Any feature about a pickup seems to be accompanied by comments lamenting the loss of basic pickups. Despite these perceptions, basic spec pickups do still exist although they have become overshadowed by their more endowed siblings. The advent of ever higher feature content has been real.
This leads to the question of when did the manufacturers begin incorporating ever more content in pickups? Some may think it’s a recent phenomenon but it isn’t. The inclusion has been gradual but constant. And it all started over a century ago…
Let us begin this journey and set our benchmark by looking at General Motors. If one moseys over to oldcarbrochures.com, they will find this, the oldest General Motors commercial vehicle to be found, an ancestor to the new Silverado seen in the lead picture. What is this? It’s a 1911 Buick. That’s right, Buick.
Given its abundance of character and lack of any extras, this Buick could be ideal for some, even today, with its basic bench seat, abundant cargo room, and two-wheel drive. However, the 22 horsepower two-cylinder engine and chain drive may be too antiquated for most. So might a cab and a differential be the first steps toward conspicuous decadence in the pickup world?
The $1,000 ask doesn’t sound too bad, does it? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that amount from 1914 (they only go back so far in time and there have been two world wars in between) translates to $26,570 in October 2020. For comparison, a new 2021 Ford F-150 XL with an 8′ bed and an enclosed cab has a base price of $29,240 – and it makes about fifteen times as much power.
So perhaps at that time, as has happened since, one paid a premium for the Buick name.
A new Ford chassis cost $380 in 1923. But one still needed to put a body on it. Thus a price comparable to $5,400 now was only the entry fee.
Chevrolet also had their Model T that year. It had more power and an electric starter. But one has to pay for such luxuries as that $1,095 is comparable to nearly $17,000 today. This Chevrolet T also had a much higher payload than the like-named Ford.
In 1929, things (d)evolved further. Chevrolet introduced a six-cylinder engine for their pickups and GMC had a 72.5 horsepower Buick engine as an option.
The year 1929 is also a good mile marker as that is when Ford introduced the Model A. One of the features of the Model A was the availability of an enclosed cab pickup. For the staunch die-hards who thought an enclosed cab to be fit only for the weak-willed or flagrantly spending buyer, an open cab model was still offered.
Interestingly, this Model A might be one of the earliest examples of short bed excess. Some express disbelief at the 5.5′ beds on some current pickups. This Model A has a 55″ inch bed – which equates to 4’7″, significantly less than its newer relations. Plus it only carried two people versus up to six.
While there was also a much heavier duty Model AA available, this Model A is more in line with being the spiritual predecessor of the current half-ton pickups which have captivated the buying market.
The wretched excess continued at Ford for 1932 (1934 shown) with the introduction of an eight-cylinder engine – four times the cylinder count of our benchmark Buick!
Dodge brought about a V8 for its pickups in 1954 with Chevrolet trailing both by doing so in 1955.
By 1938 Ford was touting their padded seats. The following year, Chevrolet was advertising their luxuriant windshield defrosters; two years later (shown) Chevrolet was offering leather seats (proving what is old is new again) along with bragging about the ability to get fuel without the driver being required “to dismount or raise the seat cushion.”
Then World War II happened.
It’s at this point we need to consider a few things relevant to the pickup, primarily its history in North America, particularly the United States.
The United States has long been a highly agricultural country which has been no small player in the many factors of pickup popularity. According to US Census information, there were nearly 7 million farms in the United States in 1940 although this had dwindled to 2 million by 2010. To provide context, if the US agricultural economy were made to stand alone it would be the sixteenth largest economy in the world. Forty percent of the land mass in the United States, approximately 900 million acres, is devoted to some type of farming.
This 900 million acres calculates to 1.4 million square miles, an area over five times the size of France.
The Missouri Department of Agriculture says there are 95,000 farms in my state covering two-thirds of its nearly 70 thousand square miles. Just among the people with whom I work, a not inconsiderable number of them farm, or are part of a family farming venture, that covers over 100 acres.
Anyone who has set out to accomplish any type of task knows they need the right tool. Thus the pickup. No sedan, van, or minivan is as adaptable to umpteen different, and frequently messy, needs.
While this has been an intentional diversion, it seemed best to illustrate just one factor in why pickups exist here in the quantities they do. In current times there are admittedly many other factors, such as comfort, towing, and simple adaptability, but the basic utility of a pickup is imprinted on the mind of anyone having even a modest degree of positive exposure.
For 1953 Ford introduced an automatic transmission for their pickups, two years after introduction on their passenger cars. The availability was limited to certain half-ton models, but it was there nonetheless. No doubt some opined about how sloth would overtake the world.
Ford was also so bold as to proclaim driver comfort was a feature on their pickups. Again, the curmudgeons likely bemoaned the softening of society.
