I recently wrote a piece on the history of the 1960-66 Chevrolet pickups and proclaimed it to be the first modern pickup. There is no doubt that Chevrolet trucks of this era were influential, and this resulted in the competition changing their trucks to follow suit. The market for pickups was evolving quite quickly during the 1960s and pickups were increasingly popular. By the end of the decade pickups had evolved significantly. They had all become much more comfortable, feature laden, and better suited for day to day transport.
GM trucks had the advantage of the new low slung body in 1960, but Ford and Dodge were quick to revise their designs for 1961. That said, the Chevrolet independent front suspension still offered big advantages in road manners over its solid axle competitors. Surprisingly, International was the first to answer to GM suspension, introducing a choice of an independent torsion bar suspension or a solid beam axle for its 1961 half-tons. While GM abandoned the torsion bar suspension after a few years, International stuck with it until the mid-1970s. Of course, GM would reintroduce independent torsion bar suspension on its trucks in 1988, but this time for the K series 4×4 models.
By 1965, Ford decided to answer GM head-on and introduced its “Twin-I-Beam” independent suspension. Ford touted that its design used “two axles” since each wheel had its own independent I-beam. Of course this suspension setup was essentially a variation of a swing axle suspension, with each I-beam really just a swing axle. It also meant that there was inherently large camber changes as the suspension went through its travel. However, Ford successfully touted the toughness of its design, implying it was a tougher independent suspension. To ensure strength Ford used forged steel for the I-beam and radius rod construction.
Popular Science had noticed the increase in truck popularity and decided to test the three bestselling pickup trucks of 1965. Much like modern pickups, Popular Science lauded the trucks of 1965 for their versatility. Along with the additional refinement of the 1965 trucks, it was making these pickups more socially acceptable to find in a suburban driveway.
Unfortunately the trucks as tested were not overly evenly matched. Ford’s entry was a ¾ ton F250 sporting its largest engine option, the 352 V8, cranking out 208 gross horsepower. Meanwhile the Chevrolet was a C10 ½ ton with a base level 230 six, making 140 hp. The Dodge was also a ½ ton, being a D-100 equipped with a 225 slant six, making the same 140 hp as the Chevy, but 5 less ft-lbs of torque. It’s too bad that they didn’t get a Ford with a six cylinder, with the new 240 six being introduced in 1965. Popular Science claimed that the six cylinder trucks seem to cruise well at 65 mph while the V8 Ford could cruise at 85 mph. I am sure their claims are truthful, but I bet cruising at 85 mph in the Ford wasn’t overly relaxed, while it likely consumed copious amounts of fuel.
Dodge updated their trucks in 1961 with its new low slung body, but they stuck with the solid front axle until 1972. Nevertheless, Dodge did go another route to try to appeal to other buyers. The article makes mention of Dodge’s Custom Sports Special which sporty package that included the availability of the HPP option with a 365 hp 426 wedge V8 engine. These trucks really were the first real attempt at making a performance truck. Custom Sports Special’s included bucket seats, carpeting, insulation, a center console, chrome grille and bumper and of course racing stripes. The HPP option group included the 426 cubic inch Street Wedge, 727 pushbutton transmission, power steering, heavy duty instruments with a 6000 RPM Sun tachometer and dual exhaust. While the HPP package only existed in 1964-65 and wasn’t overly popular, perhaps Dodge was just thinking too far into the future. Eventually sporty trucks would become a market niche, and in modern times there have been plenty of performance oriented Dodge trucks built. Nowadays, it seems all trucks come with tire shredding power, bucket seats and consoles.
When it came to ride, the Chevrolet was proclaimed to be the best riding of the three trucks, being smoothest when unloaded. That said, they complained the truck would pitch somewhat. Popular Science stated there was no practical difference between the Ford Twin-I-Beam and the Chevrolet Short/Long Control arm suspensions, but did say the F250 was rougher riding. Popular Science said both worked well, and while Ford asserted the extreme ruggedness of its suspension, it noted the Chevrolet suspension was durable as well. They did note that the Twin-I-Beam was cheaper to manufacture than most other independent suspension. Undoubtedly the F250 tested didn’t ride as smoothly as an F100 would have, but even had they tested an F100 I fairly certain the Chevrolet with its all coil suspension would have remained the smoothest truck.
Popular Science praised the advantages of independent front suspension on the Ford and Chevrolet, citing the improved ride, positive wheel location and no steering wheel vibrations or kick back. However, they did concede that in most normal driving the solid axle Dodge didn’t show any significant disadvantage. The magazine also said the Dodge had the most comfortable driving position, with the most room between the seat and steering wheel.
One thing that has drastically improved since 1965 is the quality and reliability of vehicles. The testers only put 250 miles on the trio of brand new trucks yet two out of three had problems. The Dodge ended up with a rattle in the tailgate and an erratic clutch. The Ford had failed windshield wipers, and a dome light switch. The Chevrolet had no reported problems, but who knows what the next 250 miles will bring?
Popular Science declared that all of the trucks tested were easy to drive and park and that they could not only be used as a secondary vehicle but as a person’s sole vehicle. They assert even a suburban wife could operate them with ease, especially with options such as power steering, brakes and automatic transmissions. It proclaimed the Chevrolet the best truck for those who run light loads on a regular basis. It also stated that the Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge trucks were good choices for private owners who used their trucks on irregular intervals. It was suggested that those that needed full-time heavy-duty operation should look at International or GMC for their additional ruggedness.
There is no doubt the trend of using pickups as everyday vehicles were well underway in 1965. Popular Science named the Chevrolet as its choice for the typical light use of private owner, what truck would you have picked?