The Ford B-Series was a Type C (conventional) bus chassis manufactured by Ford Motor Company from 1948 to 1998 and was used primarily for school bus applications. Although the B-Series was derived from the medium-duty versions of the Ford F-Series and shared their front fascia, the B-Series was a bare chassis and cowl only; everything from the windshield back was supplied by the bus manufacturer. Until 1968, the B-Series was badged and sold as a Mercury in Canada in both Ford and Mercury dealerships. This was a result of rural Canadian communities often having either a Ford dealership or a Mercury dealership, but not both.
The B-Series was introduced in 1948 as the school bus variants of the Ford F-5 and F-6 (1 ½ and 2-ton) medium-duty conventionals. In 1953, the F-Series and B-Series adopted the 3-digit model nomenclature still in use today and the B-Series effectively became the B-600, B-700, and B-800 models. Diesels were badged similarly with an extra "0" at the end of the model notation. From beginning to end the B-Series paralleled the Medium Duty F-Series in its development. Both F and B Series were identical to their light duty brothers in appearance until 1967 when they received a front end design of their own. This trend continued until discontinuation in 1998.
1948-1951 B-Series located in Israel
The B-Series made its debut in 1948 along with Fords first post war design of their newly named F-Series trucks. The new design implemented a flat, single piece winshield and headlights that were integrated into the front fenders giving them a more modern look. The front fenders were squared off at the fascia that touted a new, horizontal bar grille. The dash was redesigned but still had a very plain, utilitarian look. The trucks remained much the same until 1951 when a new, single bar horizontal grille was fitted to the front along with different hood trim.
In 1953, Ford celebrated their 50th anniversary and the B-Series saw a redesign with new B-"00" designations added to the name. The redesign implemented a set back front axle that made the front look nose heavy, but allowed for a tighter turning radius. The hood was also longer and flowed into the fenders. The grille was still horizontal, but was two bars as opposed to the one large one in the previous model. 1954 buses received a refreshed grille and a new OHV V8 engine option to replace the old 239 Flathead V8. The 1956 buses got a new wraparound windshield and restyled dashboards as well as a new grille that was similar to the 1953 model year.
In 1957 the B-Series got a redesigned front end and a new dash area. The front hood was now flush with the fenders creating a more boxy look. The 1958 models saw a new grille and quad headlamps along with new circular gages.
223 cu in (3.7 L) Ford "Mileage Maker" I6 (1958–1960)
The B-Series was redesigned for 1961 offering a new horizontal grille and fenders that were flared just above the front wheel to allow for larger wheels. The new chassis and front fascia made the truck look lower and wider than previous years. The quad head lamps were replaced with single lights integrated into the grille. The frame and suspension were also redesigned to be tougher than before. This generation of B-Series would be the last to utilize the same front fascia as light duty Ford trucks. Both the B-Series and medium duty F-Series were to gain their own look.
Ford completely redesigned both the B-Series and medium-duty F-Series and departed from using the same grilles as the lighter duty F-Series trucks. The new buses were taller and wider with a large grille utilizing much of the space of the front fascia. The new grille was rectangular with the single headlights being placed very near the far ends of the grille. The fenders were even more flared than before to allow for a wider track and larger wheels and tires needed to make the necessary gain in GVW to remain competitive. This generation was also the first to receive the option of a diesel engine in place of the strictly gasoline lineup in the past. An extra "0" was added to the series notation on diesel models. After 1968, the Mercury-branded version of the B-Series was discontinued in the Canadian market. For 1973, the grille was updated with longer teardrops around the headlights and F O R D block lettering appeared on the front of the hood just above the grille.
In 1980, Ford redesigned the F-Series medium-duty trucks and B-Series to look more like their heavy duty siblings. They were an all new design implementing styling cues from the Louisville line of trucks. Although the medium duty F-Series had the revised interior from the lighter duty trucks, the B-Series carried over the dashboard from the previous generation. To complement the new design there was a new set of gasoline and diesel engines that became available starting in 1980 and more in 1983. In 1985, Ford took out the "F-O-R-D" lettering in the center of the grille and replaced it with a larger version of the blue-oval logo being phased in on most Ford vehicles starting in 1982. For the most part during the 1980s the B-Series saw minimal changes in design. This version of the B-Series is available with two different hood designs: a rear-hinged hood and a tilt-forward hood. During the mid-1980s, the rear-hinged hood was discontinued as the tilt-forward hood improved engine access and it was a design that had been adopted by Ford's competitors.
370 cu in (6.1 L) Ford 385 V8 Engine (1980–1991)
429 cu in (7.0 L) Ford 385 V8 Engine (1982–1994)
8.2 L Detroit Diesel "Fuel Pincher" V8 (1980–1990)
In 1994, Ford updated the hood on the medium-duty F-Series to a more aerodynamic design. For the B-Series swan song, the chassis stayed the same but the new aerodynamic cowl was applied. Inside, the 1980s instrument panel and steering column were retained, although a tilt steering wheel became an option. Buses with this option are distinguished by their Navistar-sourced steering wheels. This generation became the first of the B-Series to be powered exclusively by diesel engines; their increasing popularity in conventional school buses led to their standardization in 1990, following suit with International (Navistar).
By the end of the 1990s, the number of major school bus manufacturers had dwindled from five to three; faced with potential closure, the remaining manufacturers entered into business agreements with chassis suppliers. This made it increasingly difficult for Ford to find buyers for the B-Series chassis. This prompted Ford to take a serious look at a possible elimination of the B-Series platform or the purchase of their own body manufacturer to guarantee a demand. The answer came as a bombshell in 1998 with the sale of the heavy-duty "Louisville" truck division to Freightliner, less than a year after the line had been completely redesigned; the final result was the now-defunct Sterling brand of trucks. A condition of the sale required an absence of Ford from competing directly against Freightliner for ten years after the contract was signed. As a result, after 50 years, the production run of the B-Series came to an end.
In years previous, it was becoming quite difficult for Ford to find buyers as the top-selling body manufacturers either contracted with chassis suppliers from competing manufacturers or began concentrating on transit-style school buses only. With the 1995 acquisition of AmTran by Navistar and the purchase of Thomas Built Buses by Freightliner in 1998, the situation left Ford with only one option, Blue Bird Corporation. In 2002, the General Motors chassis contract with Blue Bird expired and Blue Bird sought out a new chassis supplier before efforts were to begin designing one in-house. Ford and Blue Bird built a few prototypes based on the all-new F-650 Super Duty, but it did not lead to a supply agreement. With Fords sale of their heavy duty truck line to Freightliner in 1998, their contract required an ending of the production of the B-Series chassis as it was in direct competition with the chassis Freightliner developed for Thomas Built Buses. Ford could not sign a supply contract with Blue Bird without being in breach of contract with Freightliner. This stipulated an absence in the market for ten years after the sale was completed. As a result, Blue Bird was forced to design the Type C Vision chassis in-house and once again Ford was left without potential customers for any chassis orders after the required ten-year absence had expired. Thus, Ford's only entries in the bus market are currently all based on the E-Series and F-650s; unlike the B-Series, the E-Series and F-650 bus chassis is a cutaway chassis that is used not only for school buses, but for shuttle buses, paratransit, and other commercial uses.
The B-Series was widely available and was used by many manufacturers throughout its production run.