Chevrolet followed Ford’s automatic transmission lead by introducing the Hydramatic into pickups in 1954. Being a year late to the party, Chevrolet had to outdo Ford by offering it in half-, three-quarter, and one-ton models. The take-rate was marginal but the availability remained.
The next year Chevrolet beat Ford to the punch with a styling component that remains to this day. When Chevrolet offered the Cameo for 1955 (1956 shown), it was the first pickup to offer a bed without the step-sides, making the flanks smoother and more visually pleasing.
Ford followed suit for 1957.
Dodge joined Ford that year although the end result wasn’t quite as organic in appearance as was the others. Like with gift-giving, it’s the thought that counts.
Smooth sides proved to be the future of pickup styling.
While Dodge may have been late to the styling party, they leapfrogged the pack in regard to interior features and power. In 1964, Dodge offered the Custom Sports Special for half- and three-quarter ton models. Inside it was equipped with bucket seats, a console, and a carpeted floor. Under the hood there was the typical Dodge pickup offerings of the time although one could also opt for the High-Performance Package that initially included a 360 gross horsepower 413 cubic inch V8. That engine was soon replaced with the 365 gross horsepower 426 cubic inch Max Wedge V8.
From what can be determined, this was the first half-ton pickup from the Big Three with over 200 (gross) horsepower in half-ton configuration, let alone with over 300 horsepower. For some, the pickup world was going to Hell in a hand basket tucked inside a cab with carpet and bucket seats.
Only 50 pickups were built with Dodge’s High-Performance Package over three years however, this package cast the die for better performance while the Custom Sports Special, which had a much higher take-rate, was a new dimension for comfort in pickups.
Despite Dodge being a trailblazer in personal comfort, their Custom Sports Special pickups lacked one key element of creature comfort – air conditioning. Of the Big Three automakers, Chevrolet was the first to have air-conditioning as an option, doing so for 1965.
The slippery slope had just gotten steeper.
Ford had air-conditioning as a factory option beginning in 1968. While air had been available for a number of years, it had been a dealer installed option.
Due to elusive information, it has been more difficult to determine when Dodge introduced air-conditioning in their pickups. However, we do know air-conditioning was on the options list for 1970, if not a year or so sooner.
General Motors, as did both Ford and Dodge, continued to offer more niceties throughout the 1970s. A tilt-steering column, long available on GM cars, first saw use in a Chevrolet pickup in 1971.
For 1975 Chevrolet introduced the Silverado trim option, a name so popular it is currently applied to all Chevrolet pickups. The initial 1975 Silverado package consisted primarily of a more thickly padded seat along with bright trim and sound insulation.
Not to be left alone, GMC, the General Motors complement to Chevrolet’s pickup line, offered the Beau James. As the ad states, “Beau James was created for those who like the special things life has to offer; the extra touches, the small refinements, the quietly appreciated subtleties”.
Given the very atypical interior presentation for the time, it appears GMC was ahead of the curve and trying to appeal to Cadillac clientele. GMC had other special edition pickups also, such as the Gentleman Jim which was also available in 1975.
Whether GMC’s Beau James was named after the former mayor of New York, or was simply a pleasant sounding name, has not been able to be determined.
Somewhat like Dodge’s Custom Sports Special, the Beau James lacks what would soon become a common element that is now nearly standard equipment – power windows and locks. That option didn’t come along until 1977.
Meanwhile, at Ford in 1975, cruise control was now an option. Upon close inspection this brochure reads like cruise control is only available with the 460 V8. Given the strangulation air quality standards inflicted upon Ford’s pickup engines, this was likely the only engine Ford engineers were confident could maintain speed on any type of incline.
An AM/FM stereo radio was also available, that first shaky step toward the infotainment systems found in current model pickups.
Dodge, being Dodge, took a different path for 1977 with the Sky-Lite Roof. The moonroof which can be obtained on a new
Dodge Ram for $1,500 had a direct ancestor.
This Dodge brochure also illustrates another component in the pickup’s march toward greater civility, the extended cab. Among the Big Three, Dodge offered an extended cab in 1972 with Ford following suit soon thereafter. GM missed the memo, not offering an extended cab until 1988. We’ve classified this failure as a Deadly Sin.
If mentioning extended cabs, one needs to also consider crew cabs. International had the first crew cab in 1957; among the Big Three, Dodge followed suit in the early 1960s. Ford followed suit a few years later with GM bringing up the rear by doing so in 1973. More about that can be found here.
Like everything else in the automotive kingdom, there are continual changes and evolving philosophies in pickup execution. Ford, the pioneer in putting a V8 in a pickup, began moving toward an all V6 lineup a decade ago. Manual transmissions, still common in many pickups as recently as the 1990s, are extinct in half-tons as well as most of the higher capacity light-duty trucks.
Power in base models is way up, as well as efficiency. For a very long time, Ford’s standard 300 cubic inch (4.9 liter) six coughed out around 115 horsepower; the base 3.3 liter V6 found in a 2021 F-150 pumps out 290 horsepower.
