How much would you pay for a heavy-duty (2500 series) pickup with a 7.5-liter V8, AC, an eight-foot bed, and no airbags?
How about $17,000-ish?
That’s what it cost to buy a Ford F250 regular cab with an eight-foot bed and the optional 460 (7.5 liter) V8 paired with a five-speed manual transmission back in 1995.
Today, that $17,000-ish amounts to about $29,000-ish, which amounts to about $5K less than what it costs to buy the 2021 equivalent of the ’95, a ’21 F250, which lists for $34,230 to start.
It comes with a 6.2-liter V8 and several airbags, plus several other things you may not want, such as an aluminum skin that costs more to fix if it gets bent than an automatic transmission.
If you wanted to back in ’95, you could skip the big V8 and buy an F250 with all the heavy-duty underpinnings for just over $15k, which is just over $26k today. This is shy of $10K less in terms of what it actually would have cost you to buy the ’95 F250 back in ’95 vs. the ’21 F250 today.
Or you could buy this brand-new ’95 F250 for about the cost of the ’21 F250:
Behold the bench seats, the absence of a flatscreen. The regular cab and the eight-foot bed. The keyed door locks. The steel wheels. The metal bumpers are protecting the steel as opposed to the plastic fascias exposed.
The wing-vent windows enable you to skip AC and the cost of paying for it.
Observe the absence of a turn-off switch for the passenger-side airbag.
There is no airbag. No “advanced” driver “assistance” technology, either. Just ABS.
For the rear wheels.
The suspension has no electronics. It is all stamped steel. There is only one, not four catalytic converters. Sealed beam glass headlights and not plastic headlight “assemblies.” They never yellow, and if they break, you could (still can) buy a replacement for about $25.
Under the hood, you’ll find a distributor and spark plug wires rather than coils-on-plugs (and $50 each per spark plug). The 7.5-liter 460 was fuel-injected and started and ran just as well as the new F250’s 6.2 V8 and never shut off unless you turned the key off. If you lost your key, you could get a new one cut at the hardware store for about $5 instead of paying the Ford dealer $150 to program a new fob.
This is what trucks were like around the time the first cohort of Millennials were born. Most of them will never know the difference between a car and a truck beyond the shape because modern trucks are as tricked-out as cars, whereas once upon a time, trucks were trucks.
Especially heavy-duty ones like the F250.
It is very nice that you can get heated and even massaging seats in a new truck and that most of them come with center consoles that can carry a six-pack. Still, there was something wonderfully trucky about a three-across bench seat and a column-shifter or (better) a shifter on the floor actually connected to the transmission by levers and cables rather than sensors and circuits.
It was fun to pull back on the lever rather than push the button to engage the 4WD. Sometimes, you had to get out to lock the hubs. It is even more arcane a reference for many Millennials as that third pedal on the floor appears to them a baffling artifact of some other time as a timing-advancer lever on the wheel of a Model T is to Gen Xers.
Technology advances, but it’s not always an advance. Sometimes, it is just more for the sake of more, without any meaningful benefit. The transition from carburetors to throttle body injection was an advancement. Drivability improved vastly as the need for tuning decreased just as much. But the transition from TBI to port-fuel injection was not as much of an advancement. It was (and is) hardly noticeable; the transition from PFI to direct injection (DI) is arguably an advancement in the opposite direction.
As is also arguably true of airbags stuffed behind every interior panel (and even built into the seatbelts, sometimes) plus multiple catalytic converters (and an O2 sensor for each one) “modules” to control things like power windows that were once controlled just as well and with a great deal less complexity and plasticized bodies and aluminum panels, too.
We’re paying for all of it, even if some of us would like less of it.
Eric Peters lives in Virginia and enjoys driving cars and motorcycles. In the past, Eric worked as a car journalist for many prominent mainstream media outlets. Currently, he focuses his time writing auto history books, reviewing cars, and blogging about cars+ for his website EricPetersAutos.com.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.