What Is The OBS Ford? Complete Guide

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There is much debate among truck lovers about what the term “OBS” means and when Ford used it for their F-Series lineup. What is the OBS Ford?

The OBS (Old Body Style) name refers to Ford’s square-box design used during the ninth generation (1992 - 98) F-Series trucks. Technicians referred to the older Fords to distinguish them from the new F-150 and Super Duty trucks, but eventually OBS grew to mean any Ford truck from the 90s.

The nineties was a tumultuous time for Ford Motor company. Plagued by slower sales, the basic square box-like body that had distinguished their trucks since the early eighties was beginning to look old and stale. Ford knew that it needed a new truck to keep up with the much sleeker and more athletic look of the Dodge Ram 2500 and 3500 and the Chevy updated Silverado. So, Ford made the decision to radically change its F-Series product line. The designers chunked the tried and true square box styling of the eighties, and brought more curves and chrome to the exterior, installed a bigger engine, and remodeled the interior to offer crowd-pleasing luxury in ways it had never done before. Ford technicians needed a way to differentiate between the two different designs, so they adopted the term OBS (Older Body Style) to refer to the pre-99 Power Stroke models. (Ford had two 7.3L diesel engines at one time). Somehow, the term “OBS Fords” widened to include any square-bodied Ford pickup truck built in the 90s. Let’s explore this highly-collectible truck in more detail with a look at the Ford OBS pickup truck.

Table of Contents


What Does OBS Mean?

The term OBS refers to “Old Body Style” and was first used by technicians to distinguish between the older 7.3L Power Stroke diesel (which many people believe is the finest diesel engine ever made) and the new 1999 Super Duty Powerstroke that also contained a different 7.3L diesel engine. Since the parts supply department and Ford service techs needed to distinguish what components went with what engines, the moniker of OBS Ford was born.

What Prompted Ford To Change The OBS Trucks?

In 1996, the Ford F150 received a stunning new design with rounded features, more aerodynamic styling, and a new type of under-the-dash scanning tool, the OBD2. While the Bronco held out for another year before making the switch, the F250 and f350 continued to look pretty much as they always had (Ford had two kinds of F250s for ‘96 and 97, a light-duty model which was a 7-lug F150, and an HD model). So, for a while during the nineties, Ford was making all kinds of pickups in their product line, some built with the new features and others with the older OBS Ford components.

Eventually, the entire lineup of Ford F-series was completely redesigned with the new look. The new SuperDuty (F-250 and up) would separate from the F-150 line and begin to be built in Ky. The new trucks would lose the dual fuel tanks, have a more powerful engine, longer body length, wider interior room, and even a driver side airbag and a passenger one you could deactivate with a switch). The interior room of the regular cab was increased, more leg space, and headroom were added, and Ford replaced the mundane with new posh fabrics. The design was a complete overhaul, and Ford felt that the new options would bring their truck into the 21st century.

Some of the die-hard lovers of the previous generations of pickups weren’t happy with the “great” F-Series redesign. Some felt that the new pickup looked more like a luxury Lincoln sedan than the old-fashioned workhorse owners had grown to love. A new intimidating front fascia with wider axle stance and the lower chromed-out bumper with alloy wheels made the new Ford F-series look different than any other vehicles on the road and thousands of people hated it.

What Were The OBS Engines?

One of the things classic car collectors love about the Ford OBS models are the various Ford OBS in the nineties.

Gas-Powered V8 Engines

For most of the nineties, the standard truck engine in a Ford was the 4.9L inline 6 (for Ford F 150 and Ford F 250), which had served them well for nearly 25 years. If customers preferred more power they could option for the 5.0L V8 or the 5.8L power plant. The F350 had a standard 5.8L as its primary gas engine or owners could place a hefty 7.5L 460 cid engine into their truck.

Engine Horsepower Torque
4.9L inline six - 300cid 178 hp @ 3800 rpm 283 lb-ft @ 1600 rpm
4.6L V8 - 280cid (‘97 & later) 220 hp @ 4500 rpm 290 lb-ft @ 3250 rpm
5.0L V8 - 302 cid 205 hp @ 3800 rpm 275 lb-ft @ 1600 rpm
5.4L V8 - 330cid (‘97 & later) 235 hp @ 3800 rpm 330 lb-ft @ 3250 rpm
5.8L V8 - 351 cid - Windsor 210 hp @ 3800 rpm 315 lb-ft @ 1600 rpm
7.5L V8 - 460 cid 230 hp @ 3600 rpm 390 lb-ft @ 2200 rpm

It is important to note that the inline six ended its production run in 1996, (after nearly forty years) and replaced it with a standard 4.6L small block V8. Owners that opted for more power could request an upgraded 5.4L and many model owners did just that.

Diesel Engines

In the early eighties, Ford entered into a business partnership with International Harvester to produce a diesel engine that could be used in their heavy duty truck lineup. The 6.9L IDI and a few years later, the 7.3L IDI (indirect injection) was Ford’s attempt to bring new interested buyers to the truck market who were reeling from skyrocketing fuel prices nationwide. (At one time in the ‘80s, diesel fuel was significantly less per gallon than gasoline). So, even though the gap between the gas products had closed by the nineties, the diesel engines were considered more efficient in fuel economy and they had the reputation for lasting much longer than their gasoline-fed ICE cousins.

During the final year of its (IDI diesel) production, (1994), Ford developed the 7.3L turbocharged version of the diesel, which they adapted for their new SuperDuty pickup trucks.

Engine Horsepower Torque
6.9 L IDI (1983) 161 hp @ 3300 rpm 307 lb-ft @ 1,800 rpm
6.9 L IDI (1984 later) 170 hp @ 3300 rpm 315 lb-ft @ 1,800 rpm
7.3 L IDI (1988 - 92) 185 hp @ 3000 rpm 338 lb-ft @ 1,800 rpm
7.3 L IDI (1993 - turbo) 190 hp @ 3000 rpm 388 lb-ft @ 1,400 rpm

What About Transmissions?

Most OBS classic trucks have a E40D (four-speed automatic transmission) which customers seemed to prefer over the 3 and 4 speed manuals that had been so much a part of Ford's lineup.

Eventually, Ford introduced the 4R100 automatic transmission, which provided more torque, and solved some of the electrical problems that had been known to plague the previous drivetrains. Four wheel drivetrains were part of an option package across all trim levels.

How Can You Know If You Have an OBS F-Series Truck?

For anyone unfamiliar with the Ford pickup trucks, there are some design cues to look for. The OBS (old body style) was used in F-series pickup trucks, Ford Bronco, Fire trucks, Utility work trucks, and were often four-wheel drive pickups that could ride off-road. These trucks could do the heavy lifting with excellent payload capacity and towing numbers.

From an appearance standpoint, the OBS Ford F-series pickup trucks have a larger grille center with square headlights, and a straight hood that stretches directly out from the windshield. In contrast, the Superduty makes has a molded hood center and  smaller center section of the front fascia with headlight treatments that are more rounded that flow into the sides.

The OBS Ford F-series trucks were offered with short (6 ½’) or long beds (8’). The four-door crew cab and extended cab versions of the F250 were only built in 1996 - ‘97. (While most OBS F-series models are regular cab pickup trucks, Ford introduced these shorties, knowing that they would become instantly popular). Even today, the fact that these four doors are very rare means that they are highly sought after).

Many OBS trucks have the option package of two-tone exterior paint schemes that help to set them apart from the later SuperDuty monochrome models. Many of these trucks (even the base model) are still on the road, are easy to find parts for, and are considered some of the best vehicles that ever came from the Ford factory.