Dodge Ram is at 305 horsepower as standard; GM trails the others at a mere 285 with its 4.3 liter V6. General Motors has also gone full circle by offering a four-cylinder engine in its half-ton models.
More changes are coming; Ford will soon be having a fully electric half-ton,
Dodge Ram has a mild hybrid, and GM has been offering a hybrid periodically since 2005. The future of transportation, particularly the pickups for which there will always be a need, is truly exciting.
Basic pickups still exist. “Basic” just has a broader meaning these days.
What a great presentation!
I can only add what I saw occurring when this was happening, and that is the popularity of the compact pick up. How did that effect luxury pickups? What it did is remove the need for a base truck in order to meet a market price. Toyota, Datsun, Mazda/Ford, Isuzu/Chevy, Mitsubishi/Dodge offered trucks in the sub-$3000 market when they arrived, making the pick up truck a value option for new drivers and offering a new way to drive a truck. When this was happening, larger base trucks weren’t as needed in dealer lots for non-commercial buyers. There was more profit in giving buyers reason to buy larger domestic pick ups, and this mean more creature comforts.
I agree, terrific.
This journey ceased around 1980 due in part to the advent of the compact pickups. Adding them in could have been good but likely convoluted everything. This was 2,000 words, which is long enough and covers the high points.
But I agree, I knew several people whose first new vehicle was a compact pickup.
My first new vehicle was a pickup. A 1990 Chevy S-10 EL (economy leader) super-ultra basic truck. I bought a rear bumper (from a Blazer I think) from the dealer. I had RWL Radial T/As installed on the stock sliver rims with dog dishes. I bought a fitted rubber bed mat. I had a nice Clarion stereo/tape with Clarion 3-way 6×9 speakers installed in the back and Jensen 2-ways in the dash. It was a sharp looking black truck, with so many coats of polish on it nobody could believe it was a factory paint job. Kept my arms in shape with the manual steering and the wider T/As. It was the first year of rear ABS, which was kind of neat. I remember even then being surprised by the vibrations of the Tech 4 (Iron Duke). It was up to 95 hp for 1990 but didn’t have much weight to move. Really nice to have a hydraulic clutch, as up to that point I had only driven bigger trucks with heavy clutches. Lots of axle-hopping peelouts with it.
Another fine article Jason. And when the Ranger and GM S-trucks arrived in ’82, they offered creature comforts unheard of in the captive imports they replaced.What??? You mean I can get A/C the dealer doesn’t have to install??
My ’84 Toyota did not have A/C nor a radio off the boat. Dealer installed only.
Thanks Jason, that was an amusing and informative trip through the evolution of pickups. What is selling now is what people want / need for their lives. As our own Paul has proven, the basic pickup is not dead. With just a quick look at Hemmings, I could buy a very nice Model A pickup for $25k or a sweet 1966 Ford pickup for $16,500. Less cost than a new one! Good parts availability! Lower insurance! It’s quite doable.
Right now I’m thinking 1971 to 1972 Chevrolet C-10. My favorite is quite reasonable at $40k. But it is a fancy shmancy two-tone.
A friend bought a ’67 stepside from the US last year. Took a bit of doing to get it safe and roadworthy, but he’s really happy with it now.
If nothing else, this makes clear that for Buick to remain relevant, they need to get back into the pickup business!
My first exposure to a luxury pickup was approximately 1978. A friend’s dad had access to company vehicles working for a gasoline distributor. His normal ride was a company Buick Electra. For whatever reason he temporarily had a LOADED Chevy pickup from the motor pool, and picked my friend and I up from the golf course. It was the first time I had seen power windows in a pickup.
Great article. With all the improvements that have taken place along the way, I’m amazed at how long it took the industry to include trailer wiring plugs as standard equipment, and dump the under bed spare tire mount in favor of a winch. And they still can’t seem to put tie down loops where you need them most.
Very interesting – and something I was thinking about this past weekend. As I commented in yesterday’s Tacoma Review, my wife and I test drove two Toyota trucks this past weekend: a Tacoma and a Tundra. I talked about the Tacoma in yesterday’s comments, now I guess it’s the Tundra’s turn.
The Tundra CrewMax we test-drove was one of the lower-equipped models available – an SR5 with no options (for those not unfamiliar with the Tundra lineup, there are four trim levels above the SR5, and I mention this to point out that what we drove is not what folks would consider a luxury truck). A picture of this truck, taken on our test drive, is below.
Well, after driving the Tundra, we both loved it, as did our kids, and we’re now trying to rationalize purchasing one. After all, we’d like a truck, but don’t need one… we’d use it as a long-distance traveling vehicle, and well as for towing (since my wife’s family generously offered us use of their travel trailer, but we need a suitable vehicle with which to tow it). But more relevant to this article is that I was impressed at just how car-like this giant pickup drove.
