Car of the Week: 1979 Ford F-150

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By Brian Earnest

One of these days, Nelson Hall might decide to get behind the wheel and put some hard miles — and maybe a few dents and dings — on his beautiful 1979 Ford F-150 pickup.

But after 32 years, it hasn’t happened yet.

Mostly through sheer happenstance and Nelson’s busy former career as a commercial fisherman, his pickup has managed to remain astonishingly new. The shiny black 4×4 Ford F-150 styleside has collected just 8,608 miles on its odometer, no doubt making it one of the lowest-mileage ’79 Fords on the planet.

“Yeah, it still runs and drives like it’s brand new,” admitted Hall, a resident of Coos Bay, Ore. “Now it’s almost to the point where you hate to drive it. If a person wanted to drive it now, you’d probably have to put new tires on it. Even the tires on it are original, but they are getting weather-checked just from sitting in my building.”

Hall certainly didn’t plan to be babying his truck after all this time. He didn’t even expect to own it after three-plus decades — not after what he had done to other pickups he had owned. “We’ve always had a Ford pickup … That’s what the majority of people had up here, so that’s what we bought. The other ones we pretty much destroyed. This one we didn’t.

“We’ve probably put 2,000 miles on it since the early ’90s. Now, unless you have a purpose, there is no sense to even drive it.”

Ironically, it’s one the truck’s major flaws — it’s appetite for petroleum — that has ultimately led to its longevity and near-perfect condition. Not long after Hall bought the Ford from a local dealer in 1979, gas prices soared. Not only that, but Hall wasn’t around most of the time to even get his new truck broken in. “We had a commercial fishing boat. I’ve fished for over 50 years. We took the boat to Alaska and fished crabs in other fisheries on [the] Pacific Coast … When you’re in Alaska the majority of summer — we’d go up in spring and get back in fall — there’s not much time for other things. When we got back from Alaska that first year and fuel prices had gone up, like, 50 cents, I got so mad I just parked it. The thing gets like 9 or 10 miles a gallon.”

Ford’s F-150 Custom pickups were already well-appointed when they left the factory, but Hall’s truck was about as tricked-out as they came in 1979. When he first came across the truck in a dealer showroom, the wheels and tires had already been swapped by the dealer. From there, he had a front winch, roll bar and KC lights installed — all in accordance with the times, he says. He also added an aftermarket two-piece sunroof with a light bar. “We’d bought another truck – an inexpensive one with a stick shift — and it was a total piece of junk and I took it back and traded it back on this one with an automatic and bigger engine,” he said. “It had all the bells and whistle. But, of course, we were going from a $6,500 model to one that cost $10,600. It was dressed up when we bought it, but I added all the other stuff. I’ve kicked myself ever since for putting the skylight in it. But everybody else was doing it and I did it, too.

“And then, of course, you had to put headers on them and take the manifolds off. I wanted a dual exhaust, so we put that on. I have no idea where the original manifolds ended up. That’s the only alternation the engine ever got.”

After years of inactivity, the truck also received new brakes. Beyond that, it’s just they way it was when Hall took delivery. “It’s pretty hard to swallow when you look at a pickup with that kind of mileage,” he said. “It kind of snuck up on us. It ended up where we didn’t take it out and it got pushed to the back of garage and other cars got parked in front of it!”

As it has for most of its 63-year lifespan, Ford’s F-150 series ruled the truck market in 1979. The “Blue Oval” sold more than 400,000 regular and Supercab F-150 series trucks, which were a step up from the more basic F-100 offerings. In addition to the Custom series, the F-150s were also offered in Sport, Ranger, Ranger XLT and Ranger Lariat trim levels. There were also special “Indy Pace Truck” and “Free Wheelin’” packages available, along with an Explorer option that could add various paint schemes and dress-up striping to your truck.

F-150 buyers could opt for the styleside or flareside (stepside) models, or just a cab and chassis, in the 133-inch-wheelbase lineup. The 155-inch-wheelbase Supercab trucks came only with styleside boxes, although you could get just a chassis and cab, too. F-150 trucks had steel beds in the floors of trucks built in styleside configuration, and wooden floors in the beds of flareside models.

The half-ton F-150s with the regular cabs all carried base price tags under $5,500, while the Supercab versions started at about $6,300. The base engine was an inline six rated at 101 hp. Above that was a 302-cid V-8 rated at 130 hp, a 351-cid V-8 rated at 156 hp and a 400-cid (6.6-liter) V-8 rated at 169 hp.

Hall’s truck had a lot of boxes checked on its options sheet. In addition to having power to all four wheels and the big 400 engine, it had power steering and brakes, automatic transmission, tinted glass, a cooling package, fancy gauges, tilt steering wheel, tie-down hooks, heavy-duty shock absorbers, a chrome rear step bumper and 15-inch wheels with meaty “mud and snow” tires that would make any off-roader proud.

The upholstery is black and gray, with black “tuck-and-roll” on the ceiling — part of the sunroof package he had installed at the time he bought the truck. “We were going to have that done on the door panels, too, but the ceiling was as far as we got,” he said. “The sunroof — I forget the name of the little business here that did it — but it’s basically two openings with a light bar in the middle of it. You have a flip lever that flips the windows up and down.”

Hall has never taken his pristine Ford truck to any old car shows or hobby events, and figures he might meet up with some skepticism about the truck’s odometer if or when he does. “My mechanic would certify it,” he said. “If you see the truck in person and really look at it, you call tell the mileage is real.”

Hall figured when he retired a few years back he’d be able to enjoy some more seat time in the black beauty, but so far, he has settled for just keeping it in its current condition. “We bought a license a couple years ago and had some local cruise things we were gonna go to, but we never even made that. … When I retired I planned on doing a few things with it, going to races and stuff. Then we ended up with three German shepherds and that’s kind of put a kibosh on a lot of our stuff, too!

“I took it out and ran around the block the other day, and actually put it in my other building. Even the carburetor still kicks down like it’s supposed to… I run it every now and then and change the oil a couple times a year, just to get the moisture out. But mostly it just sits. We’ve got buildings with concrete floors … and we’ve got dehumidifiers and keep the windows cracked, so that keeps it pretty nice.”

Hall chuckles at the notion of ever parting with his F-150 after all these years. He says he’s occasionally entertained the thought of letting it go, but so far, he hasn’t budged. “Actually, there are a lot of guys that want to be first on the list,” he said. “But, ahhh, I don’t know.

“It’s still setting here and I kind of doubt if I’ll ever sell it.”

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SUGGESTED READING

Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805-1942
Only Originals: Tales of Outstanding Original Cars
Just Fords: Fascinating Finds & Great Machines From the Blue Oval

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