It was a sellers market unprecedented in the history of the automobile. The demand for light to medium duty trucks had surpassed all previous records and was still climbing. The introduction of a completely redesigned truck promoted through one of the most expensive advertising campaigns in the companies’ history to date coupled to one of the largest dealer networks in the nation in a time such as that seemed to be a near perfect recipe for success.
Under bold advertising banners that read “Star Spangled New” the first new post war Ford trucks made their debut in January of 1948. To enable dealers and buyers to recognize the GVW ratings of the various models more quickly a new numbering system was introduced similar to that begun by International Harvester in the late 1930s. Prominently displayed on the side of the cowl the numbering system ran from F1 for half ton to F-8 for the three ton rated truck.
More than mere 1947 models, initially introduced in 1942, with a face-lift the “Bonus Built” Ford trucks represented an extensive and expensive redesign. The “Million Dollar Cab,” reflecting the cost the company had invested in design and retooling, with “Living Room Comfort” exemplified the effort made by Ford to garner a larger share of the truck market.
“Easy Chair Comfort” hinted of an effort to improve driver and passenger comfort. In addition to the familiar bench seat, improved with larger springs, thicker padding, a tool tray behind the seat and storage underneath, an optional coach seat with adjustable back cushion was also available. For those who spent a great deal of time behind the wheel there was a third choice, the Spiralounge bucket seat mounted on an adjustable coil spring and stabilized with a hydraulic shock absorber.
The fully redesigned interior featured dual sun visors, ashtray, trim accents, and a highly legible, modern instrument panel. For increased comfort in all seasons a three-way air control consisting of a cowl mounted vent, with bug screen, vent wings in the doors, and an optional heater/defroster that also could be operated as a fresh air intake via a duct that ran from the heater to a concealed vent above the right headlight.
Exterior styling also represented a dramatic departure from that of the 1947 models. The deeply recessed grill with chromed horizontal bars and sweeping, wide flat-topped fenders gave the truck a stodgy but somewhat streamlined look. The sides of the rear fenders on the pick up truck mimicked that of the front presenting a flowing look.
In the light duty trucks, two engine options were available. Standard was a 95 horsepower, 226 c.i.d. flathead six cylinder. As an option, there was the venerable 239 c.i.d. flat head V8 rated at 100 horsepower.
Though the Bonus Built Ford truck of 1948 represented a marked advancement over the predecessor models, the competition that year was brutal. The recently introduced Advance Design Chevrolet trucks were setting sales record. However, these trucks were not the only obstacle facing the “Bonus Built” Fords.
A full year prior in January of 1947, International Harvester had introduced its new KB models. Although the cab and sheet metal, with the exception of the grill and hood nose, were little changed from the introduction of the “K” series in 1940 this series ninety-five new features as well as improvements.
The primary key to a dramatic rise in sales of International built light trucks that year, from 65,279 for 1946 to 108,900 in 1947, was the introduction of the Truck Point Rating System. Since 1907, the company had readily custom designed and built trucks for customer’s specific needs. This new system made that tradition an integral part of the company allowing the customer to choose from a dizzying array of engine, chassis, and other component options.
Studebaker, never a major contender in the light truck market, for 1948 made great inroads with the introduction of the highly advanced styling of the 2R series in midyear as 1949 models. Many features of these trucks appeared on Chevrolet and GMC in 1955 and two years later became industry standards.
One month ahead of Fords introduction of its new truck line, Dodge unveiled its first new truck since 1939 in December of 1947. Promotion of several features, the “Pilot House Safety Cab” and “Job Rated” particularly, was aggressive. The new, modern styling, a lengthy list of improvements, mechanical as well as amenities, and a complete restructuring of the companies’ strategies strategy in regards to trucks resulted in a dramatic rise in sales.
As with Ford, Studebaker, and Chevrolet, the new Dodge trucks featured larger cabs, increased visibility and more focus on driver comfort. Moreover, each of these companies had expended a great deal of resources in an effort to capture a larger portion of the rapidly expanding market for light trucks.
Ford definitely had a winning hand with the Bonus Built Ford trucks but they fell short of the mark in regards to breaking the dominance of Chevrolet or garnering a larger market share. In 1948, Ford produced 301,901 trucks for 22.6 percent of the market. The following year production dropped to 244,613 representing 21.2 percent of the market. During the same period Chevrolet, truck sales rose from 323,648 units in 1948 to 350,728 for the following year. In spite the best efforts of Ford, Chevrolet would maintain this dominance for years to come.
Today the struggle for dominance some sixty years ago is of little relevance. The trucks built in 1948 that have survived to the modern era are all treasures, sought after and preserved, by those who love the vintage workhorse.
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