3. Ford Ranchero
By the late 1950’s, pickup trucks were an established car class with numerous models from several major manufacturers. Trucks were mechanically alike, featuring straight six engines and newly introduced V8s. Most included a ladder-type chassis and a live axle in the back. Always on the forefront of the market, Ford realized there was a market niche for smaller, more car-like trucks.
Some of their customers needed a usable vehicle but didn’t need to carry heavy loads. They also didn’t want or need the ruggedness of a regular truck. The solution was simple. They turned a full-size passenger car into a small pickup truck by chopping the body and adding a truck bed.
Ford introduced the Ford Ranchero in 1957 and it was a hit. It featured Ford passenger car styling and appointments, along with a payload similar to their full-size F-Series trucks. With the Ranchero, customers could enjoy the drivability of a regular sedan with the usability of a proper pickup. This was something that the market had never seen before.
Ford even offered a long list of optional extras, so customers could get a big V8 engine, a bi-color exterior, a radio and seat belts. They produced the Ranchero until 1979 in seven generations.
4. Jeep Gladiator
A direct descendant of the legendary Willys Jeep Pickup, they presented the Gladiator in 1963 with fresh new styling and great new features. The most important feature was the independent front suspension – the same as on the Chevrolet C/K. Jeep wasn’t the first with it, but it was the first four-wheel drive truck that featured that kind of front suspension.
It was not hard to mount a double wishbone suspension or A-arms with coil springs to the front end of a truck, which Chevy did in 1960. It was hard to do the same with the front axle going through the suspension components and powering the front wheels. As an all-wheel drive and off-road authority, Jeep was able to make it work. They presented the first truck ever with an independent front suspension and a 4×4 drivetrain, which was quite an achievement.
The Gladiator immediately became the best off-road truck on the market. Even the U.S. Army used special versions of it for various duties. Combined with powerful six-cylinder and V8 engines, the Gladiator was one of the most versatile trucks of the era.
5. Dodge Lil` Express Truck
The muscle car era affected trucks as well, which resulted in a few special versions and more powerful engines under the hoods of the pickups. Things were quiet until 1978 when Dodge introduced the Lil` Express Truck as the first full-size muscle truck in the world. The Lil` Express Truck’s importance lies in the strict rules of the late 70’s that robbed V8 engines of power and vehicles of performance. But Dodge found an interesting loophole in the regulations that declared pickup trucks didn’t need catalytic converters.
This meant Dodge could install a more powerful engine and allow it to breathe easier to deliver more punch than previous models or competitors. This is how the Lil` Express Truck came to be. Dodge took the standard D Series short bed truck, added a 360 V8 engine and put big truck-like stacked exhaust pipes behind the doors. They also installed a durable automatic transmission.
They gave it a red color scheme with signature decals and details, and lots of chrome trim. This wild-looking special model produced 225 HP, which was powerful in those days. Thanks to the revised drivetrain, it was the fastest accelerating domestic vehicle in 1978.
Just as a reminder, this pickup truck was faster than all Mustangs, Camaros, and Corvettes in 1978. The Lil` Express Truck was back in 1979 and it remained famous, but overall production numbers were relatively low at just under 3,000. Today, these cool-looking Dodge trucks are quite sought after and rare, so they command high prices.
6. Lamborghini LM002
The LM002 is somewhere between a truck and an off-road SUV since it has four doors, a double cab and a truck bed. This crazy creation debuted in the mid-80’s as Lamborghini’s attempt to enter the world of luxury SUVs and widen its appeal. The LM002 had a special chassis and suspension and Lamborghini’s famous V12 engine. The 5.2-liter unit with 400 HP was the same motor in the legendary Countach.
For those buyers who thought 400 HP was not enough, the factory could supply the LM002 with a 7.3-liter monster V12 engine from a racing boat. “The Rambo Lambo,” truck was a rugged, desert-going version of the supercars Lamborghini is well-known for making. Despite the enormous power and tough looks, the LM002 was a failure. It was hard to drive on the road and had an enormous thirst for fuel.
