Wednesday, March 9, 2016

An Illustrated History of the Pickup Truck

It would be hard to argue that any type of vehicle is more uniquely American than the pickup truck. Once the most basic of basic transportation embraced only by farmers and tradespeople, pickups today are often as likely to be loaded up with options as cargo, and they have become the personal transportation of millions of individuals and families—many of whom never burden their trucks with more than a few bags of groceries or a bicycle or two. America’s love affair with the pickup has blossomed to the point where the bestselling vehicle in the U.S. is the Ford pickup, and it’s been that way for 34 years. --As their popularity has grown, so have the variety of models and equipment available, enabling buyers to choose anything from a basic work truck, to a rugged off-roader, to a four-door family hauler, to feature-laden models with all the comforts of a luxury car. Ram truck alone offers 12 different trim levels, and all the major manufacturers let buyers choose from at least three different cab sizes, several bed lengths, and two- or four-wheel drive. Here’s a look at some of the milestone models that have led to the choices we have today.Henry Ford gets the credit for both the first factory-built pickup truck and for coining the term “pickup.” The 1925 Model T Roadster with Pickup Body was created when Ford saw an opportunity to cash in on the many farmers who were either modifying the famously simple and rugged Model T automobiles for work in their fields, or just using them as is. Henry himself, it is said, had a 1912 Model T with a cargo box on his own farm, and coachbuilders and Ford dealers alike had been offering pickup bodies for years before the factory got on the bandwagon. By the time the pickup version arrived, the venerable Model T was approaching obsolescence, and it was replaced in 1928 with the larger and more powerful Model A. Still, Ford sold somewhere around 135,000 Model T pickups, beginning an American love story and putting untold numbers of horses out of work.Component supplier Marmon-Herrington began converting Ford pickup trucks to four-wheel drive back in 1935, but the first production four-wheel-drive pickup was the 1946 Dodge Power Wagon. A product of the war effort, the Power Wagon was essentially a one-ton four-wheel-drive military truck with civilian sheetmetal. Domestic production continued until 1968, with only minor changes. The Willys-Overland Jeep Truck arrived just after the Dodge, in 1947, another adaptation of wartime technology. Like the Power Wagon, it made for rugged if rudimentary civilian transportation at best—and stayed that way until production ended in 1965. By the late 1950s, all domestic manufacturers were offering four-wheel drive in conventional pickups.Forward-control, or flat-nosed, pickups offer the utility and bed length of a conventional design but with shorter overall length for greater maneuverability. Often based on vans, their popularity peaked in the 1960s when buyers could choose among several manufacturers. First up was the 1952 Volkswagen Transporter, with a 1.1-liter engine and a whopping 25 horsepower. Gradual increases in power and other evolutionary changes followed over the years, along with variants including a crew cab. But U.S. availability ended in the mid-’60s, when the VW pickup became a victim of the “chicken tax”, a 25-percent tariff imposed on imported light trucks in response to European taxes on U.S. chicken exports.. The Jeep FC150 appeared in late 1956, with four-wheel drive and all the utility and luxury of a box of hammers. Popular with utilities and others appreciative of its maneuverability and go-anywhere capability, the FC150 remained in production until 1965.Chevrolet and Ford joined the party in 1961, with their respective Falcon Econoline and Corvair flat-nosed pickups. With six-cylinder engines, available automatic transmissions, and trim upgrades along with other options, both offered more power and comfort. But that’s where their similarities ended. Like the sedan it was based on, the Corvair pickup used a rear-engine layout, and it could be had with either a conventional rear tailgate or a side-opening Rampside design. It also had an impressive 3/4-ton load capacity.The Econoline was more conventional, with its engine mounted up front and rear-wheel drive. Dodge followed the Ford model in 1964, with a flat-nose pickup based on the A100 van. Never as popular with customers as conventional pickups, forward-control designs began to disappear by the mid-1960s as manufacturers focused on the growing demand for conventional pickups. The Corvair was discontinued in 1964, while Ford and Dodge soldiered on until 1967 and 1970, respectively.As pickups continued to find their way off the farm and into suburban driveways, buyers demanded more style and amenities. Rising to the occasion, Chevrolet’s 1955 Cameo Carrier and its GMC Suburban counterpart were the first pickups to ditch the distinct rear fenders that had been standard pickup fare since the 1920s, in favor of smooth fiberglass flanks for a more carlike appearance. Their exterior was further gussied up with two-tone paint and a liberal application of chrome. The decadence continued inside, with matching two-tone