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20 Most Influential Pickup Trucks That Made America

Vukasin Herbez July 31, 2018

Every year, millions pickup trucks are produced in the U.S., as well as other countries in the world. Despite advancements in design, technology and materials, pickup trucks haven’t changed in the last 100 years. Modern trucks are capable, highly sophisticated machines, but they do the same work in the same way as their predecessors.

The pickup trucks class is old as the car culture itself. Early on, there were shops that turned passenger cars into practical trucks. In the 1920s, the first manufacturer-designed trucks entered the market. This officially started the class which endured many changes and recessions. They proved to be one of the most popular vehicles on the American market.

Here is a list of the 20 most significant pickup trucks that helped create this segment. All these trucks are legendary machines that helped shape the modern pickup truck. You may know some of these models. However, car fans and experts have forgotten some of these trucks, too. Even so, all are equally valuable pieces of American car history and a part of the long pickup legacy.

  1. Chevrolet 490 Series Half Ton

Chevrolet introduced the 490 Series Half Ton in 1918. They based it on the new 490 Sedan. In fact, the Half-Ton was the first specially-designed pickup in the world. Chevrolet intended to present this model as a light duty delivery vehicle rather than a chopped off sedan body. The power came from a four-cylinder engine standard in the range.

Interestingly, this truck came from the factory without the body. Customers were supposed to buy their own cab and truck bed according to their needs. Chevrolet sold a running chassis with the engine, as well as transmissions, wheels, hoods and fenders. Buyers had to look for the rest. But in those days, there were many local body shops providing services.

They could construct open or closed trucks per their customer’s specifications. Some trucks even had a few bodies they could switch for different applications. The 490 Series truck stayed in production over 10 years. Chevrolet produced a big number of them, which made other truck manufacturers want to design their own models.

  1. Ford Model T Roundabout With Pickup Body

Everybody knows about the Model T since it singlehandedly changed the car industry. The Model T introduced new ways of production, establishing Ford Motor Company as an industry leader. Ford produced over 15 million Model T cars. This made it a record holder for almost 50 years until the VW Beetle surpassed it. It was an iconic model in every aspect. The Model T was also a car that put the world on wheels, starting the era of motorization.

It is only natural that the Model T had a big influence on the pickup class. When Ford introduced it, many independent body shops started chopping regular models into trucks. It took Ford several years to understand they should include a pickup version in their lineup. Eventually, they introduced the first factory pickup in 1925. Ford called it the Model T Roundabout with Pick Up Body.

It was just one of 15 body styles Ford offered for the Model T, but it was also one of the most important. Sales proved that the pickup was in demand. And even though it didn’t have much towing capacity or payload, it was a practical, dependable vehicle.

Even after they discontinued the Model T in 1927, the pickup version stayed in production for a little longer. It influenced many other brands to present similar vehicles. Today, Ford is the biggest pickup manufacturer in the world. This is thanks to this small truck with a 20 HP engine and big ambitions.

  1. Jeep Willys Pickup

Willys was an economy car manufacturer before WWII that produced Jeeps for the U.S. Army from 1941 to 1946. When the war ended, Willys found it hard to transfer to passenger car production, so they had a large number of Jeep engines, chassis, and components. The logical decision was to produce Jeeps for civilian use, mostly as farm and utility vehicles. Willys thought that ex-military personnel would buy Jeeps as everyday cars after they got to know them on the battlefield.

It turned out that Willys was right and civilian Jeeps did have a market in post-war America. However, the company wanted to go further. So they introduced a line of pickup trucks with Jeep mechanics, engines and design, but with a twist. The Willys Jeep pickups they introduced in 1947 were four-wheel drive. They were also much more capable than any regular pickup truck available at the moment.

Today, four-wheel drive trucks are nothing special. Most new models are equipped with 4×4 drivetrain as standard, but back then, it was revolutionary. Although early Willys Jeep trucks had small 2.3-liter four-cylinder engines with 63 HP, they were tough, capable trucks with great traction, pulling power and durability.

Willys produced a couple of variants, including a barebones chassis for custom bodywork. Over the years, Willys introduced bigger six-cylinder engines. They stopped production of this original model stopped in 1965 after building more than 200,000.

