Advice for young f-150 pickup buyer

Hi, I need some dirt on '78-'79 f-150s, I want to get a truck to work on and know about the 400s “oil crises”, and was wondering if there were any other hideing “monsters” for me to get dragged down into.

No dirt. We owned a 77 Ford F150 and it was great, performance-wise. Had the 302 V8. about 15 mpg. Used regular gas. Still doing farm work in my county, even though I sold it 15 years ago. Tailgate metal rotted inside out. Only problem we had.

The 351M/400M are best used as boat anchors. The power of a small block and the fuel economy of a big block. Try for one with the 360 or 390 and C6 tranny.


One thing to check on this engine if it’s the original, is the cam timing chain sprocket. The teeth on these sprockets were made from phenolic plastic. It wasn’t uncommon for these plastic teeth to come apart and end up in the oil pan. When this happened, these plastic pieces would start plugging up the oil pump pick-up screen, and the engine would start to starve for oil.


I’d go newer than this for a project. When a vehicle is 30 years old you have to start worrying about a lot of issues-things that might not even be on your mind-like a rusted gas tank. It may be cheap to buy one, but you may have to put a decent amount of money into it. I’d go 1987 or newer unless you like an older look- in which case I’d go 1985/1986.

Yeah,to tell you the truth I like the 78-79 because it has softer and better trimmed look than than the 80’s when the modle change came. We usesd to have two of the old things, one that was “parts truck” (78’ 351 auto) and the other one was the “driver” (79’ 400 auto)I won’t be driving for four years (16 but insurance is expensive) but would like something to go and work on, not a daily driver by anymeans.

     I really thank you for the info so far.

You mean the “oil crises” of how to keep one of these things full of gas?

I would also advise against a big block. If you just want something to tinker with, try to find a 6-cylinder or smaller V8 truck that you’ll not only be able to fix up and learn on, but also afford to drive! If you have a need for speed, there’s other options out there that are not only faster, but more economical. And safer, which the folks might like. These big truck engines were really designed to haul payload, not haul butt, so they don’t really deliver the “fun” aspect of driving a ridiculously overpowered vehicle.

Yeah, No butt haulin’ here, I can’t afford tickits! and I like something that can do some work for me.

My first vehicle ever was 74 F-100 2WD. My parents bought it for $800. Didn’t run, had a bad 302 2V. Went to a junkyard and found an FE 390 4V. My Dad and I worked on it for a few weeks, fab’d up some new motor mounts, rebuilt the 390 swapped it in. Had a 4.11 gear set installed, pounded out the dents, stripped the interior, had the seat reupholstered, had the truck repainted inside and out. It got 8-9 MPG, but was surprisingly quick up to about 75 MPH. I drove it for 2 years and 40k miles before the grandparents intervened and decided that because it lacked power steering, power brakes, real seat belts, and air bags, that it was unsafe, my parents thought it was a fine means of conveyance for a high school kid, and that if Granny thought it was unsafe then she should buy me something else. Well, Granny called her bluff and got me a 1992 Ford T-Bird SC for my 18th birthday. It was quite the upgrade. But when my brother turned 16, Mom decided that since I didn’t pay a cent for the T-Bird that I needed to go buy myself something else and the T-Bird will go to my brother. So I bought my Bronco, My brother kept the T-Bird for about a month before he decided that he wanted to trade it in on a newer truck. My dad still has the old 74. Sorry to ramble on, but it’s kinda nostalgic for me when people talk about old Ford pickups.

You’re talking about a 30 year old truck so anything on it is fair game as far as problems are concerned.
I used to do a lot of contract work for a Ford dealer (both dealership and its owner now deceased) and saw a number of this era of pickup. Basically, they were good solid vehicles and any repair I ever performed was based on the fact that the problem being repaired was due to either being flat worn out or abuse and was not related to any chronic problem.

About all I could recommend is a very thorough checkover before buying one. The positive side of this is that the trucks are very simple to work on and parts are usually dirt cheap.

No really original problems but write in when you have trouble.

What was the best moter tranny setup? would you suggest an inline 6, v6 or small v8, mt or at? I want to be able to haul 1500-2000 pounds in the back and not kill it (a cord of wood in fall basicly) any suggestions? And what time is a suggested moter overhaul besides a “knoker”. is there one? thanks.

If you make a habit of your wood runs, you’ll actually want an F250 because it’s a 3/4 ton payload rated truck, as opposed to the 1/2 ton F150. It probably wouldn’t kill it to put that much weight in a half ton every once in a while, but it won’t handle well at all overloaded like that and it may weaken the suspension over time. The a 6 cylinder engine will really have no problems hauling around anything you can put in the back of your truck, the only time you really need V8 power is if you’re towing something substantial like a larger boat or travel trailer. I put about a cord of wood in the back of my 76 Chevy half ton with the 250 6-cylinder from time to time and it’s definitely past leveling the bed, but it gets up the mountain just fine.

One nice thing about the small V8s, at least for Chevy’s and I’d assume probably also for Fords, is that there’s more of a supply of aftermarket parts for them. Also, depending on where you are, you’ll probably find more V8 trucks still around.

Manual transmission would definitely be preferable on a 30+ year old vehicle, but I wouldn’t let it be a deal breaker if the automatic in question shifts well and has clean fluid. Performing a compression test and measuring the oil pressure with a reliable gauge will give you a pretty good idea of an engine’s condition and whether there’s an overhaul coming up. If someone’s good about changing the oil and doesn’t overheat it, even these old engines should last at least 150,000 miles or so.

Ok When looking at the trucks is there anything I should look out for besides rust, hard shifting,and knocking? and what about water pumps, did they have a problem with that? is there something that wore out in the trucks that would be avoidable if I could check it out beforehand?


Yes. Pay a couple hundred to get it inspected by a mechanic who knows Ford trucks. He will tell you if it needs anything. Ask him to catagorize as absolute needs, needed but not right away, and nice-to-have-done.

Anything else? I was going to spend $500-700 for this truck and was wondering if there was any blatant things that wear out that I might not notice but you know of though experience.

Just keep in mind any 30 year old, $500-$700 vehicle will probably have a few issues with it. After 30 years there will be plenty of things that are worn out.

Thanks for the info,

I had another question, is it possable to change the grill from a 1979 custum onto a 1975 ranger? (I mean can you do it without to much of a hard time?)

The 360/390 were not offered for the 78-79 models. However properly tuned the 351/400 can be good motor, that will not let you down.