upholstery and unheard-of amenities such as dual sun visors and armrests—all for a hefty 30-percent price premium. Still, the design was a modest success, and other makers soon followed suit. By 1960, Ford, Dodge, and GM all offered smooth-sided pickups, but with conventional steel bodies.Based on a two-door Ford station wagon, the ’57 Ford Ranchero combined carlike styling, comfort, and handling with some of the utility of a pickup truck. Most of the wagon’s features and options were available, including the 352-cubic-inch V-8. With almost 22,000 sold in its first year of production, the Ranchero’s success led Chevrolet to follow suit with the El Camino in 1959. The names stuck, but both manufacturers played around with different platforms for their car-based pickups before settling on mid-size models by the mid-1960s.Options lists grew long, letting buyers choose anything from a fairly basic model to a feature-laden Cowboy Cadillac and even sporty Ranchero GT and El Camino SS models with the same big V-8 engines found in muscle-car siblings. The GMC Sprint appeared as a rebadged El Camino from 1971 to ’77 and had a name change to Caballero in 1978. Ranchero production ended after the ’79 model year; the El Camino and Caballero continued through 1987.The now-defunct International Harvester introduced the first crew-cab pickup, the Travelette, in 1957. A three-door design with a full back seat and room for six, the Travelette didn’t sprout a fourth door until 1961. Dodge joined the party in 1961, although its earliest examples were converted by an outside contractor. Production moved in-house in 1964, and Ford brought out its own four-door pickup a year later. The first crew cabs were bought almost exclusively by utility companies and contractors, and they were designed solely to get workers and their gear to and from the job site. But as the metamorphosis of trucks into family haulers got going in the late 1960s and ’70s, crew cabs moved upmarket with nicer interiors and the amenities of passenger cars. The movement was well underway by the time General Motors started building Chevrolet and GMC crew cabs in 1973. Today, crew cabs are available with interiors rivaling those of a luxury car, and they’re the configuration of choice for families.Extended cabs are another family-friendly option. The first was the Dodge Club Cab of 1973, which was a two-door with its cab stretched by 18 inches and a small back seat. Ford followed suit with the SuperCab in 1974. The configuration is still offered by domestic manufacturers, although now with small rear doors.As Japanese cars began to arrive in the U.S., pickups were not far behind. Datsun (now Nissan) was the first to land a truck in stateside showrooms, with the Datsun 1000 arriving for the 1958 model year. With a quarter-ton payload capacity and just 37 horsepower from a 1.0-liter four-cylinder engine, the 1000 wasn’t exactly a stump-puller and rang up just 10 sales in its inaugural year. Undeterred, Datsun fitted a larger 1200-cc engine, and sales began a slow but steady climb. Toyota began importing the competing Stout pickup in 1964, but it wasn’t until the arrival of the Datsun 520 in 1965 that things really heated up, with 15,000 sales in its first year.By the dawn of the 1970s, the compact-pickup-truck craze was in full swing, led by those trendy Californians and their fondness for modifying pickups with wider tires, custom wheels, and other personal touches. Datsun and Toyota reaped the benefits, with combined sales of roughly 100,000 units per year. Those numbers were too big for domestic manufacturers to ignore, leading to the introduction of so-called captive-import pickups from their overseas subsidiaries. Arriving in 1972, Ford’s Courier was a thinly disguised Mazda, which brought over its own version the same year. Not to be left out, Chevrolet introduced the LUV (Light Utility Vehicle) from Isuzu that same year. Dodge and Plymouth didn’t get on the bandwagon until the late ’70s and early ’80s with the Mitsubishi-sourced Dodge D50 and Plymouth Arrow. None enjoyed anywhere near the sales volumes of Datsun and Toyota. Most disappeared in the early 1980s. Chevrolet and GMC launched the larger, domestically built S-10 and S-15 in 1982, and Ford followed with the long-running Ranger for the 1983 model year.The little-known Dodge Custom Sports Special of 1963–67 came with un-truck-like features for the time, including full carpeting, bucket seats, a console, and racing stripes. And there was more to be had, provided buyers skipped the standard slant-six or lesser V-8s available and went for the High Performance Package. That brought a 365-hp 426-cubic-inch “Wedge” V-8, the legendary precursor to the Hemi and a legitimate terror on the drag strip in its own right. A factory brochure listed the push-button three-speed automatic as the only transmission choice with the 426, along with other high-performance equipment including dual exhausts, heavy-duty springs front and rear, and special instrumentation including a tachometer. It makes no mention of upgraded brakes, however, which may be part of the reason these trucks are so rare.Big-block engines also found their way into Chevy and Ford’s full-size pickups during the same period, but these were intended more for hauling campers