine mounted previous versions. Finally, the bell housing was no longer cast into the block and could be bolted on to the rear of the engine.
Many people have questioned the accuracy of this information as the 1948 Ford cars still used the previous 59AB version engine until 1949. This is true of the cars NOT the trucks.
Model 8EQ V8 - Only used in the F-7/F-8 and easily identified by 27 head bolts and a rear mounted distributor. 337 CI, not interchangeable with the 239 CI.
I must add a few words about a seized engine. In my experience, freeing a seized engine and having a good running engine afterward rarely go hand in hand. Occasionally one can fill the cylinders with Marvel Mystery oil, diesel, kerosene, or penetrating fluid and slowly rock the engine back and forth very slightly over a period of days or weeks to free an engine. One may also choose to employ heat or an impact wrench on the crank bolt or any combination thereof. In this case the culprit was most likely ambient moisture causing oxidation on the cylinder wall or rings from disuse. Six months to a year at most should free and run reasonably well afterward. I would suggest removing the heads and intake manifold to inspect the condition of the valve train and pistons/cylinders. Use caution when attempting to rotate the engine in reverse (counterclockwise) rotation as main bearings can move out of their seats causing serious problems especially if you do not plan on inspecting the bottom end. It may also be necessary to free sticking valves and perhaps even bore or sleeve a cylinder or two. In any event, a complete cleaning and comprehensive tune up are the order of the day.
Far more common and far more troubling is an engine that has been frozen by leaking coolant. Ford engines from this era, the flathead V8 in particular, were notorious for overheating. A common result of overheating would be a blown head gasket allowing coolant to seep into the cylinders. An engine that has not been run after coolant has been allowed into the combustion chamber will, over time, become so stuck that taking the piston out will involve a hammer and chisel!
Even worse cracks can develop in the block between valve sets or from a valve port to the cylinder itself. This is usually the kiss of death for the block as a whole. There are some repairs such as sleeving, pinning, and welding that can solve these types of problems but they are not always effective or foolproof depending on the situation.
Crack between valve and cylinder.
When inspecting the engine I would advise the use of a borescope if available. Removing heads is also well worth the effort should a scope not be available. Inspecting the condition of the combustion chamber visually will go a long way to determining what the causing of frozen condition is before you purchase and will save a great deal of money and effort in the long run. Check carefeully for any cracks using a wire brush if needed. Personally I always assume an engine will need a rebuild at the very least unless it can be confirmed it is a runner.
Pickups were a generally a three speed toploader. All half tons used this model transmission which can be identified by the single piece flat clutch shaft and open drive shaft. These were the same for many years, further casting number identification may be necasary if originality is a concern. Some F2’s and 3’s used four speed manual with the same open driveshaft. Both these units are very durable in their original applications. Unless the transmission is in boxes in the bed of the truck they should give you no trouble. Start adding too much horsepower though and you better start looking for an upgrade.
Spicer/Dana 41 – Used in all half ton applications. Identified by the almost round rear inspection cover and very pronounced rig gear clearance.
Timken - Used in F2 and F3 applications. Unmistakable split case design.
Ford 9" – Easily identified by it’s removable front carrier assembly. No inspection cover. Not correct for these year Fords but a very popular swap. Keep an eye out for them if your goal is correct restoration.
Not much else to say. The Dana 41 and Timken are sold, rugged axles and shouldn’t present many problems.
Lets face it, despite whatever feelings of nostalgia we may have for these old trucks, they certainly were not precision engineered by any stretch of the imagination. Nowhere is this more evident in the sheet metal. While all unrestored 60+ year old autos have a fair share of rust there are some especially bad areas specific to these trucks that require special attention. In order to avoid disappointment if an in person inspection is not possible it is best to ask for detailed, specific descriptions of rust. Better yet ask for detailed photos. One of the great bonuses to the simplicity of the Ford truck from this era is the easy access. Obtaining photos from any angle, including under the truck, is a simple task as there are very few closed panels or obstructions. I would be extremely hesitant to purchase any truck if the seller was unwilling to provide further information.
Fenders, Front - Where to start? Almost every joint where the upper and lower fender meet are prone to rust as dirt/debris collect in the channels formed at the edges of the sheet metal. Rear lower corners rust at running boards. Front lower corners rust at the valance near the bumper support and under the headlights. It is not uncommon to see an unrestored truck with rust holes on the front fenders big enough to put a fist through in multiple locations. As always be very wary of body filler and make a careful inspection. In addition, make note of the size of the wheel well in comparison to the tires. The big truck fenders do fit on the pickups but will look unusual due to the larger opening for bigger tires. F-6 and up fenders are wider and will not fit on the smaller trucks.
