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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 October 2018

How the Ford F-Series became the world's favourite truck

On its 70th anniversary, we meet the owners of vintage and contemporary examples of the popular pick-up

The UAE has a long love affair with trucks that extends to this day, but the Ford F-Series predates even the formation of the Emirates – as demonstrated by the fact this year marks the best-­selling pick-up’s 70th anniversary.

The Ford F-1 that started it all back in 1948 was a very different beast to the modern flagship F-Series truck the F-150, but it was available with a V8 engine, a hunk of American motoring birthright that set a standard that remains strong today.

One of the oldest F-Series trucks in the UAE belongs to Younes Ali Akbar, a 30-year-old businessman who lives in Dubai. His striking turquoise 1955 F-100, the model that replaced the F-1 in 1953, is a splendid example of the F-Series’ second generation. Naturally, it is a V8, although it is no longer powered by the original engine. Instead, this F-100 uses a 4.2-litre unit taken from a 1972 Mercury car.

Fittingly, both the truck’s origin and the inspiration for buying it were particularly American-centric.

“I saw the F-100 first in a movie, The Expendables,” he says. “I saw it in the cinema, and I said: ‘I love that car, that’s what I’m looking for.’ I love trucks – I don’t like sports cars. The best truck in the world is the F-100.”

That particular Hollywood truck was driven by Sylvester Stallone’s character Barney Ross – “the Rambo car”, as Ali Akbar calls it, with a smile. The seed was sown.

Sometime later, after trawling the internet, he found this 1955 example on sale in Texas. It had been fully restored and customised – including US$15,000 (Dh55,097) spent on that eye-catching paint job. A month or so later, in November 2015, after negotiating with the seller and having the truck shipped from the US, it arrived in the UAE.

“When I looked at the car, I could understand this is something special – the colour, the design,” he says.

It isn’t, by his own admission, the most practical ride.

“I don’t drive it every day,” he says. “And right now, during the summer, it’s really hot – there’s Jeep air conditioning, but the problem is the body is old and there’s no insulation to keep you cold. Even inside, if it’s OK for you, the carburettor temperature’s going to go up – because of the engine size and everything, I can’t add any more cooling.”

But when he is able to take it on the roads, onlookers are lining up to cast admiring glances toward the F-100.

“We were in a group with my cousins in Lamborghinis, McLarens,” he recalls of a trip through Jumeirah. “When I was passing people, everybody was taking a photo. The reaction to a classic car is something different to a sports car. Everybody’s happy and enjoying the car. I love this car.”

Owners of the modern F-Series trucks are just as fond of their vehicles. Shomyza Shamrez, who is a member of the UAE’s F-150 and Raptor clubs, grew up in Saudi Arabia, legally unable to get behind the wheel herself. But “as a little girl, I was always interested in cars”, she says. “I didn’t get to drive [when I was younger], but I always had exposure to cars. I always looked at sports cars. I was into the sound of the car, the roar of the engine.”

After she arrived in the UAE 10 years ago, she began to attend car shows, and her gaze started to turn from sports cars to trucks. Five years ago, her current motoring beau came into her life, sourced by her husband, Rizwan Ihsan.

“He was like: ‘Why don’t you give it a shot?’” she says. “It’s such a big car and it’s so hard to turn, but I remember my first drive – I just fell in love with it. From that day onwards, I feel the same – every day, I switch it on and just feel that power and that connection with the car.

“Everywhere I go, everyone’s pretty surprised when they see a girl pop out of the truck. I’m used to it now, but initially it was pretty funny because even the guy filling my fuel was shocked and asking: ‘Oh, you drive this car?’ A lot of people are giving me thumbs up and honking me, so it’s fun.”

She set about modifying the bright-red F-150 Hi-Rider, with accessories including fender flares, custom headlights and a Roush air intake. When I park my Mustang next to Shamrez’s own Ford, I feel rather minuscule by comparison.

She isn’t the only female family member who is enraptured by the F-150, either. The couple’s 2-year-old daughter, Delylah, is a big fan.

“She’s always seen me driving a truck,” Shamrez says. “She always says ‘mummy’s truck, mummy’s truck’, whenever I pick her up from nursery.”

Delylah loves it so much that the couple bought their daughter a red model toy version large enough for her to sit inside. “We thought it would be cool to have matching trucks. We have to literally hide it otherwise she wants to sleep in it,” Shamrez says with a laugh.

A family road trip is in the offing, too, back to Saudi Arabia, now that women are able to apply for driving licences in the kingdom.

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“My family’s still in Saudi, so my dad keeps telling me: ‘Why don’t you bring your truck?’ Shamrez says. “So I’m really looking forward to that.”

In the meantime, after five years with her F-150, Shamrez’s love for her current truck isn’t showing any signs of diminishing.

“We had a look at the new F-150s recently,” she says. “I was really impressed and we thought we wanted to upgrade, but we have too much attachment to this truck. I’m not sure we would ever change it.”

That kind of bond with her truck begins to explain why the F-Series has endured for seven decades and found such loyalty with motorists around the world, not least in its native US. It’s a habitual best-seller stateside, and annually generates US$41 billion in revenue for Ford. That figure puts the F-Series brand above the value of such household names as Coca-Cola and Nike. And after seeing Ali Akbar’s F-100 at close quarters, the oldest examples of the range are pieces of automotive history that might very well also be the best-looking trucks of all time. It’s quite a legacy.