It also had some problems with off-road stability and was extremely expensive. Michelin made tires only for this model, which you still can find today at an astronomical price of $5,000 per tire. So, just to have your tires changed on your Lambo LM002, you will need $20,000. The production of this strange vehicle was not high. Only 301 examples left the Lamborghini factory, which is still a considerable number considering all the facts.
7. Mazda Rotary Pickup Truck
Among all the Japanese car companies, Mazda is famous for being the most innovative. That is why they have kept perfecting and investing in the Wankel engine concept since the late 60’s. The first Wankel-powered model was a little sports car called the 1100 Cosmo. Soon, Mazda started installing this engine into ordinary models.
The advantages of the Wankel engine are considerable. It had small dimensions and lighter weights compared to regular inline units. It also had a high revving capacity and simple construction. However, the disadvantages are also significant. Wankel engines have little torque and are not durable.
Since the construction is so specific, spare parts and components are hard to find. This is why it was strange when Mazda decided to install a small Wankel engine in its B-Series pickup truck in 1973. The B-Series was a common Mazda compact truck they sold globally. The version with the Wankel engine produced 110 HP from the diminutive 1.3-liter engine. This was more than enough since the whole truck was a little over one ton.
The interesting thing was the red line on this little engine was 7,000 rpm, which made driving a B-Series truck like driving a sports car. Unfortunately, a truck equipped with this engine wasn’t capable of towing a lot of weight, but it looked and sounded cool.
8. GMC Syclone
Back in the 1980s, GM experimented with turbocharged engines, which was in sync with the industry trends at the time. The most famous of them all was the Buick Grand National or Buick GNX. It featured a 3.8-liter turbocharged V6 engine with under five-second 0 to 60 mph times. With that kind of firepower, those black Buicks were terrorizing the drag strips and stop lights. By the early 1990’s, the Buicks were gone and GM engineers were looking where to install that turbo hardware.
They decided to make a sports truck out of a plebian Chevrolet S10 – a compact pickup with diminutive four-cylinder power. This is how the GMC Syclone was born. GM took an ordinary S10 body shell and installed a 4.3-liter V6 with a turbocharger for 280 HP. They included a special four-speed automatic they sourced from a Corvette and performance-based all-wheel drive.
The power figures don’t sound like much these days, but the Syclone was able to sprint to 60 mph in just 5.3 seconds, making it faster than contemporary Ferraris. The key was light weights, small dimensions and lots of torque from that turbocharged engine. But the price was significantly higher than the regular model. They built less than 3,000 – almost all of them in their signature black color.
Today, the GMC Syclone is a collector vehicle and a highly-desirable model. It is still quite fast and can hold its own against much younger, more powerful cars, too.
9. Chevrolet El Camino SS 454
When Ford introduced the Ranchero in 1957, Chevrolet didn’t have anything. Since Chevy and Ford are two of the car industry’s biggest rivals, Chevy introduced the El Camino two years later, in 1959. Similar to the Ranchero, the El Camino was a half car/half truck they built on an Impala chassis. It shared most of the design, interior components and engines with this car.
Although it was better looking than the Ranchero, the El Camino didn’t have the same market success. Chevy eventually downsized it to a mid-size platform. At the end of the 60’s, during the muscle car madness, the El Camino got the proper firepower and a special trim level – the SS. They first introduced the El Camino SS in 1967 and had a 396 V8 engine with 325 HP. That was plenty of power for a mid-size compact truck that delivered serious performance.
However, the first rule of the muscle car culture is bigger is always better. So, for 1970, the El Camino SS got its ultimate version with a brutal 454 V8 engine. The mighty 454 V8 LS6 was a 7.4-liter Chevrolet big block engine with a 450 HP official rating. The engine delivered around 500 HP in real life. It was a fire-breathing beast and one of the best engines of the muscle car era. The El Camino SS, it provided significant performance figures close to the best muscle cars of the day.
The biggest problem was the lightweight rear end. It meant that hard launches off the line were accompanied by much wheel spin and smoke. The El Camino SS 454 was one of the first vehicles people recognized as a collector model. They have become quite sought after and desirable. Today, finding a true El Camino SS 454 is hard and expensive.