  1. Chevrolet Task Force

After the successful Advanced Design generation, Chevrolet presented the Task Force in 1955. Afterward, they continued to improve the product with more options and better designs. Capturing the essence of America’s ’50s styling, the Chevy Task Force was better with the introduction of two V8 engines, the 265 and 283 CID. It also offered automatic transmission as an option.

The venerable 235 CID six cylinder was standard. Also, buyers could get three truck bed lengths and various trim levels. The included a basic working truck or the luxurious Apache with four headlights, a heavily-chromed grill and two-tone exterior. The Task Force generation showed that Chevrolet viewed the truck segment as equal in importance to the passenger car line up. This is because they invested heavily in designs, equipment, engines and options.

  1. Chevrolet Cameo

Before the 1955 to 58 Chevrolet Cameo, pickups had a step side design of the truck bed. This means that beds often had sculpted rear fenders and wooden sides. It was a production method dating back to the first trucks of the early ’20s. But, Chevrolet, one of biggest pickup manufacturers in the U.S., introduced the Fleetside truck bed on the 1955 model. The Fleetside construction was revolutionary in many ways.

First, the truck bed looked elegant and flush with lines of the cabin and the whole design of the truck. Second, the Fleetside allowed the maximum width of the truck bed, making the truck more capable to carry a wider load. Third, the innovative construction was more durable and stronger. The first model featuring this construction solution was the Chevrolet Cameo, but at first, it wasn’t successful.

The Cameo was an upscale version of a standard Chevy truck. So, it featured a V8 engine, updating equipment and a higher price. Some earlier versions even had a Fleetside bed of fiberglass instead of steel. They discontinued the Cameo as a model in 1958. However, the Fleetside style continues and all truck manufacturers use it today.

  1. Ford Ranchero

By the late ’50s, pickup trucks were an established car class with numerous models from several major manufacturers. Trucks were mechanically similar to each other featuring straight six engines and newly introduced V8s. They all had a ladder-type chassis and a live axle in the back, as well. Always on the forefront of the market, Ford realized there was a market niche for smaller, more car-like trucks. Some customers wanted a usable vehicle but didn’t need to carry a heavy load.

They also didn’t want the ruggedness of a regular truck. The solution was simple: turn a full-size passenger car into a small pickup truck by chopping the body and adding the truck bed. Ford introduced the Ranchero in 1957 and it was a hit. The Ranchero featured Ford passenger car styling and appointments along with a payload like 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 the market had never seen before. Ford even offered a long list of optional extras, so customers could get the big V8 engine. They could also opt for a two-color exterior, a radio and seat belts. Ford produced the Ranchero until 1979 in seven generations.

  1. Jeep Gladiator

A direct descendant of the legendary Willys Jeep Pickup, they introduced the Gladiator in 1963 with fresh styling and new features. The most important was the independent front suspension, like on the Chevrolet C/K. Jeep wasn’t the first, but it was the first four-wheel drive truck featuring that kind of front suspension. It was easy to mount a double wishbone suspension or A-arms with coil springs to the front end of a truck like 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, though. They presented the first truck with an independent front and 4×4 drivetrain. At the time, this 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 them for various duties. With a combination of powerful six-cylinder and V8 engines, the Gladiator was one of the most versatile trucks of the era.

  1. Chevrolet C/K Pickup

Back in the day, basic pickup construction was extremely simple. It was just a ladder chassis, live axles on both ends and rear wheel drive. With the introduction of the Willys Jeep Pickup, the truck market got its first four-wheel drive model, something all manufacturers later accepted. Despite the gorgeous looks, trucks of the ’50s were crude machines with almost no driving comfort, only for hauling and carrying stuff.

In 1960, Chevrolet introduced an all-new model they called the C/K. Although they produced it in various trim lines, the C stood for rear wheel drive and the K stood for four-wheel drive. The trucks proved to be a sales hit and influential, but they had one interesting industry first. The 1960 Chevrolet C/K had an independent front suspension, replacing the old, rugged live front axle.

