The 1979 Ford Indy 500 pace truck that appears on the cover of the January/February 2014 issue of Vintage Truck magazine was purchased by Brian Sams from its original owner, Jarrell Cagle, who had wanted a truck with a big block 460ci engine to replace his old farm truck. In 1979, the Ford Mustang was chosen to lead the field for the 63rd running of the Indianapolis 500 race, and Ford trucks were chosen as the official support trucks to the track.
What else is in this issue?
- 1961 Jeep FC-170 DRW
- 1952 Crosley Panel Delivery
- 1931 Twin Coach
- 1950 Mercury Station Wagon
- Dodge Revival – A Restoration Saga
- Delivery Designs – Deliveries in Anderson, Indiana, Part 2
- Chevy Talk – 1953 Chevrolet 3800 One-ton
- Triple Diamond Treatise – NATMUS and the IH Gallery
- Wagon Wheels – Jeep Station Wagons
- Dodge Garage – 1935 Dodge Brothers
- Notes from the Corrosion Lab – Silica Sand and Sandblasting Part 2, Blasting Safety
- Tech Tips – Stuck in Two Gears, Everything is Illuminated
- Working Trucks – 1947 Ford 3-ton
- Tailgate Talk – Four-Wheel Drive
1979 Ford F-150 Indianapolis 500 Pace Truck
By Brian Sams
In 1979, the Ford Mustang was chosen to lead the field for the 63rd running of the Indianapolis 500 race. In addition to the Mustang, Ford trucks were chosen as the official support trucks to the track. Ford Motor Company supplied approximately sixty 1979 F-Series pickups, Econoline vans, club wagons, and Broncos from the period of March 1 through June 10 to be used for track support activities including transportation for dignitaries, displays, and the Indy 500 festival/parade. There were two (known) specially outfitted F-150 pace trucks and one red F-250 used during the Indy 500 qualifying and race days as crash response trucks carrying safety crews, fire suppression, and track cleanup equipment. There were also several official Indy 500 F-350s equipped with Holmes 440 wreckers used during this time.
To commemorate the selection of the 1979 Mustang as the pace car for the 63rd running of the Indianapolis 500, Ford built a limited production line of 10,478 Mustangs and 4,225 F- Series trucks with the Indianapolis Speedway Official Truck package. Ford started production of the Indy Official Truck package in March 1979. The trucks were built at the assembly plants in Louisville, Kentucky; Buffalo, New York; and San Jose, California. After the trucks were built, they were shipped by either railway or truck to Ford dealerships throughout the country to be sold in conjunction with the Mustang pace car program. An interesting fact was that the “Official Truck” door and “4X2 (2WD) configuration Indianapolis Motor Speedway” fender decals were shipped loose in the cab of the truck and were installed by the dealer at the option of the customer.
The model availability for the Indy Official Truck package consisted of a 1979 F-Series Styleside pickup with a regular cab and the option of either a short or long wheelbase. A customer could get a 4X2 configuration on an F-100, F-150, or F-250 or the 4X4 option on a F-150, F-250, or F-350. The Official Truck package also included a black-and-silver paint scheme with orange and red accents that was carried throughout the exterior and interior of the truck. The seats were black grained-vinyl with silver vinyl inserts and red welts, and the tailgate sported “FORD” in black applique letters on an orange field. Many of the exterior attachments, such as the grille insert, front bumper, and GT rollbar, were painted black.
The F-Series models came standard with an under-the-frame spare tire carrier, Ranger trim, and an auxiliary fuel tank. Customers had the option of either an argent (silver) rear step bumper or a black contour rear bumper. To my knowledge, it is unknown how many 2X4 F-Series versus 4X4 F-Series models were built—or even how many F-100s compared to F-150s or F-250s. In my research, it seems that the 4X2 F-150 with the 460ci engine was the most common based on present-day existing trucks.
I first learned of the 1979 Ford pace truck’s existence when I saw an ad in an old Mustang Magazine in 2005. I had been a fan of 1978–1979 Ford trucks since I bought my first one at the age of sixteen, but I never knew Ford had made an Indianapolis pace truck in 1979. That discovery spurred me to begin a search for a surviving model, and in April 2005, I was fortunate to find and purchase this 1979 F-150 from its original owner, Jarrell Cagle of Rome, Georgia.
Cagle had bought the Ford in 1979 to replace his old farm truck. Purchasing an official Indy pace model had not been in his original plans when he visited Al Brooks Ford, Inc. in Cedartown, Georgia, on June 7. He had told the salesman that he wanted an F-150 with a big block 460ci engine. The salesman looked over his inventory and told Cagle that the only truck he had with the 460ci was a special Indy truck. When he and the salesman looked the half-ton over, they both agreed that it was “an ugly truck.” Cagle proposed that he would take it if the salesman could give him a good price. The dealership priced the 1979 F-150 at $9636.51, which increased to $9853.02 with the addition of tax and title. After crediting the $3053.01 allowance that Cagle received for trading in his old 1972 Ford F-100, the total amount that he paid in cash on delivery was $6008.01.
According to the Ford Database records, this 1979 F-150 half-ton was ordered on March 7, 1979, and built at the Louisville plant on March 29. The truck was shipped via rail to Georgia and then delivered to the dealership with 4 miles on the odometer.
Its door data plate shows that its serial number is F15JUEG6998 and denotes that it has a 133-inch wheelbase, Styleside cab, 7.5-liter 460ci 8-cylinder engine, C-6 automatic transmission, and a 3.5:1 standard rear axle. Some of the additional features that it was ordered with were an AM/FM radio, power steering, air conditioning, painted rear step bumper, ten-hole forged aluminum wheels, five L78x15-C 6RR all-terrain tires, and the Indianapolis Speedway Official Truck package (which cost $304.40). Cagle allowed the dealership to install the optional black front bumper GT push bar but forbade the Indy stickers on the doors and fenders because the truck was going to be used on the farm and was “already ugly enough.”
The 1979 F-150 truck was primarily used to pull cattle trailers and made many trips from Georgia to Bristol, Tennessee. It was retired from everyday farm use in 1995 and partially restored. Both the engine and transmission were rebuilt. New silver paint and decals were applied, and anything else that was worn out was replaced. The factory build sheet was found taped behind the seat when it was reupholstered. Cagle gave the truck to his 16-year-old son Ronald, who had learned to drive in it when he was ten, and then ten years later, he sold the truck to me.
My wife Lisa and I use the truck in our used Fox body Mustang parts business. It also was used to pull our Team #51 dirt track car back and forth to the track. Very few of the 4,225 F-Series trucks built with the Indy Official Truck package have survived intact in the ensuing 34 years. To preserve the history of these trucks, we are starting a 1979 Indy Pace Truck registry. We are also in the process of gathering more information for a future website. Please send us any pictures, stories, VIN numbers, window stickers, and anything pertaining to these special, little-known trucks. We can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.