Curbside Classic: What Happened to Regular Cab Pickups?

When talking to older people one common theme is how times used to be simpler. In many ways they are right: cell phones, personal computers, and I-pods were a Buck Rogers fantasy not all that long ago.

Such sentiments can also apply to the automotive world. For somebody looking to purchase a new pickup in 1970, as my father did, the choices were pretty simple. Were you a Ford, Chevrolet, or Dodge man? Six-cylinder or V8?  8′ bed or 6 1/2′? Automatic or manual? After that, pick your color and you were finished. The order sheet was about the size of a postcard.

So have things changed? Yes. While each of the three traditional pickup manufacturers (Ford, Chevrolet, and Dodge / Ram / Fiat – whatever it is this week) claims to sell a regular cab pickup as per their “build your own” on their websites…

…good luck actually finding one.

Last summer, knowing I truly needed to change out vehicles, I started thinking about what would be the most logical for my situation.  A pickup was on the definite list, but what sort? The options now are much more vast (i.e., less simple) than in 1970 or even 1995. I didn’t see the logic of an extended cab, let alone a crew cab, pickup – I wanted an 8′ bed! Having just sold my $400 pickup after 4 years of use (another story for another day), I reasoned another regular cab pickup was the wisest choice. It would allow hauling all sorts of odds and ends as well as pull the occasional trailer. My only necessity would be to have 4 wheel drive as I am one of the lucky ones who gets to go to work when the weather gets bad.

Soon after, I experienced a profound moment of what I later diagnosed as brain flatulence: I stopped at a Ford dealer. This dealer  claims to have the largest selection of new F-150’s in the state. Pulling into the lot, I found most of their pickups resembled this red one.

The salesman was a real chipper fellow, skipping out to greet me before I even had my rig in park. He asked if I was looking for a pickup.  Indeed I was.  He proudly informed me they had 325 new F-150’s on the lot, so what I wanted was undoubtedly available. Smiling coyly, I looked him in the eye and said I sought a regular cab with 4 wheel drive and a V8.  His face dropped. There were none to be seen. We both knew it. Looking much less smug all of a sudden, he asked me to hang out there and consider that Platinum F-150 SuperCrew for a minute while he went to see what they had.

After waiting long enough to start entertaining my departure, he came rebounding back from the sales building. He said he had just the ticket and it was on its way. When asked if it was 4 wheel drive, he stammered that it wasn’t, although it was the only V8 of the THREE regular cabs they had in stock.

Just what has happened to regular cab pickups? Where can you find a newer one? With market forces evolving to demand the SuperJumboExtendedMegaCrew Cab pickups from all manufacturers, regular cab pickups appear to be on the Endangered Species List.

I’ve always had the (false?) impression pickups are all about utility. What happened to that?

Perhaps it is personal preference. Sitting up high does have its advantages.

Perhaps it is comfort. Getting to sit in the back seat of an Impala isn’t high on my “want to do” list, and that’s supposedly a full-size car.

Perhaps it is people no longer wanting to risk having four people in the cab and four more riding in the bed. It seems contemporaries and law enforcement alike both frown upon such endeavors.

Perhaps it is driven by the frequent perception of pickups and SUVs having superior safety when compared to automobiles. While not being sure how that perception began, it is real nonetheless. Just take a drive in a snowstorm to see who is the boldest (or who has landed on their roof).

Here is but one example of this mindset: Upon the birth of my child some years ago, I told a co-worker how the wife and I were pondering getting a different vehicle as neither her two-door Escort nor my Thunderbird were conducive to baby seats. She started gushing about the merits of having a crew-cab pickup, how safe they were, and it was the only way to go for her hauling around two children and how I should consider likewise. I told her I could fill the need far more efficiently by using a car such as a Mercury Grand Marquis.

Production numbers for pickups more than a few years old have been difficult to locate, especially the breakdown by cab type. Given my experience of a dealer having less than 1% of his inventory in regular cab pickups, it doesn’t appear promising.

When growing up in the 80’s pickups were straightforward. Most people had the 8′ bed pickups with regular cabs. Nobody could find, or would flip the coin for, an extended cab. On occasion somebody had a 6 1/2′ bed, but that was rare. You may or may not have a four-wheel drive pickup.

Life truly was simpler then.

Since my Day of Brain Flatulence I have had a realization. Regular cab pickups are still plentiful. However, all the newer ones seem to have a business or governmental name on the doors…

This use is disappointing but not surprising. These buyers are seeking the highest form of utility and practicality.

When talking to older people you will also hear them reflect on how things go in cycles. In politics, for instance, there is the normal cycle of which party is in power. These old folks also state if you wait long enough things will cycle back to where they started. This is encouraging. I do appreciate regular cab pickups for their versatility and utility.

Plus, we need them. What else can be used to haul firewood?