The Carchive: The Ford L-Series

It’s time once again to take a deep breath, put a clothes peg on our collective nose and make our way into the foetid, rancid swamp of the automotive past, before plunging our arms into the thick, treacly gloop and pulling out whatever slimy artefact we find. Welcome back to The Carchive.
For this week’s foray into history I thought we’d put cars aside for a while and think bigger. So lets head back to the beginning of the Disco era and look at what Ford could offer  you for hauling big-but not too big, stuff around.

Click the images to achieve bigness

“Premium built trucks for every medium / heavy jobs”
This is a fantastic time-capsule of a brochure, presenting the American trucking scene as it was in the late ’70s. The first double-spread image, with an L-800 flatbed loaded with straw bales and surrounded by an army of Stetson-toting Marlboro men is pretty much the most stereotypical scene I’ve ever seen in print.
It does a good job, though, of showing the versatility of the L-Series platform. Available with two, three or four axles, with gross vehicle weights of between 24,000 and 46,000 lbs, and coming in flatbed, boxvan, semi-tractor and bare-chassis flavours, an L could be made to do pretty much whatever you wanted. This was part of the reason that the range was in production right the way from 1970 to ’98.
“Ford drivers enjoy excellent room, visibility, comfort”
This doesn’t look such a bad place to spend a day on the road, especially if your company had ponied up the extra for the exalted “custom cab” spec level. Then you’d be surrounded by such luxuries as “brown vinyl door trim panels” Brown! Armrests were also fitted, as was a cigar lighter, so you could lean and smoke.
Of rather more health benefit, though, would have been the additional insulation in the cab back panel and roof lining, striving to reduce the risk of permanent tinnitus among medium to heavy-duty freight drivers. If your boss didn’t tick these options, he clearly didn’t like you.
“Ford’s L-Line: Premium built with better ideas”
Gasoline fuelled heavy trucks were still a thing in ’77, so you could pick V8’s from 330 to 477 cubic inches big, or you could plump for the far sexier sounding 636 cu in V8 diesels by Caterpillar, but only on the LN-7000 models. Entry level would have been the LN-600 with the 330 gas V8, which could be had with a standard 4 speed manual or an optional 4 speed auto or 5 speed manual.
I remember still seeing a fair number of L-Series trucks knocking about when I first visited Florida during the ’90s, particularly around construction sites and being operated by those involved in “amenities management”. I always recognised them for their distinctive ring of ventilation slots for their air-cleaners, a feature which remained right into the “Aeromax” era post ’88.
Indeed, the basic design survived to be re-branded as a Sterling after Ford’s heavy truck division was sold to Freightliner, along with that re-homed European relic the Cargo.
If you spent wheel-time in the cab of an L-Series, “Custom” or otherwise, we want to hear about your experiences, and whether the Marlboro image stated at the top had any place in reality whatsoever.
(All images are of original manufacturer’s publicity material, photographed by me. Copyright (probably) remains property of Ford Motor Company, but then again it could belong to Daimler AG. Who knows? I like trucking and I like to truck.

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  1. Jason Hopkins Avatar
    Jason Hopkins

    Boy those images bring back memories. My dad used to drive for a local paving company that had a L8000 single axel dump truck affectionately named the Grey Ghost powered by a Detroit and backed by the Allison automatic. It was the truck that got me interested in trucks.
    I rode with him numerous times when I could hauling asphalt and dirt around southern New Hampshire. Going to the asphalt plant, there was a large wide highway overpass. One day, he looks at me and says “Watch this” as he yanked on the air horns. The truck got sold to another company and he came with it.
    Another thing I remember is the a local grocery store chain, Market Basket, had a fleet of the things, all painted bright red. To those living in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, they were a familiar sight on the roads. The chain is still around and running strong still running bright red tractors, but now the fleet is mostly Macks and Sterlings.

    1. dead_elvis, inc. Avatar
      dead_elvis, inc.

      Southern NH paving company… FW Whitcomb?

      1. Jason Hopkins Avatar
        Jason Hopkins

        No. Grip Paving and Kodiak out of Weare. Really small outfits.

        1. dead_elvis, inc. Avatar
          dead_elvis, inc.

          Ah. Figured there was maybe a chance I’d have crossed paths with him if it was FWW.
          I’ve been through Weare a few hundred times, headed to the Maine coast from SE VT, or just out for a motorcycle ride.

  2. CruisinTime Avatar

    Ford Trucks Forever….

      1. Vairship Avatar

        Is that a not-much-of-a-cab over engine?

        1. mdharrell Avatar

          In this case it’s probably better to go with “forward control.”

          1. Vairship Avatar

            I think that’s a little strong for vehicles of that era. Let’s go with “forward suggestions”.

  3. Alff Avatar

    One of my first real jobs at 16 was driving deliveries for a window factory. As the kid, I never got to drive one of these fancy rigs. Instead I was assigned the most tired truck in the fleet, a 1966 F600 stakebed. I envied the guys who got these.

  4. nanoop Avatar

    That table in white over the dark flatbed – why don’t people play with type setting anymore?
    [old guy’s lament]
    Everything tends to be super-clean and sterile in more recent brochures, if there is grass at all, it’s motion-blurred.

  5. outback_ute Avatar

    Plenty of these sold in Australia, as well as the smaller versions they were also used as prime movers (tractors) as per the second page, with around 90,000 lb GVM, as was the limit back then and similar drivelines to Kenworth etc. They built them in Brisbane.

    1. Rover 1 Avatar
      Rover 1

      A few over here in NZ, but they’re mostly gone now. We saw a few Sterlings, too.

  6. SlowJoeCrow Avatar

    That looks a lot like my L series brochure from 1985. I guess they didn’t change much except for set back front axles and more diesels. Around 1990 I was working for an equipment rental company and our “big” truck was a gas powered L that we replaced wth a diesel L series to match our diesel F350 little trucks.

  7. Rover 1 Avatar
    Rover 1

    Why did Ford sell off this division? They use parts and engineering from the F-series so there’s synergy and efficiencies there. Was Jac Nasser trying to pretend that he wasn’t in the transport manufacturing business?

  8. dukeisduke Avatar

    Also known as “the Louisville Line” (they were built at Kentucky Truck, outside of Louisville).
    This also made me think of GM’s Class 8 competitors, the Chevy Titan 90 and GMC Astro 95.