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Top-Rated Classic American Pickup Trucks

Vukasin HerbezJanuary 8, 2019

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16. Dodge Dude

Back in the late ‘60s, western-themed TV shows were a big deal in America. Sp Dodge figured out how to use that popularity in their favor. In that period, Dodge had a D Series line of pickup trucks. They were sturdy and dependable machines, but not as popular as Ford or Chevrolet products. However, Dodge did have a faithful customer base, which kept production going. Trying to warm up their aging D Series line, Dodge presented one of the most legendary special edition pickup trucks they called the Dude. The Dude was a regular D Series truck, but with a few important features. It had bucket seats, a tachometer and an improved interior.

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But what customers loved was the choice of lively colors. And the best feature of all was the powerful 383 V8 engine. It came as standard with over 300 HP, providing a significant performance. One feature that most car fans remember the Dude for is the big black “C” stripe on the sides. That was reminiscent of the Dodge muscle cars of the period. The Dude is also interesting for being the first special edition truck for the older crowd who watched western shows on TV. Yet it was popular with the younger people who were into muscle cars and performance, too.

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15. Kaiser Jeep M715

This interesting vehicle is primarily a military truck. But they sold a few of them to civilian customers. They based the M715 on the Jeep Gladiator pickup, introducing it in the late ‘60s for the U.S. Army. The engine was a dependable, strong six-cylinder with just 130 HP.

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However, it had a lot of torque, which was necessary to move this three-ton truck. They built the M715 to be easy to service and extremely durable, which it proved in the Vietnam War as well as several other conflicts. Kaiser Jeep produced over 30,000 M715s until 1969.

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14. Chevrolet El Camino

In 1957, Ford introduced the Ranchero. It was a half car-half truck they built on their passenger car design and chassis. It was an interesting alternative to a regular truck since it offered a decent payload. Yet it offered the drivability and size of a standard car. The Ranchero caught Chevrolet by surprise, so they didn’t have an answer for this model. The Ranchero became relatively popular, so Chevy needed something to fight Ford. Their answer came in 1959 in the form of the El Camino.

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They built this beautiful truck on an Impala frame featuring the same looks, engine, and cabin. Most customers immediately embraced it since the El Camino offered all the goodies of the Chevrolet main passenger lineup with a half-ton capacity. In fact, they made the El Camino more upscale than the Ranchero. It featured a better option list as well as more powerful engines. The straight-six was standard, but many customers optioned for the V8.

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13. Plymouth PT 125

In the Chrysler Corporation, Dodge was the truck division responsible for almost all memorable Mopar trucks. However, during a few short years, Plymouth offered a pickup truck they based on the Dodge architecture they named the PT 125. They presented the PT Series truck in 1937, and it was almost identical to the Dodge offerings of the same period.

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The production numbers were solid, so buyers seemed to like the new Plymouth truck. However, Plymouth ceased production in late 1941 when WWII halted passenger car manufacturing in the U.S. But it is unclear why the Plymouth didn’t restart this truck line after the war. Sadly, most people have forgotten the PT 125 truck today.

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12. Willys Pickup

Although most people associate the Willy name with Jeep and all-wheel drive trucks from the ‘40s onwards, the company produced several pickups before it. And they based one of the most popular designs they introduced in the late ‘30s on their economy car chassis.

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The main feature was the front-end styling, which was controversial by the standards of the day, but it made the Willys Pickup recognizable. Unfortunately, the other features were ordinary and the drive train was the same as on standard passenger cars.

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11. Chevrolet C/K Pickup

Back in the day, basic pickup construction was extremely simple. It included a ladder chassis, live axles on both ends, and rear-wheel drive. However, with the introduction of the Willys Jeep Pickup, the truck market got its first four-wheel-drive model. After that, a four-wheel-drive was something all the car manufacturers later accepted. The truck manufacturers of the ’50s only concentrated on trucks that could haul heavy, large items. But in 1960, Chevrolet introduced an all-new model they called the C/K.

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They produced it in various trim lines. The “C” in “C/K” meant it had rear-wheel drive, and the “K” stood for four-wheel drive. These trucks proved to be a sales hit, but they had one interesting aspect first. The 1960 Chevrolet C/K had an independent front suspension, which replaced the old and rugged live front axle. The “C” models with rear-wheel drive got the independent front, but “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 were numerous. First, the truck handled like a passenger car and was much more pleasurable to drive, the steering was easy and precise, and driving a truck on rough terrain was not a punishment but an enjoyable experience.

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10. Ford F-150 Lightning

The Ford F-150 Lightning is a legendary truck. It wasn’t the first of Ford’s limited-edition trucks but it was the best. Ford made the first generation they sold from 1990 to 1995 a true automotive icon. The basic idea was to make a muscle truck using a regular F-150. Ford put a lot of effort into designing and producing the first generation F-150 Lightning.

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First, there was the engine, a 5.8-liter V8 unit with GT40 heads, and a special camshaft. The power output was 240 HP with 340 lb-ft of torque. But, the Lightning had a revised suspension and transmission that translated to awe-inspiring acceleration times.

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9. Chevrolet C30 Dually

Chevrolet presented the C30 Dually in 1973 as a part of their major offensive on the global truck market. In fact, the C30 One-Ton Dually was the first crew cab Dually Chevrolet ever offered for sale and the first heavy-duty truck ever.

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Back then, nobody offered a Dually model with space for six passengers, heavy-duty components, and a long bed. However, in 1973, Chevrolet offered those exact models Also, they offered this truck with Chevrolet’s biggest 454 V8 and a four-speed transmission. The automatic was also available.