Again, this is a full-size pickup with a powerful V-8 and bereft of luxury options (it even had the bench seat, which was wonderful!). So, not quite a “basic” pickup, but mighty close. But like I mentioned to my wife, if one were to drive this Tundra blindfolded (not recommended, I know), most folks would be hard pressed to say they were driving a truck. It really felt like a car, albeit a big one.
So I suppose what I’m getting at is that the process of civilizing pickups seems to have as much to do with driving dynamics as it does luxury offerings. Pickups have gone from buckboard-riding work vehicles to car-like vehicles in a remarkably short period of time. And I bet that if pickups still rode and handled like they did as recently as the 1990s, a big proportion of today’s pickup buyers would say No Thanks, regardless of any luxury option packages.
And I bet that if pickups still rode and handled like they did as recently as the 1990s, a big proportion of today’s pickup buyers would say No Thanks, regardless of any luxury option packages.
The peak year for pickup sales was back in 2005, and that’s not yet been equaled. So even though you’re potentially a new pickup customer, I suspect the vast horde of new pickup buyers in the first half of the 00s and in the 1990s didn’t think the pickups then drove substantially different. I seem to remember pickups from the 1990s as riding and handling quite pleasantly, given what they were.
What is a standard feature on a Toyota SR5 Crew Max is very complete for the truck enthusiast IMO. Standard: V8, towing package with trailer controller, low gears, 38 gal tank, huge cab space, and more truck worthy goodness (many of which are only options in the other trucks). What you do not get is a bunch of option packages that includes things you don’t want such as auto start/stop, cylinder deactivation, automated grill louvers, etc.. I’ve been very pleased with my 2019 Tundra towing and recreation use here in Colorado and the MTN West (same Cavalry blue too).
I agree – the base SR5 has (almost) everything I’d want, without all the stuff I’d rather not have. However, the 38-gal. fuel tank is not standard with the SR5; it’s only available with the “SR5 Upgrade Package.” What’s annoying about that is that it’s impossible to get a Tundra with the bench seat and the larger fuel tank, because the Upgrade Package “upgrades” the truck to bucket seats. Grr.
But I do appreciate the towing packing being standard, along with other features, and the small fuel tank alone wouldn’t keep me from buying it.
And I think that Cavalry Blue is by far the best color this year.
The Jelly Bean was the turning point. Ford had noticed that the Super Cab take rate was increasing and a lot of those buyers used it mainly as a “car” and quite a few were new to pickups.
So that is why they decided to split their full size pickups into two lines, the “consumer” truck with a design brief that put ride and handling higher on the priority list than it had traditionally been. I’d say they succeeded, at least on the 4wd where the Jelly Bean feels like a sport sedan compared to the earlier trucks.
This was a fun read, and informative as well. It’s interesting how the pickup trailed passenger cars in regard to comforts (as is logical of course in hindsight). I love the 1971 Cheyenne Frontier Days ad, but brochure pages with the little thumbnails of options have always been a source of interest as well, thanks for including those.
The brochure thumbnails are an absolute gold mine of information. That’s how I found a lot of what’s here.
Like you, I love the 1971 Cheyenne ad. My grandfather purchased a red Chevrolet half-ton new in 1971 or 1972 – those are my favorite Chevrolet pickups ever. Sunday I saw a two-tone 3/4 ton Cheyenne of that vintage and waxed poetic about it for a while. Marie just rolled her eyes…
Well done! In my experience, there are lots of people who say “I’d buy a basic truck if they offered it” , or moan about how “plush” these trucks are and in reality, these people aren’t likely buyers. The OEMs are selling what people are buying, and what is selling is the larger more luxury oriented trucks. The contractor spec truck is still available, and its significantly more optioned up than it used to be, but its still there…. white, longbox, v6 or V8, std cab, black dash with lots of blank slots for options not purchased.
I went to Chevy and built a 4.3 V-6 work truck for $27,995. A/C, cruise, trailer wiring, etc.
apologies for the pic, it was from my cell phone of the build screen on my laptop
That’s one of the drawbacks of Chevy’s B&P tool–you can’t just save or link to the photo file of your build.
Yep, that was the only way I could save it.
Heck, I drive 12,000 miles a year (my fuel bill would double, but it would still be about $100 a month) and I am wanting something to pull a small camping trailer, like 3,000 pounds on rural highways. The 4.3 is rated to 7,000 and something pounds
And I grew up in the 70s and 80s. Only loaded cars had cruise, power windows and A/C. Affordable used cars didn’t have all that or those broke shortly after you bought it. We all drove what would be considered a stripper now.
A lot of research and info there, entertainingly shared.
I’ll be wondering about the “Beau James” for a while today—never heard of that one, ever!