Typical rust on front fenders.
Running Boards - Especially prone to rust where the stiffener has been welded to the underside of the running board. These stiffeners are open ended and collect a great deal of dirt which rots through the running board. This will be very evident from the top side of the running board by the diagonal rust holes. Very unusual to find an original truck with good running boards.
Running board rust out.
Bed - I am not often surprised when most people I talk to, even enthusiasts, have no idea that the pickups came equipped with stamped steel bed. Most people are familiar only with the restored trucks which usually have a flashy wood floor. The reason for this is simple, the steel portion is thin, was always the brunt of anything put in the bed, and most have long since rotted away to nothing or were removed when they started to fall apart. All pickups did have a wood floor support structure but it was covered by steel. Needless to say, finding a bed with an intact steel bed floor is rare indeed. Other areas of concern are bedsides. Often rusted through completely in the lower front corners with the same area in the rear being less commonly rusted. Stake pockets also present a prime area for rust to invade. Tailgates often have a rust bottom lip. Once again, inspect carefully and keep an eye out for body filler.
Steel bed floor, intact!
Fenders, Rear - Generally hold up much better than the fronts. Areas of concern are the top side where the fender connects to the bed, lower front at running board, and rear corners.
Rear fender typical rust.
Cab - Lower exterior corners are of particular concern as debris will collect inside the cab in these uncovered areas and rust out from the inside. Doors are susceptible to rusting out along the bottoms due to poor sealing and drainage. Floorboards and kick panels are often rusted through. Cowl/firewall can rust although this is rare. Check cab mounts for rust as well.
Good cab corners, a welcome sight.
Beyond any doubt body and paint is where the vast majority of your dollars will be spent when restoring this truck. It is important to find a truck with as little rust and damage as possible. A good aftermarket exists for these parts but expense is always a concern. Originality may be a concern as well. An example would be the front fenders. I know of no company currently offering new steel fenders, only fiberglass. While a good body man can correct most problems if you have the money he is going to need more to work with than a few flakes of rust and a dream. Explore the aftermarket for parts to get an idea of what should be replaced and what should be repaired and weigh the value accordingly.
Four Wheel Drive:
Four wheel drive, or more accurately all wheel drive, was not a factory installed option. A private company would do the conversions either at the request of Ford or the end user. Marmon-Herrington was the prime provider of such services. A true four wheel drive Ford truck, especially a pickup, from this era is a rare and wonderful thing. You may notice the grey truck used to provide most of the photos in this guide is four wheel drive. Sadly this is not an original conversion. In fact the body rests on a 1967 Ford F-150 short bed frame and running gear. This truck is well put together but beware, most conversions of this type are dubious at best! Take extreme care to inspect every aspect of such a truck especially suspension set ups and body mounting. I have seen my fair share of the converted trucks that have some downright deadly faults. Nine inch long spring hangers made from angle iron, bent pieces of rebar for drag links, bodies resting on wood blocks or stacks of washers, body lifts made of old scrap metal pieces, drilled and welded frames, dropped pitman arms by welding steel to cast iron, and my favorite radius arms made from the rails of an old aluminum ladder. I could go on an on. Suffice it to say, while not all trucks are like this buyer beware!
Mercury, A rare breed!
Yes, Mercury did make what is essentially a rebadged version of the Ford truck in ’48-’50. 1946-1968 to be more precise. Of course these trucks use the Mercury version flatheads which have slightly improved horsepower ratings. All the same information above applies to inspection. Rarely found here in the US. Personally I have only had the pleasure to see one up close and personal. A great truck, if you can find one!
In the scope of material provided in this short guide it would be impossible to list all the variables involved when purchasing any given truck. My best advice would be to concentrate on inspection as you would with any other automobile purchase. Drive the truck if possible, don't be afraid to ask questions, roll around in the dirt and inspect from every angle, get photos of items you are interested in. Make note of any serial or casting numbers you may find. Special consideration must be given to body components. I stated previously that this is likely where the majority of your restoration dollars will be spent so find a truck that is within your set of skills. A great deal of the fun for me comes from being able to do as much work as possible myself. This will not only save you money but also give you a greater sense of satisfaction when the project is complete.
Thank you for taking the time to read this guide. I hope you have found it helpful in some way. Please feel free to contact me with any comments, suggestions, or questions. Happy truckin'!