and trailers rather than straight-line performance. It wasn’t until the 1990 Chevrolet Silverado 454SS that another full-size muscle truck came along. Available only with two-wheel drive and a short bed to minimize weight, the 454SS came stuffed with a 230-hp 7.4-liter V-8 and was good for a zero-to-60-mph time of less than eight seconds—downright respectable for the time. A total of 16,953 examples had been built by the time 454SS production ended in 1993, the same year that Ford introduced the F-150–based SVT Lightning.Like the Chevy, Ford’s Lightning was available as a short-bed, two-wheel-drive model only. Powered by a 240-hp 5.8-liter V-8, the Lightning made no pretenses about being a work truck but offered zero-to-60-mph times in the seven-second range. Handling was surprisingly nimble for a truck. Production of the first-generation Lightning ended after the 1995 model year and 11,563 units. An even more powerful Lightning emerged in 1999 and stayed in production through 2004. Car and Driver tested a Lightning equipped with a 380-hp 5.4-liter supercharged V-8 in 2001 and recorded a 5.2-second run to 60.In 2004, Dodge escalated the performance-truck wars with the 500-hp, 8.3-liter, V-10–powered Dodge Ram SRT-10. With various aerodynamic tweaks including a rear spoiler over the bed, the SRT-10 was capable of more than 150 mph, and Car and Driver recorded a zero-to-60-mph time of 4.9 seconds. Production ended after the 2006 model year, by which time about 9500 units had been built.Slide-in pickup campers like the Cree Truck Coach and the Sport King began to appear in the mid-1940s and early ’50s, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that the camping craze really caught on. As larger and more luxuriously equipped units became available, Dodge, Ford, and General Motors all responded with Camper Special models to handle the load. Typically equipped with a long bed, a larger engine, and beefed-up suspensions and brakes, these trucks usually also featured larger side mirrors and sliding rear windows for easier cab access.Diesels are common today in heavy-duty pickups and available in lighter-duty models from Nissan and Ram, but it wasn’t until the fuel crisis of the mid-1970s that domestic manufacturers came to embrace diesel engines, and their earliest efforts were so rushed that they may have done the diesel’s reputation more harm than good. 1978 saw the arrival of the ubiquitous GM 5.7-liter V-8 diesel in Chevrolet/GMC pickups. The GM 5.7 was phased out in the early 1980s, but it marked the beginning of steady diesel availability in Chevrolet and GMC trucks that has continued ever since. A much lesser known early diesel, also making its debut for 1978, was a six-cylinder diesel version of the Dodge D100. Sourced from Mitsubishi, the 105-hp 4.0-liter six delivered respectable fuel economy, but it had a hard time motivating the big Dodge and was quietly dropped the following year. Dodge then stayed out of the diesel-pickup market until 1989. Ford, meanwhile, launched its first diesel F-series in 1983.Personalizing trucks with custom wheels, tires, and performance bits is a long-standing tradition, but with the Li’l Red Express Truck, Dodge cut out the middle person and offered a custom truck right from the factory. The Li’l Red Express came with a 360-cubic-inch V-8 equipped with a four-barrel carburetor and various high-performance bits plucked from the police package. With dual exhaust stacks and no catalytic converter, the engine was good for 225 horsepower, and Car and Driver declared the truck the fastest domestic vehicle from zero to 100 mph after testing. Cosmetic upgrades included special wheels and wider tires plus real oak in the bed. A total of 7376 units were built during the course of its two-year run.Never a manufacturer to shy away from quirkiness, Subaru’s entry into the pickup market wasn’t just another truck. Based on a GL sedan, the BRAT (Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter) was sort of a smaller take on an El Camino—but with Subaru’s obligatory all-wheel drive and two rear-facing seats in the bed. The reason for the jump seats was to dodge the so-called “chicken tax.” Some manufacturers got around it by building stateside assembly plants. But by importing their trucks with seats in the back, Subaru was able to classify the BRAT as a car.As the compact-pickup craze hit its peak in the era of rising fuel prices, smaller car-based models became available. Dodge enjoyed modest success with the Omni-based Rampage of 1982–84 (and sister model Plymouth Scamp), but it was the Volkswagen Rabbit pickup that really defined the category. Arriving for the 1980 model year, the Rabbit offered decent fuel mileage and relatively sporty handling for a truck. Based on the two-door hatchback, the pickup was identical from the front doors forward, sharing its independent suspension, front-wheel drive, and choice of four-cylinder gasoline or diesel engines. In order to accommodate a proper six-foot bed out back, the pickup’s wheelbase was stretched to 103.3 inches, almost nine inches more than the hatchback. And it ditched the hatchback’s independent rear suspension in favor of a solid rear axle for increased load capacity. An immediate hit, sales peaked at 37,392 in 1981. But cheaper gas and an