Dodge A/C: FWIW, on eBay I found a 1969 ad that mentions the special, “automotive-type” A/C available, and then this for 1968—-though nothing earlier. So, you had it right all along, it seems.
Thanks on behalf of everyone for your time and effort with this one!
Jason, great article!
Two random thoughts:
1. In my lifetime pickup trucks hit the “Cowboy Cadillac” inflection point circa 1980 when washed and polished trucks started appearing in restaurant and nightclub parking lots. Before then, trucks were work/farm appliances.
2. Considering the GM Hydramatic was used in light tanks during World War II, I was surprised to learn how long it took GM to put them in their trucks.
Your first point reminded me of an early 1980s Dodge pickup commercial I saw recently. Guy in his 4×4 Dodge pulls up to fancy Hollywood restaurant and the valet parks it for him.
It’s distinctly different than the torture test commercials from a few years prior.
Another Dodge commercial I found that takes an even different tone is below.
I thought the Cowboy Cadillac was a loaded el Camino?
I’ll put the watershed moment for trucks around ’75-’77. They really became mainstream then.
The vast majority of baby boomers were too young to be first time buyers of muscle cars. That time had passed.
For numerous reasons, a lot of 20 somethings were disappointed with what was being offered, car wise, from both Detroit and Japan.
So, some of us looked for something else.
Trucks (and vans) were it! Magazines of the time were filled with articles of “truck-ins/van-ins”. There were articles of modifications you could do to upgrade your vehicle.
Even “Hot Rod” magazine succumbed to the siren call! (which years after the fact, later editors regretted).
Many friends, co-workers, fellow students bought trucks, both new and used, for the first time.
It was something new and different.
It was something new and different.
The definition of a fad. And Americans are always in search of something “new and different”.
A big reason that trucks got a big boost in the early 70’s were the mini trucks. They brought in a lot of new buyers in part due to their low price and relatively good MPG. Sure they didn’t get better mpg than a Civic but it easily beat a Colonnade coupe or Pony Car.
The first pickup was the 1925 Model T. All those earlier vehicles you showed were commercial trucks. And since all pickups were passenger car based for quite some time (mid-late ’30s), they had exactly the same amenities as the passenger car versions. And even after that, the difference in amenities was little or none.
The divergence between passenger cars and pickups happened mostly with the new post-war models, as the passenger cars by then (including Ford) all had IFS, while the pickups kept their solid front axles. But that didn’t last all that long, as by the 60s the pickups got IFS too.
I don’t think there was as much difference between the pickups and cars of the time as folks make out to be, in terms of driving dynamics. I really don’t think my ’66 F100 drives and handles significantly different than a ’66 Ford Ranch Wagon with the six and three-speed manual and no PS or PB. It’s actually not nearly as hard-riding as lots of folks tend to think old pickups are. Sure, an F250 rides pretty bad if empty, but not a standard-spring F100, as its only rated to haul some 1200 lbs.
And the interior wasn’t really much different than a base Ford or Falcon interior of the early ’60s either. Those cars had gobs of painted metal and very basic upholstery.
Sure, trucks trailed cars a few years in making certain amenities available. But before the ’70s, most cars tended to be fairly basic too.
Trucks are by far the most profitable vehicles for the Big 3, and so it certainly makes sense to make them as amenable to the many new buyers who are coming out of cars, and buying pickups, which is of course to a large extent the biggest automotive fad we’ve seen in quite a long time.
Sports cars were once extremely spartan too, as they were designed for their primary job. But when the sports car fad took off, they all quickly became more civilized. And the exact same thing happened with Jeeps and 4x4s (SUVs).
It’s the only way to accommodate buyers who aren’t interested in the original use of the vehicle, whether it’s sports cars or pickups or 4x4s.
And just like with sports cars and 4x4s, once pickups became mainstream, and were increasingly not used for their original purpose, they pretty much had to become more civilized. If you’re not taking your sports car to the track, or your 4×4 off-road, or primarily hauling stuff in your pickup, then they are lifestyle vehicles, and need to be suited for that job, meaning driving mostly to work, the store and hauling kids and stuff.
Imagine a world where none of these classes of vehicles (pickups, sport cars, 4x4s) had ever become a popular fad. Would they have become so plush and civilized, for the tiny market they had back in the 50s?
The oldest pickup I’ve driven was a ’29 Chevy, really no different than the passenger car. The next oldest was a ’53 3600 Chevy, substantially different than the ’53 Chevy BelAir parked next to it in grandpa’s driveway. This was on a farm here in California.
As I posted in a comment to Jim’s Tacoma review, something’s gone wonky with the pricing of trucks… or maybe producing cars became that much cheaper.
(all pricing MSRP)
In 1985, a basic Toyota pickup was $6k. The most stripped out Tercel was $5350. The $650 price difference works out to a $1600 difference today.