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8. Dodge Ram Cummins

There were diesel trucks before the ’80s-’90s Ram Cummins, but they weren’t as good as this one. Under the hood was a venerable 5.9-liter straight-six diesel engine with only 160 HP but a healthy 400 lb-ft of torque. However, for the 1991 model year, Dodge updated the truck, giving it more power and options.

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As a matter of fact, most diesel truck fans consider this to be the best year in the series. The power and torque figures seem low considering today’s engines, but this is an old truck with old technology. However, old technology doesn’t mean that the ’91 Ram Cummins is not a capable vehicle. With a 4×4 drivetrain, it is an extremely good truck.

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7. 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.

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The venerable 235 CID six-cylinder was standard. Also, buyers could get three truck bed lengths and various trim levels. They included a basic working truck or the luxurious Apache with four headlights, a heavily-chromed grill, and a 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.

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6. Dodge D-Series High-Performance Package

Back in the early ’60s, the Dodge lineup of trucks was behind Ford and Chevrolet. That was because their competitors offered newer models, more options, and wider engine choices. But Dodge didn’t give up. Instead, they introduced an interesting special edition, available from 1964 to 1966, that took the pickup world by storm.

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They called it their High-Performance Package and it featured a lot of go-faster goodies from Mopar. First, there was the mighty 426 Wedge V8 engine with 375 HP. At the moment, it was the biggest, most powerful engine they ever installed in a pickup truck. Also, it came with bucket seats in the interior, a 6,000 rpm tachometer, racing stripes, and a high-performance transmission.

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5. Chevrolet 454 SS

The basic idea behind this model was to offer the biggest available engine in the lightest full-size truck. It was basically the muscle car philosophy in a truck form. That is why the Chevrolet engineers took an ordinary 1990 Chevy 1500 pickup truck with the short bed option and added a massive 454 V8 engine. The enormous 7.2-liter V8 was good for 230 to 255 HP, which was a diminutive number.

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But it also had 385 lb-ft of torque, which made it fly down the road. Chevy borrowed the big-block engine from their heavy-duty truck lineup. The 454 SS was a durable but thirsty machine. But on the outside, the 454 SS was low key without any wild graphics or color choices.

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4. Shelby Dakota

The Dakota was a compact pickup truck from Dodge they sold between 1987 and 1996. It was dependable, tough-looking, and came with a wide arrange of engines and trim levels. But Dodge wanted more, so in the late ‘80s, the company decided to build a performance version. They wanted to have the legendary Carroll Shelby create it, who was working with Chrysler Corporation at the moment.

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Shelby took a regular production Dakota and installed a 5.2-liter V8 engine with 175 HP. Although the power output was relatively small, the Dakota was light and had lots of torque. And all that meant this compact truck had a convincing performance. Shelby also dressed up the Dakota with a special paint job and trim. Then, they added a roll bar and wheels, which made this little truck stand out on the streets.

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3. Chevrolet 3100

Despite the fact that all of America’s car industry was involved in the war effort from 1942 to 1945, Chevrolet’s designers planned ahead. So in 1947, Chevy introduced the 3100 series truck. It one of the first truly modern vehicles presented in post-war America. The 3100 was a revolutionary model in many ways.

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It featured modern styling with integrated fenders and a tilted windshield. It also had a bigger truck bed and wider track for better stability. Besides that, the 3100 offered three engine choices and three payload sizes of the truck. The buyers could choose three engines, again all three six-cylinder units: 216,235 and 261 cid and three payload levels: half-ton, three-quarter-ton, and one-ton. There were short and long-wheelbase versions and a panel van option. All of that gave it the nickname “Advanced Design,” which showed how innovative those trucks were. The Advanced Design Chevy managed to outsell Ford trucks several years in a row, too.

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2. Chevrolet Greenbrier Rampside

In the late 50’s Chevrolet presented the Corvair, a revolutionary compact car with a rear-mounted air-cooled flat-six engine. Despite the promising sales and initial reception, in the mid-60’s they discovered the Corvair was unstable. This killed its sales and gave Chevrolet bad press. However, before that happened, Chevrolet introduced the Greenbrier, a van they based on the Corvair. Using the same floorplan, engine, and drivetrain, the Greenbrier was a cool-looking and decent performing compact van.

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The engine was underneath the cabin or truck bed if you chose the pickup version. It could carry up to nine people or half a ton of weight. Since the floor was flat, Chevrolet introduced a practical Rampside version with a side ramp for easier unloading of the cargo. However, they only offered the Greenbrier for four years, from 1961 to 1965. Despite its qualities, the market simply favored more conventional models from Dodge and Ford.

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1. Chevrolet C/K “Square Body”

Chevy introduced the third generation of their popular C/K trucks in 1973. It was one of the biggest, most important trucks in their history. Not only it was advanced and well-engineered, but it also featured many firsts for Chevrolet and for the entire truck segment, as well. Chevy called it the “Square Body” for its boxy design. This third-generation C/K featured a computer-designed body with more space and comfort than ever before.

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The truck was bigger and tougher due to the new platform, revised suspension, and tougher axles. Customers had numerous cab configurations, special editions, engine options, and details to choose from, too. This made the third-generation C/K one of the best trucks in the world at the time. Chevy produced the C/K from 1973 to 1991 in the U.S. They also produced this model was in Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and South Korea. During the long production run, Chevrolet introduced a diesel engine as an option. This proved to be a highly popular choice in Europe and South America.

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