increasing market for larger trucks quickly took their toll, and sales dropped to just 2079 two years later. U.S. sales ended after a five-year run, with a total of 75,947 produced. But sales continued in Europe and South Africa, where pickups with the unlikely name Caddy were produced until 2007.If pickups are a lifestyle statement, a convertible version probably makes all the sense in the world. Or maybe not. Some softtop pickups from the 1920s and ’30s could arguably be called convertibles, but the first manufacturer to go with the lifestyle idea was Dodge with the Dakota convertible of 1989–91. With a built-in roll bar and a manual top, all started out as conventional pickups and were transformed by the American Sunroof Corporation (ASC). Available with rear- or four-wheel drive, they were equipped with a 3.9-liter V-6 engine and either a five-speed manual or a three-speed automatic transmission. A total of 2842 droptop Dakota pickups found homes the first year, but just 909 were sold in 1990. The rarest of these rare birds are the 1991 models, of which Chrysler says approximately eight were built.The Syclone didn’t even pretend to aspire to truck duty in the traditional sense. Its 500-pound payload capacity took care of that. But with a turbocharged and intercooled 4.3-liter V-6 good for 280 horsepower, full-time four-wheel drive, a lowered suspension, and fat, sticky tires, the Syclone was not only a quick truck, it was among the fastest production vehicles you could buy in 1991. In an infamous test pitting a Syclone against a then-new Ferrari 348ts, Car and Driver recorded a zero-to-60-mph time of 5.3 seconds with the GMC and a quarter-mile time of 14.1 seconds at 93 mph. Both were faster than the Ferrari. Syclone production was canceled after just three examples were built for the 1992 model year, with a total run of just under 3000 units.Compact Japanese pickups established a reputation for reliability in the 1970s and had been a familiar sight on U.S. roads for decades before Toyota and Nissan made a move toward building full-size models. Still, encroaching on the territory of this most American of vehicles was risky business. To smooth their way, Toyota elected to build its truck in the U.S., and Nissan followed suit when its larger, more aggressively styled Titan was introduced for the 2003 model year. Both were available with V-8 power and the same assortment of cab and bed configurations as their American counterparts. Where the first Tundra was a refined and reliable package, it looked almost delicate compared with its competition, and it didn’t resonate all that well with traditional truck buyers. A larger and more macho redesign arrived for the 2007 model year to a lot of hype—and was even used to tow a 292,000-pound space shuttle to help prove its street cred.Combining the virtues of a pickup and a full-size SUV, the Chevrolet Suburban–based Avalanche had four doors, a folding rear seat, and a clever “Midgate” partition between the cab and the bed that could be stowed to enable the truck to haul full sheets of plywood in an eight-foot bed. Available with two- or four-wheel drive, the Avalanche came standard with a locking plastic cover that helped keep bed contents out of sight. The Cadillac Escalade EXT was a more luxurious take on the same package. Avalanche sales peaked in the 2003 calendar year, when 93,482 were sold in the United States. By 2011, that number had fallen to about 20,000 units. The 2013 model year marked the end of the line for both.The term Cowboy Cadillac has long been used to describe pickup trucks dressed up with luxury features, but Lincoln was the first to try a luxury-brand pickup back in 2002. Based on a four-door Ford F-150, the Blackwood had a more posh interior and a short, 56.3-inch bed. Its utility was further limited by full carpeting in the cargo area, which was trimmed with stainless steel and unlikely to be used for transporting dirty cargo. A power-operated tonneau cover was included, however, so at least the carpet was protected from the elements. Not much of a success, just 3356 examples were sold before Lincoln pulled the plug after one year. Undaunted, the brand tried again with the Mark LT, a slightly more traditional pickup sold from 2006 to ’08. That too, found few takers.Chances are, Henry Ford knew he was onto something when he introduced the Model T pickup back in 1925. He might have even guessed that a pickup bearing his name would eventually become the biggest-selling truck in the U.S. for 39 years and counting. But it’s unlikely that even Henry could’ve hoped that the F-series would become the bestselling vehicle in America, a title it has held since 1982. Even a controversial 2015 redesign that brought a switch to a weight-saving aluminum body and greater emphasis on six-cylinder power in a market not known for radical change has been taken in stride by buyers, who continued to snap up a new Ford pickup every 41 seconds on average last year. Henry would be proud, even if he might not get the idea of a pickup with a dual-pane sunroof and a heated steering wheel. At least you can still get it in black.
from Car and Driver Blog http://www.caranddriver.com/flipbook/an-illustrated-history-of-the-pickup-truck


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