But for 2020, the least expensive Tacoma is $24,435. That puts you in a very loaded-up Corolla or a very basic Camry.
I see that as a big change in the place of pickups in the vehicular landscape.
It’s called the free market; supply and demand. Truck makers literally can’t make them fast enough.Especially this year, supply issues have made inventories extremely tight. And demand for trucks has soared this year.
Pricing is reflecting that. Trucks all have massive profit margins. How do you think GM is making such massive profits? From selling Bolts?
Trucks have in essence become premium or luxury vehicles, meaning most of the buyers don’t really need them, but they want them. Like PLCs in the ’70s. Or Mercedes or BMWs in the ’80s and ’90s.
Ok, I’ll concede that putting a cab, with a windshield, around me was a good thing along with the back of the seat being cushioned instead of wood like a baseball bench seat.
Thanks for laying this story out so logically, a wonderful read! These days we are pushed to multitask in everything we do, and our tools need to be able to do the same. Trucks with more convenience items allow us to cover all bases if we only need or can afford one vehicle.
Interesting article. I’m not a long-time pickup buyer, so my perspective here is limited, but I never did quite buy the argument that pickups have lost the plot over the years. I’d say they simply expanded it. The gains in civility, efficiency, and passenger space have allowed them to expand into the full size family 4-door segment in replacement of diminishing and extinct automobile lines. As you say, you can get a pretty basic work truck if so inclined.
I’ve driven full size american pickups for field vehicles going on 15 years now, rarely to their potential, and spanning the range from decrepit 1982 2WD F150s to early-aughts Silverados to base 2015 F250s to a 2019 F150 2.7 Ecoboost. To my less-discerning eyes they’ve all shown a high level of date-relative capability with date-appropriate features. My opinion is that pickups in North America have simply followed the overall trend of automobiles towards greater refinement and creature comforts. Can’t get a crank-window no-A/C AM/FM-only Corolla anymore, either.
I see Paul’s point that the pickups have often closely tracked the cars, perhaps a little behind at times, but not really on a different path. I think there are a few cases where they have in fact led, more recently at least; for example, I think the popularity and general durability of the Ford EcoBoost V6 in a rugged and premium vehicle, helped drive acceptance for smaller turbo’s in domestic vehicles in a way that previous generations of turbo gasoline engines, including VW’s, never achieved. What I sometimes struggle with, is how our society (including myself!) has become so willing to pay a lot for convenience. Forty years ago a remote hiking trailhead parking lot was full of Beetles, Dodge Darts, Corollas and 510’s. Now it’s high-end Tacoma’s and Outbacks and X5’s. Because we “need” a truck and 4wd to go down a few miles of dirt road, and fit a few bikes or backpacks, whereas forty years ago many of us took pride in cramming all that gear in a small hatchback, and negotiating the bumps and ruts on 155-13 tires. Only Paul’s XB is the outlier at the trailhead now 😀
Regardless, thanks Jason for a detailed and informative read. I imagine that took a while to pull together.
I can recall the huge upgrades in comfort and trim between 1960 and 1980 in trucks. I have told the story before about how a friend of the family drove over in his new 72 Chevy pickup. It had air conditioning and woodgrain trim, and was the most luxurious truck I had ever seen up to that time.
What a great article. I’m assuming Chevy quit doing leather with WWII, but I’m fairly certain they were the first to bring it back to the C/K-Series c. 1995. I don’t recall seeing any ’70s or ’80s brochures touting anything fancier than a knit vinyl/cloth mix.
Keep in mind that back then, leather didn’t have the luxury connotation it has today in a pickup. It was there for ruggedness, and nobody was making vinyl that would hold up to abuse like leather.
Once sufficiently durable vinyl came along, leather was gone.
Let’s us not forget the first 4 door integral short bed pickup truck from International. IFS, front disc brakes, ps pb ac thick carpeting throughout brocade fabric upholstery in choice of 4 colors etc.
Available in 1973
Yup one of the many ways IH was well ahead of their time. Unfortunately too far ahead of their time.
The original 1/2 ton crew cab ~5.5′ bed pickup.
I think the main grumble in the “pickups have lost the plot” argument is the constant upsizing of each pickup line. I’ve had four, none of them full size (never needed anything that big), and the biggest one I owned (’96 Dakota, standard cab, 8′ bed, 4×4) still didn’t have me needing an aftermarket step to climb into the cab, I could stand outside the truck with my feet flat on the ground and still reach over the bed walls into the bed. Nowadays they’re talking steps to unfold out of the tailgate to allow you access the bed.
The real disappointment for me was the ’05 Ranger that followed by ’96 S-10. Both were supposedly identical truck: Club cab with a rear door (two on the Ford), big V-6, automatic, 2WD, standard bed (6.5′ approximately). Yet for some reason, Ford found it necessary to jack that truck four inches higher on its wheels than the Chevy. Which made it a lot less comfortable, more difficult to get an invalid wife in, and a lot harder to roll a motorcycle in the bed. Yes, it sorta looked like a 4×4 with all that empty space between the tire and the wheel well.