The C models with rear-wheel drive got the independent front, but the K models with 4×4 retained the live axle. Today, all trucks have this type of suspension, but in 1960, Chevrolet was the first. The advantages of this type of construction were numerous. First, the truck handled like a passenger car and it was much easier to drive.

Also, the ride comfort was much improved, and the steering was precise. Finally, driving a truck on rough terrain was not a punishment, but an enjoyable experience.

  1. Dodge Lil’ Express Truck

The muscle car era affected trucks, too, which resulted in a few special versions. They added more powerful engines under the hoods of pickups, but nothing else changed until 1978. This is when Dodge introduced the Lil’ Express Truck as the first full-size muscle truck in the world. The secret of the Lil’ Express Truck and its importance lies in strict rules of the late ’70s that robbed the V8 engines of power and performance.

But Dodge found an interesting loophole in regulations that declared that pickup trucks didn`t need catalytic converters. This meant Dodge could install a more powerful engine and allow it to breathe easier. This meant trucks could deliver more punch than previous models or competitors. And 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, red color scheme with signature decals and lots of chrome trim.

This wild-looking special model had 225 HP, which was considered powerful in those days. And thanks to the revised drivetrain, it was the fastest accelerating domestic vehicle in 1978. In fact, this Dodge pickup truck was faster than Mustangs, Camaros, and Corvettes in 1978. The Lil’ Express Truck was back for 1979 and remained famous.

However, the overall production numbers were relatively low with just under 3,000 of them. Today, these revolutionary Dodge trucks are rare, so they command high prices.

  1. Chevrolet C30 One Ton Dually

Officially, C30 One Ton Dually is a part of the third generation C/K model, but it is so important it is a separate entry on this list. Chevy introduced it in 1973 as a part of their offensive on the global truck market. The C30 One Ton Dually was the first crew cab dually they offered and the first heavy-duty truck ever.

Today, all manufacturers produced heavy-duty trucks in various configurations. But then, nobody offered a Dually model with space for six passengers, heavy-duty components and a long bed. In 1973, Chevrolet offered the C30 and it soon became popular and influential. This truck came with Chevrolet biggest gasoline 454 V8 and a four-speed or automatic transmission.

  1. Dodge Dakota

There are full-size trucks like the Ford F-150 or Chevrolet Silverado and there are compact size trucks like the Toyota Hilux or Ford Ranger. However, during the late ’80s and ’90s, there was also a mid-size class of trucks led by the Dodge Dakota.

As one of the industry’s leaders, Dodge noticed buyers of full-size trucks often didn’t need all that power and space. Also, the buyers of compact size trucks often needed more power and usability. They decided the solution was to build a mid-size truck. It would have smaller dimensions than a full-size Dodge, but feature optional all-wheel drive.

It would also need a decent towing capacity and payload. They planned to price it between their big and small models to appeal to wider audiences. Dodge was right and in 1987, after they presented the Dakota, sales went up significantly.

The Dakota was the first mid-size truck on the market. It was affordable and usable and had better fuel economy than bigger models. Although the Dakota wasn’t the only model on the market, it was the most successful. However, Dodge retired it in 2011 with no replacement so far.

  1. Ford F-150 Lightning

The ’60s were a high watermark for American performance in horsepower and torque ratings. It was also important for changes in style and the number of interesting, fast models. After the early ’70s tight emission and safety laws, power was embarrassingly down. Sadly, it looked like the glory days of octane madness was gone.

Fortunately, in the ’90s, American manufacturers started investing in performance, delivering faster, more powerful cars to the market. And one of those pure performance machines was the crazy, cool F-150 Lightning. Ford conceived it in the early ’90s with only 280 HP. So, the Lightning was a performance truck with great driving dynamics.

But, in 1999 with a new, redesigned generation of F-150 trucks, came the new Lightning. This time it was much meaner looking, aggressive and packed more firepower. Ford installed its 5.4-liter V8 with a supercharger which delivered 360 HP at first and 380 HP later. This was more than the previous model as well as more than any truck on the market back then. The performance numbers were sublime.

