Ford credits the 1965 introduction of its twin I-beam suspension as being a major factor behind the incredible success of the long-running F-series trucks. A truck that rides like a car and still works like a truck is how Ford ads touted the twin I-beam. It's true that Ford F-series trucks have smashed all sales records. In 1995, the F-series surpassed the Volkswagen Beetle as the world's bestselling vehicle nameplate. Ford's F-series trucks have been the bestselling vehicle in America for 16 consecutive years.

Because of its incredible popularity, you'd think F-series pickups would dominate the sport truck market as well. Ironically, the vaunted I-beam suspension is probably the single biggest reason that more people don't modify F-series trucks. It takes much more effort to lower a Ford than a Chevy, especially if a super-slammed stance is desired. F-150 pickups make fine sport trucks, but lowering them can be difficult.

Ford sport truck popularity took a big leap forward in 1997 when the redesigned F-150 replaced the I-beam suspension with a more traditional short- and long-arm system. This new-generation front suspension is similar to that found on GM and Dodge trucks. Both lowering and alignment is now much easier. The number of F-150s with that snake-belly stance is increasing all the time. Earlier F-150s still make great daily-driver sport trucks; you just have to be realistic about lowering limits.

In terms of body, interior, engine, and brake features, Fords have frequently beaten Chevy to the marketplace. A new generation of Ford pickups debuted in 1973 with a 2-inch-longer wheelbase for the longer cabs. Ford was more than a decade ahead of GM when it offered an extended cab in 1974. Called the Super Cab, the extra 44 cubic feet of cargo space it had behind the driver's seat was an instant success. A fold-down bench seat or two jump seats made it possible to carry extra passengers. Front disc brakes were made standard on all two-wheel-drive pickups in 1973.

In 1975, the F-150 model debuted. F-150 sales topped 225,000 units in calendar year 1976. New V-8 engines arrived in 1977 (351 ci and 400 ci), replacing the old 360 and 390 V-8s. An extensive redesign was launched in 1980. Variations of that model continued until the radically different F-150 arrived in 1996 as a 1997 model. For a while, both the old and new body styles were sold side by side. F-150 loyalists had a hard time giving up the old body style.

Improved interiors were a selling point for the '80 F-series pickups. We had one of the first '80 Fords and loved it. The XLT cab was amazingly carlike. We flamed it and lowered it, but this was long before dropped I-beams were available. It was difficult to lower it even a few inches. A more aerodynamic front end distinguished the '87 F-150 from its predecessors. The new look is often used as a cut-off point for grouping late-model F-150s. Another redesign came in 1992. The '97 Super Cab models featured the industry's first standard third door in a fullsize pickup. The early introduction of the '97s enabled Ford to sell 1 million F-series trucks in 1997. That's the mark of a very popular truck.