Why is beyond me. Not helped by what is the perfect pickup truck for my needs isn’t made anymore: The ElCamino. My idea of the perfect full-size pickup is the 80’s and 90’s Chevrolets, Fords and Dodges.
The closest thing to an El Camino sold in the USA today is probably the Honda Ridgeline, a niche product, as was the El Camino and Ranchero.
I saw a review of a Ridgeline (YouTube) and one reviewer was in his 30s while the other was in his 60s. The older gentleman said something to the effect: “There are people who say the Ridgeline is not a truck. Well if you walk into my garage and ask me for a hammer, I’m going to look at you and say “what’s the job?” I got a framing hammer, a roofing hammer, a ball peen hammer, a 5 lb sledge… A Ridgeline is a tool and you got to match the tool to the job.”
A story leading up to a point…
About ten years ago I managed the fleet at work. My car was needed elsewhere and some other swapping went on. I ended up with an ’05 Silverado 2500 regular cab, two-wheel drive. It sat up high.
Talking to a mechanic one day, he told me GM was sharing the suspension between the two- and four-wheel drive models. No doubt some differences existed but he said many parts were common due to saving money in production.
How applicable that was to your Ranger I do not know but it could have been a factor in the higher height.
In regard to heights now vs 80s and 90s, I posted an article about 15 months ago showing an early ’90s Dodge 4×4 next to some contemporary 4x4s. No difference in height or length between them.
Yes the modern pickup is designed primarily for 4wd since that is the most common configuration in many areas and very profitable.
So it is not uncommon for the 2wd suspension to be the 4wd set up minus the diff and axle shafts. Some have unique knuckles others have a stub axle to fill the hole and/or retain preload on the bearing.
Interesting overview Jason, and helps to put the popularity of pickups into a perspective, though I can’t say I’d have chosen a GMC Beau James with that interior. But each to their own and all that.
The Beau James interior is a little much. I had never heard of it until I stumbled upon it for this article.
However, I had heard of the Gentleman Jim. It is much more restrained (read as tasteful) with a console in the middle.
For a while, I saw a couple of Beau James and Gentleman Jim trucks in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. I lived in Vegas and spent a lot of time in LA and would see a Beau James at Irwindale Raceway often, and saw a GJ occasionally at a mall we went to quite often (Great egg rolls in the food court) a couple of years later, I saw several of each on dealer’s lots, but the main “oddball” I saw was the “Heavy Chevy” truck made to skirt the emission rules.I would imagine there was a GMC version, but I don’t remember it.
In my mind (as a Gen Xer) I recall that it roughly being about 1988 when the Z71 package was released and then 1994 when the new Ram was released that pickups started to make significant in roads into traditional passenger car buyers. The 1996 F150 and the “SuperCrew” accelerated that trend. Having grown up in farm country what I recall in the 80s was the local farmers having their standard cab long bed pickup trucks while their wives had Buicks, Oldsmobiles, Mercurys for going to town and for hubby to drive the family to church every Sunday.
I lament the loss of the manual transmission in 1/2 ton trucks but mostly for selfish reasons – I had a 2004 F150 Heritage (standard cab, long bed) with the 4.6 V8 and 4-speed auto. The automatic was because I was a used truck buyer and beggars can’t be choosers. I would have selected manual if I could but for the selfish reason of putting it in the gear I wanted and listening to the engine sing through the dual exhaust system I had installed.
I further lament the loss of front bench seats, but thank god they are still available (even in the new Yukon/Tahoe). Again it is a selfish want due to some wonderful memories that were made possible by bench seats in pickup trucks.
My grandfather’s younger brothers with the company truck, taken somewhere in the Los Angeles area around 1915. Much like the Buick at the top of this post, early trucks don’t seem to have been much different than the buckboard wagons from which they evolved.
Wow — that’s a remarkable picture… thanks for sharing it!
It really is!
Try as I did, I could not configure a new brown, diesel, manual transmission Big Three pickup for the pearl-clutchers.
Great article, and I thank you for it. Please don’t tell Ford Australia that the Model A pickup beat their ute to the market though!
The good old Aussie ute started off as a coupe with a pickup bed integrated into the body stead of a trunk. That A closed-cab pickup is a different beast.
Now we’re talking Jason. These softies today don’t know what a real truck is anymore. Who needs all these fancy features like padded and adjustable seats, radios and automatic transmissions. Heck, even synchromesh transmissions are a bit much for me, what happened to the art of double clutching? Trucks are for work and no one said work should be comfortable. No pain, no gain right?
