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The 1980-1986 Ford F-150 Is an Overlooked Generation of Classic Pickup Trucks

Ford took a major step forward in modernizing its F-150 pickup platform for 1980. For the previous 15 years, the full-size truck had ridden on chassis first designed in the 1960s, and although styling had advanced significantly during that period, there was no question the Blue Oval was looking to extend its advantage over Chevrolet and GMC (and, to a lesser extent, Dodge) in wooing customers to one of the most profitable areas of its lineup.

1982 Ford F-150 with pipe

The end result was the Bullnose, the seventh generation version of the Ford F-150, and a truck whose design ended up defining the next decade and a half of the brand's pickup production. It's here that Ford finally got serious about delivering a comfortable experience to customers, a crucial turning point given that pickups were on their way to becoming daily drivers. Alongside its aerodynamic improvements and its ability to modernize aspects of the platform without reducing capability, it proved to be a formidable addition to the Ford family.

Better-Built, Lighter Trucks

Ford was facing somewhat of a challenge at the end of the 1970s, as rising fuel prices made monstrous V8 engines and ponderous vehicle weights a serious liability for Detroit automakers. A downsizing program was already in place for its passenger cars, and similar attention was turned to the F-150, which was by now the best-selling truck in North America (having crossed that threshold in 1977).

Ford F-150 cutaway

Dealing with the '60s-era F-Series bulk was more of a challenge than simply hitting it with a shrink-ray like Ford did with its sedans and coupes. Pickups need to maintain their ability to tow and haul in order to remain competitive, not to mention provide the kind of tough construction necessary to survive both on the job site and off-road.

Ford F-150 regular cab, styleside, flareside and 6 wheeler supercab diagrams

Focusing on weight reduction without touching payload or towing capacity required more in-depth engineering than had previously been applied to the F-150. Top of the menu was identifying areas where steel could be shaved off and either replaced with another material (such as aluminum or plastic), or designed to provide the same level of strength while using less mass.

Ford F-150 top-down cutaway

At the same time, Ford got serious about dealing with rust. Older vehicle designs often gave little thought to the accumulation and retention of dirt, grit and moisture, with nooks and crannies in body panels and frame rails holding it against vulnerable metal. For 1980, protecting these areas with plastic panels, or eliminating them wherever possible, helped improve corrosion resistance across the board.

Sleekly Styled

The styling of the 1980 Ford F-150 was visually narrower than the bulky '79 model that came before, which was largely the result of designers reducing the frontal area of the truck as well as streamlining its sides and hood in order to improve air flow and reduce fuel consumption. 

Overhangs were a tad shorter, despite retaining the same wheelbase, helping to further tighten the package. Sleeker, simpler, but still recognizably a Ford, the "Bullnose" nickname came from the slight forward slant of the grille where it met the curve of the hood line.

Ford F1-150 flareside and styleside

Initially, an extended cab version complemented the popular single cab, with a four-door crew cab not appearing until 1983. Flareside beds were also offered, but the standard styleside bed was by far the most popular choice. Styling would be tweaked somewhat past the 1982 model year, largely a function of moving badging and trim around the body.

Ford F-150 blue interior

Inside, Ford doubled down on sound deadening, providing available full carpeting as well as power windows and door locks to go with its optional deluxe cabin trim. Although a far cry from modern luxury trucks, the F-150 was now quite easy to live with, and left little lacking in terms of features as compared to Ford's family of cars.

Engine And Suspension Evolution

Mechanically, the biggest change to the 1980-1986 F-150 was the introduction of Ford's "Twin-Traction Beam" front suspension to replace the solid front axle found in every other four-wheel drive pickup on the market. The move provided 4x4 F-150s with considerably better highway manners, although off-road purists complained about a perceived lack of durability versus the simpler stick axle setup.

1982 Ford F-150 in yellow

Under the hood, the automaker's unkillable 300 cubic inch straight six engine was the most popular choice, with a trio of V8 engines (4.2L, 5.0L, 5.8L and 6.6L) available as options. Output ranged from between 115hp to an uninspiring 153hp (increasing to a 210hp cap from the 5.8L by 1986), but at the very least the large displacement engines provided torque in 260-300 lb-ft range.

Ford F-150 six-wheeler and extended cab

By 1983 the 6.6L was out of the picture, and heavier-duty F-250 and F-350 trucks saw a 225hp 7.5L motor (good for 380 lb-ft of torque) and even a turbodiesel hit the order sheet. Near the end of Bullnose production, it was even possible to specify a version of Ford's 5.0 V8 with early EFI.

Ford F-100 by a lake

A very brief run of F-100 pickups were also built for this generation of truck. These light-duty models added a small V6 to the equation, and featured lower towing and payload ratings. After 1983, the F-100 was banished from the F-Series family for good, pushed to the side by the presence of the compact Ranger.

A Stealth Classic

Ford's decision to re-think the F-150 had a major impact on sales. By 1981 the F-Series had graduated from being the best-selling truck in America to overtaking all other contenders and seizing best-selling vehicle overall status. The company had succeeded in making the F-150 not just a leader when it came to tackling traditional truck tasks, but also a vehicle that could tag in as a commuter when it wasn't being put to work, setting a trend that continues to drive the pickup market today.

Ford Old Body Style F-150 on Nitto Trail Grapplers

In 1987 the Bullnose was redesigned, receiving new-look sheet metal along with modernized drivetrain choices. The basic architecture stayed in play, however, until 1997, when a clean-sheet F-150 arrived on the scene and ended what was known as the 'Old Body Style' era.

Two Ford F-150 campers and one towing a boat

Strangely, collectors have almost completely avoided Bullnose F-150 trucks. Unlike the generation that came before them or the OBS of the 1990s, the Bullnose rarely crosses the auction block, perhaps a testament to just how ubiquitous these models once were. Easy to own from a modern perspective thanks to reliable drivetrains and comfortable cabs, the 1980-1986 Ford F-150 is an under-the-radar option for classic truck fans looking to get in on the fun before the Rad crowd discovers these hidden gems.

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