In fact, the Lightning could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in five seconds and top 140 mph. Those figures were more suited for a Porsche 911 rather than a pickup truck that could tow or carry loads like other F-150s. The second generation Lightning proved to be quite popular, so it 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.

  1. International Harvester Travelette

Even though International doesn’t produce passenger pickups these days, once upon a time, this company was highly influential in the truck market. The reason was the 1961 International Harvester Travelette.

They introduced the Travelette in 1958 as the first truck that could carry more than three people. But in 1961, International introduced the first six-passenger, four-door, double cab trucks, encouraging other companies to produce similar trucks.

  1. Dodge Ram Cummins W250/W350

Even though the late ’80s Ram was a bit outdated, people still regarded it as one of the best trucks money could buy. And that was due to its rugged construction and dependability. But its real climb to fame was the diesel version.

It featured a Cummins six-cylinder engine with 5.9-liters of displacement, 160 HP and 400 lb-ft of torque. Although those figures don’t sound like much today, for 1980 they were respectable. Also, the Ram came with especially good driving dynamics.

  1. Ford Super Duty

The Super Duty class started in the early ’70s. It soon became popular with customers who needed big trucks with lots of features for work, towing and construction. And one of the best machines was the Ford Super Duty they introduced in 1999.

Buyers could choose from several different engines. But the most powerful were the Triton V8, the V10, and two Powerstroke V8 diesel engines. The Ford Super Duty took the market by storm with its modern design, uncompromised usability and performance.

  1. Studebaker L5 Coupe 1939

Just a small percentage of today`s car enthusiasts remember Studebaker since they closed the company in 1966. However, Studebaker was active on the pickup market with some of the most beautiful classic trucks they ever made.

Based on its passenger car line up, the 1938 L5 Coupe was an elegant, high-quality pickup truck, despite its name. It featured lots of cool details, spare wheels on the fenders and luxury equipment. It wasn’t a big sale success. However, it was influential since it showed that trucks can be elegant creations and not just rugged workhorses.

  1. Dodge Ram SRT 10

The Dodge Ram SRT 10 is one of the craziest pickup trucks they ever made. How else can you describe an 8.3-liter, Viper-powered V10 truck with 500 HP and a manual transmission? Dodge unveiled the Ram SRT 10 in 2004 and produced it throughout 2006. The SRT 10 was the most powerful truck they ever built.

But, it was also a capable street racer with acceleration times close to the Porsche Turbo. Dodge limited its production, so the price was significantly higher than the rest of the Ram lineup. However, to this day, the SRT 10 has remained one of the most influential trucks.

  1. Dodge Power Wagon

Dodge has a long history in the pickup field. And one of the best known, most influential is the legendary Power Wagon. This was a model Dodge introduced in the ’40s that combined rugged truck construction with four-wheel drive.

The six-cylinder engine in the Power Wagon wasn’t particularly strong. But the Power Wagon was extremely capable and dependable. So, it was popular with customers who needed a tough workhorse. It remained in production for almost 20 years and they even sold it internationally.

  1. Nissan Hardbody 4×4

Although this is not the American truck you expected, Nissan designed and sold it in the U.S. The Nissan Hardbody 4×4 was an extremely popular compact truck option in the ’80s. Nissan produced it with numerous small gasoline engines and a highly capable 4×4 system.

Due to its low weight and quality construction, the Hardbody 4×4 was for buyers who needed a small but dependable vehicle for deliveries, small business and repair work. Despite being out of production for almost 30 years, you can still see them around.

  1. Kaiser Jeep M715

This interesting vehicle is primarily a military truck, but they sold a few of them to civilian customers. Kaiser based the M715 on the Jeep Gladiator pickup. They presented the M715 in the late ‘60s, producing it for the U.S. Army.

The engine was a dependable, strong six cylinder with just 130 HP. However, it had a lot of torque, which was needed to move this three-ton truck. They built the M715 to be easy to service. It was also extremely durable, which it proved in the Vietnam War and several other conflicts. Kaiser Jeep produced over 30,000 M175s until 1969.

These are the 20 most influential pickup trucks that made America. Some are classics while others are soon-to-be classics, but all of them had a strong influence on the American truck industry. Have you chosen your favorite?

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