Great post Jason! I know you focused on comfort and features, but the 1960s saw major chassis engineering changes to make trucks more comfortable and modern. I highlighted those in my post on the 1960-66 Chevrolet trucks, where the chassis was clearly engineered for ride comfort more than evere before.
No joking. A real man doesn’t need all those frilly things. Things like automatic transmissions are just an admission of being lazy. Men like that probably even wear deodorant.
Seriously, I thought about the improvements in suspensions, particularly away from the solid front axles. But that is an upgrade/improvement not as readily seen, so I steered clear!
My Dad preferred wagons to pick ups because the kids could sit in the back. He used his wagons for carrying the TVs that he used to fix, and later for maintaining his rental property. I’d ridden in a lot of older trucks, my Uncles ’49 Chevy, my cousins ’54 Ford, a friends ’55 Chevy. Even my Dad’s ’59 El Camino. My Father bought his first new truck in 1975, a nicely optioned Chevy stepside, which was the hot set up in the 70’s. He kept that truck for the next thirty years and I drove it a lot. It rode nice and had a nice interior, with a/c. My only real gripe was that the standard cab has limited leg room, with the steering wheel too close to my chest, and no storage behind the seat. I bought a ’66 Ford F250 which curiously had a much better seating arrangement. Extended cab trucks offer more leg room, the seats can lean back, and they incorporate some storage behind the seats. My Access cab ’07 F150 has about 18 inches of storage behind the seat accessible through a set of tiny clam shell doors. I could never see myself ever buying another standard cab truck.
Great post, Mr S., and fun.
I know it was a diversion, but I’m really diverted by some facts in your Missouri stats. My State of Victoria in Oz is a bit bigger, 88 million sq miles, with 49 million as agriculture (vs 46 mill on your 2/3 of Missouri), but pop is similar at 6.6 million.
Here’s the diverted part: there are less than 20,000 farms in Victoria (sizes not broken down), vs 95,000 in Missouri. (In fact, there are only 135,000 farms in the whole vast country, but then, some ranches in the Northern Territory are up to nearly 10,000 sq miles, but once you leave the entire east coastal fringe and its water, Oz farming is very different and MUST be gigantic to have any value).
Like the US, we’ve had 50 years of farm consolidations and consequent rural town decimation, but the US mid-west must have been utterly carpeted with small towns and farms by that measure (as I assume the 95,000 left is after the same process of consolidating). Now, ofcourse, a vastly different climate for the most part, and consequently things such as topsoil 10 feet deep vs topsoil that can blow away in bad winds in some parts here, etc.
However, that Missouri is still so fragmented for farming operations says a huge, huge amount about – dare I say it – political patterns, but most relevantly to CCérs, why the big US pick-up is US king. That right there is a stonking market on its own, plus the fact there simply has to be far more of those 6.1 million Missourans(?) living in rural areas. A pick-up, and biggie at that, makes sense: here, where the average Vic farm must (on those figures) logically be about 5 times larger, you’ll either own a proper truckie-truck or have things carted. Otherwise, the El Camino-esque ute and variants is sensible for the rest.
Such details, not obvious on the surface, explain a lot to the outsider who might tend to be a bit sniffy about US pick-ups. (Not me, you understand, no, I just…I have allergies).
The relevance of this ramble to this fine post is that for the pick-up to get posh makes especial sense if that’s the main thing y’all gonna be using.
Oh, and one other Victoria-related item. In 1933, a young designer for Ford Oz in the city of Geelong, Vic, met the brief for a vehicle that could both carry the sheep during the week and run over a Frenchman full of ploughed eggs on a Sunday.
No! Sorry, got my cultural references a bit confused there, meant to say “..which could also take his wife to church on Sundays”, and he invented the steel coupe utility, and THAT, even Ford agree, was the world’s first posh ute, and not no stinkin’ ass-freezer doorless Model T with a tray!
I would say 1980 is the tipping point. There were “luxury” trucks before that, a friend of mine had a garbage ’75 F150 that had endless electrical issues, but what I remember most about it was when the crank snout broke and the harmonic balancer tore up almost everything in front of the engine, and then came out and bounced along the shoulder of the road. I was behind him in my terrible 1977 Power Wagon and was happy my truck didn’t do anything but catch fire behind the dash. Twice I still regret not letting it burn.
My friend above bought a ’78 F150 and then an ’80 one, and we went and drove the Chevy, Ford, and Dodge ones and the loaded ones had a bunch of toys I had never seen before on them. My ’82 K5 Blazer had power windows, locks, tilt, cruise, tacky red interior, and a gutless 305. It was hands down the most reliable vehicle I’ve ever owned. Five years and 55K+ and it had a hunk of trim fall off on day one, a headlight go bad about 3 years in, and a battery at 2 years, just past the 36K mark. That’s it. A friend had an almost identical K10 pickup and it was as rock solid as my Blazer was. That truck had leather seats in it, but I think they were aftermarket. They looked factory though.