A man is shown carrying boards at a construction site near a silver 2021 Ford F-150 XLT.

From 1975 to 2021: A Look at the F-150 of Past and Present

What does the F-150 have to do with pet rocks, Rubik’s Cubes, mood rings, and Magic 8-Balls? They were all popular in 1975. Ford’s F-Series pickup truck was already popular in America, but it became even more so in 1975 with the introduction of the all-new F-150, a beefier companion to the F-100. Surprisingly, Ford never imagined the F-150 would be an immediate success, and that made the victory even sweeter, ultimately paving the way to future models like the 2021 Ford F-150 that continues its legacy as the best-selling truck in America.

Ford promises the 2021 F-150 is tougher and smarter than ever before. This begs the question, “What was the F-150 before?” We’re not talking about the 2021 F-150 but about that very first F-150 from 1975 that truly set the world ablaze. This is the birthright of the 2021 F-150 and paints a clearer picture of how remarkable the latest model in the F-150 legacy truly is.

Powertrain and Performance

The 1970s saw heightened emissions regulations in the United States, and that meant Ford had to tighten the reins on models like the F-150. This, however, didn’t mean that the truck’s power wasn’t impressive. The 1975 F-150 came standard with a 4.9-liter V6 engine that delivered 113 horsepower. You could upgrade the engine to one of several V8s – a 5.0-liter, 5.9-liter, 6.5-liter, or 7.5-liter – that delivered anywhere from 130 to 245 horsepower to meet a variety of driving needs.

The 1975 F-150 was powerful for the era with its four-engine lineup, which puts the 2021 F-150 in a new light whether you’re looking at the base 3.3-liter V6 engine or the all-new 3.5-liter PowerBoost Turbo V6 hybrid. Ford’s 3.3-liter V6 engine starts the 2021 lineup and delivers 290 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque, making the F-150 capable and efficient even on the low end of power. The all-new 3.5-liter PowerBoost Turbo V6 Hybrid falls on the opposite end of the spectrum and churns out 430 horses and 570 lb-ft of torque for a maximum towing capacity of 12,700 pounds. This is truly phenomenal for a hybrid engine and showcases the evolution of Ford’s powertrain lineup since the 1970s.

A man is shown getting into a red 1975 Ford F-150 Ranger.

1975 F-150

The luxuries and comforts of the 1970s are a far cry from what we demand from automakers today when it comes to standard features and upgrades. So, how does the 1975 F-150 compare to the 2021 F-150? It’s safe to say that Ford engineers of the 1970s would be blown away by what comes standard on the latest F-150.

The 1975 F-150 was marketed as a heavy-duty workhorse, but it defied the standards of the time. With the F-150, Ford proved that a truck could be both capable and comfortable, perhaps even luxurious. Just because you needed a truck to work hard no longer meant that you had to sacrifice basic comforts. These basic comforts were met with standard features like an ashtray (smoking was fashionable at the time), seatbelts, two-speed windshield wipers with washers, and integrated armrests in the door panels. Other standard features included a chrome front bumper, power brakes, hub caps, and window drip moldings.

Ford gave drivers plenty of available upgrades and packages depending on trim. These options added to the F-150’s appeal and included power steering, air conditioning, cruise control, a cigarette lighter, and an AM/FM radio to make your time behind the wheel more enjoyable. Aesthetic upgrades included cloth seats, a perforated headliner, nylon carpeting, bodyside moldings, and a concealed spare tire.

2021 F-150 XL

Without adding any upgrades or packages, the base F-150 XL comes equipped with an 8-inch touchscreen display that’s a hub of technology. Home to Ford’s innovative SYNC 4 infotainment system, the screen gives you access to the AM/FM stereo and a standard rearview camera that extends your field of vision behind the truck. You can use the SYNC 4 system to access FordPass Connect, an exclusive feature that equips the truck with a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot that keeps you connected wherever the road takes you so that your productivity never falters, at least not when you’re driving a Ford.

The 4-inch productivity screen behind the steering wheel displays the outside temperature, trip computer, and compass. In addition to standard seatbelts and airbags, the 2021 F-150 also comes equipped with safety and driver-assist tools like Pre-Collision Assist with Automatic Emergency Braking. This technology monitors the traffic ahead of the truck and can bring the F-150 to an emergency stop if a collision is imminent. Even the tire pressure monitoring system is a far cry from the 1975 F-150 that relied on a traditional gauge to measure pressure in each tire.

A grey 2021 Ford F-150 is shown driving on a road during a sunny day.

2021 F-150 Limited

The 2021 F-150 provides the starkest contrast to the first F-150 and is the most luxurious in the entire fleet. The Limited comes standard with a laundry list of features and amenities that not only add to its capability but ensure your comfort. So, what does the Limited have to offer?

For 2021, the Limited comes standard with LED lighting, a power tailgate, and automatic high beams. You’ll find the Onboard Scales and Smart Hitch technology give you the confidence you need to tow any size load by actively monitoring the weight of the truck and its load. This confidence extends even further with trailering tools like Trailer Reverse Guidance and Pro-Trailer Backup Assist, the latter of which allows you to use a knob to maneuver the trailer in reverse to make parking easier than ever.

The F-150’s available AM/FM stereo comes standard on the Limited, but there’s a good chance you won’t use it since the truck is equipped with satellite radio and smartphone integration. The XL’s 8-inch touchscreen display is upgraded to a 12-inch display with the SYNC 4 infotainment system. The system gives you immediate access to your smartphone via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto integration. It’s also where you’ll find the 360-degree camera in action, which gives you a bird’s eye view around your truck.

The two-speed windshield wipers from the 1975 F-150 are a far cry from the rain-sensing wipers that are standard on the Limited and automatically adjust their speed based on the conditions. There’s also no shortage of safety features on the top-tier trim with tools like Adaptive Steering and Intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control that automatically adjusts the F-150’s cruising speed based on the flow of traffic. You’ll also find the Limited is equipped with Active Park Assist 2.0 as well as luxuries like heated seats and a wireless charging pad.

Innovation At Its Finest

In the brochure for the 1975 F-150, Ford uses phrases like “tough and thrifty” and “rugged and durable” to describe the newest truck in the F-Series fleet. Today, Ford’s language is quite different. The American automaker markets the 2021 F-150 as the “toughest, most productive F-150 ever and most powerful in its class.” Truth be told, the 1975 F-150 is just as revolutionary as the 2021 F-150.

The 1975 F-150 was astonishing for the era, a time when emissions standards were becoming more stringent, just as drivers demanded more power and better performance. At a time when Americans were often forced to choose between capability and comfort, the F-150 eliminated that choice and gave drivers the best of both worlds. We see this effortless blend of capability and luxury continue in the 2021 F-150 just as we see a new generation of power and capability with options like the F-150’s all-new hybrid powertrain.

The 1975 F-150 paved the road to the 2021 F-150. The trucks are both integral parts of a rich legacy in America; we wouldn’t have one without the other. They embody Henry Ford’s vision to give Americans the freedom of travel, and they continue that vision mile after mile and generation after generation.