10. Ford F-150 Lightning
The 60’s were a high watermark for American performance in terms of horsepower and torque ratings. It was also the era for looks, style, and many interesting, fast models. After the early 70’s and tight emission and safety laws, the power went embarrassingly down. It looked like the glory days of octane madness were gone. Fortunately, in the 90’s, American manufacturers started investing in performance and delivering faster, more powerful cars.
One of those pure performance machines was the crazy, cool F-150 Lightning. Ford conceived it in the early 90’s with only 280 HP. The Lightning was a performance truck with great driving dynamics. But, in 1999 with the new and totally redesigned generation of F-150 trucks, came the new Lightning. This time it was meaner looking, more aggressive and packed more firepower.
Ford installed its 5.4-liter V8 with a supercharger that was good for 360 HP at first and 380 HP later. This was more than the previous model and more than any truck on the market at that moment. The performance numbers were sublime. The Lightning could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in five seconds, topping 140 mph.
Those figures were more suited to the Porsche 911 than a regular pickup truck that could tow or carry cargo just like other F-150s. The second-generation Lightning proved to be quite popular and stayed in production for five years, up to 2004. During that period, Ford’s SVT department produced over 30,000 Lightning trucks, which are fantastic numbers.
11. Dodge Ram SRT 10
Produced from 2004 to 2006, the Dodge Ram SRT-10 is one of the most powerful, fastest pickups Dodge ever produced. That is a hard thing to say since Dodge always had some wild special versions of their trucks. But, just look at the specs. The 8.2-liter V10 engine produced over 500 HP with 0 to 60 times of fewer than five seconds. Its fuel economy was in the single digits.
A bright red or yellow paint job, two white racing stripes and big, shiny chrome wheels is what the SRT-10 is all about. It was something you couldn’t miss if you saw it on the street. With a price tag of over $45,000, the SRT-10 wasn’t exactly a sales hit. However, they produced a decent number of them in three-year long production run.
In 2005, Dodge introduced the Quad Cab option. They gave the SRT-10 another pair of doors and more practicality. The four-speed automatic was standard, but you could also get a six-speed manual straight from the Viper to go with the engine.
Interestingly, the SRT-10 sent all its power to the rear wheels since the size of the engine limited installing an all-wheel-drive system. Just imagine how quick the SRT-10 could have been if it had AWD.
12. Ford F-150 Raptor
Since modern trucks are equipped with powerful engines, 4×4 drivetrains and tough suspensions, it was only a matter of time before someone would offer a proper off-road performance truck. It was Ford in 2010 with the first-generation F-150 Raptor. Today, they offer a new, improved Raptor with amazing performance and capabilities. Before describing the current Ford Raptor, it is important to talk numbers.
The 3.5-liter turbocharged V6 produces 450 HP. It has a 510 lb-ft, 10-speed automatic transmission with sub-five-second acceleration times. The figures suggest this is an exotic supercar. However, this is a full-size pickup truck, with room for five people and a regular truck bed behind. This is not your ordinary pickup.
The Ford Raptor is the closest thing to a full Baja 1000 racing vehicle you can buy and put license plates on. Everything started in 2010 when Ford introduced the first-generation SVT Raptor. The truck buying public didn’t expect such a move. But, they were fascinated by the truck`s looks, performance, and capabilities. The idea behind the Raptor was to construct the best, fastest off-road truck money could buy.
Ford did that by installing numerous chassis and suspension upgrades, as well as a powerful engine. The best thing about it is that Ford basically prepared an extreme off-road truck with a warranty, as well. With multiple driving modes, a 10-speed automatic gearbox and an adaptive suspension, you can take rock crawling, desert crossing or mud dipping. However, it is still a normal everyday car, too. Ford did a great job combining the toughness of an extreme off-road truck with the usability of a regular modern pickup.
The trucks on this list are interesting, innovative and even performance machines. If you’d like to own one of these street monsters, you’d better start looking now. Their prices are going to go up fast and they will be hard to find.