The Most Iconic Classic American Pickup Trucks
It’s fair to say that pickup trucks have come an incredibly long way from their humble beginnings. Back in the early 1900s, they were seen as nothing more than workhorses. Then, automakers began paying more attention to the styling, adding modern comfort and luxury features, and experimenting with different body configurations all to shape the trucks that we know today.
Check out some of the best classic American pickup trucks. There’s a great mix of some of the most iconic ones, as well as the under-the-radar trucks that are often overlooked.
Ford Model TT
The Ford Model TT is the oldest pickup truck on this list. In fact, the Model TT is the first civilian pickup truck ever made. Apart from shaping the automotive industry, Henry Ford is also responsible for creating the world’s first pickup truck.
A brand new Ford Model TT would cost just $600 dollars back in 1917, which is equivalent to around $12 000 today. The truck did not come with any bed installed. Instead, the owner could make his own truck bed or order one from a contractor. That way, the Model TT remained extremely versatile and could be tailored to the owners’ individual needs.
Ford Flathead V8
Only 15 years after releasing the first-ever civilian pickup truck, the Ford Motor Company revolutionized the automotive market yet again. The newly-unveiled 1932 Ford Flathead V8 was the first pickup truck to be fitted with an eight-cylinder engine. Little did they know that the V8 motor would remain a favorite motor choice among enthusiasts for decades to come.
The Ford Flathead V8 was fitted with a 3.6L V8 motor under the hood. The engine produced 65 horsepower. Note that the Flathead photographed above is a modified unit.
Dodge Brothers Merchants Express
Contrary to popular belief, the Dodge brothers never made their own pickup truck. Although the 1929 Merchants Express was built by the Dodge Brothers company, the automaker had already been acquired by Chrysler by then. What’s more, the two Dodge brothers had died in the early 1920s. Nevertheless, the Merchants Express can be considered the grandfather of the RAM trucks of today.
The Merchants Express came powered by a four-cylinder powerplant that peaked at 45 horsepower. Back in its day, the Dodge Brothers Merchants Express was a stylish, modern, and innovative pickup truck.
Chevrolet has also had its fair share of innovative, revolutionary pickup trucks. The Chevrolet Half-Ton, first introduced for the 1938 model year, was one of the trucks that defined the pickup truck industry for decades to come. The small 2-door truck was powered by a flat-six motor. The Half-Ton was praised for its durability, much like the other vehicles produced by Chevrolet at the time.
The Half-Ton was one of the first pickup trucks on the market that was made to be more than just a workhorse. Chevy’s pickup featured its own, stylish design that had never been seen on a truck before.
Hudson C28 Big Boy
Did you know that the now-defunct Hudson automaker used to manufacture a pickup truck? The Hudson Big Boy was produced for 4 years starting in 1939, as well as a few more years after World War 2. The massive 3/4 ton truck was enormous, even for its time. The truck was built on either a 116 or 128-inch wheelbase.
The stylish pickup truck resembled the Hudson Commodore sedan from the same era. Interestingly, the Detroit-based Hudson manufactured different pickup trucks throughout the decade! The Hudson Motor Car Company ended up filing for bankruptcy back in 1954.
Chevrolet Advance Design
The Advance Design is a series of pickup trucks manufactured by Chevrolet between 1947 and 1955. Back then, Chevrolet produced the best-selling pickup trucks. A quick peek at the 1955 model photographed above is enough to see why. The Advance Design Series is iconic for its spectacular styling.
The Advance Design wasn’t only about the exterior styling, though. The light and medium-duty trucks were incredibly capable. Three different engine variants were available, ranging from a 3.5L flat-six in the earlier models up to a 4.3L flat-six for the last two years of production.
Dodge Power Wagon
Much like the Ford Motor Company, Dodge has had its fair share of innovative pickup trucks over the years. Perhaps one of the most notable ones is the 1946 Dodge Power Wagon, which debuted as the world’s first pickup truck with a 4×4 powertrain. The iconic Power Wagon nameplate has stuck around ever since the mid-1940s.
The original Power Wagon was derived from the Dodge WC, a series of trucks that were mainly developed for military use. The mean-looking 1946 Power Wagon marked a new beginning of 4×4-powered pickup trucks.
NAPCO Chevrolet and GMC Trucks
With the debut of the Power Wagon in 1946, Dodge has skyrocketed in front of its competitors. Chevrolet desperately had to create the alternative for the innovative four-wheel-drive Power Wagon and headed to NAPCO for help. The company began building four-wheel-drive Power Kits that would turn regular Chevrolet pickup trucks into capable 4WD machines.
By 1956, NAPCO Power Kits became a factory-installed option that was fitted directly on the truck’s assembly lines. Today, NAPCO Chevrolet pickup trucks are highly sought-after by collectors
International Harvester Travelette
You have probably never heard of the International Harvester Travelette unless you’re a hardcore pickup truck enthusiast. This funky truck dates back to 1957. The now-defunct International Harvester specialized in manufacturing agricultural equipment, as well as cars and trucks. The automaker saw the rise in demand for pickup trucks as non-work vehicles, the final product was simply genius, and other manufacturers quickly took inspiration from it.
The International Harvester Travelette was the first civilian pickup truck that could take up to 6 passengers. Its 3-door crew cab had never been seen before. What’s more, the newer models produced after 1961 featured a 6-passenger 4-door cab.
Chevrolet Cameo Carrier
The stylish design of the Chevrolet Cameo Carrier would become a heavy inspiration for other automakers in the coming decade. The stylish truck was a part of the Chevrolet Task Force series, a successor to the previously mentioned Advance Series. The Task Force series was produced until 1961.
The truck debuted in 1955 and instantly made headlines due to its innovative wrap-around windshield, which had never been seen on a pickup truck before. The truck was fitted with various modern features, such as an automatic transmission and power steering.
Dodge first introduced the iconic Ram moniker for the 1981 model year. The pickup truck featured a Ram hood ornament that could be found on Dodge vehicles built between the 1930s and the 1950s.
The first-generation Dodge Ram was sold with a variety of different engine options. The base model was fitted with a 225 cubic inch flat-six motor, while the most powerful available engine was the 5.9L 360 cubic inch V8 motor. Within the next couple of years, Dodge released an iconic variant of the Ram powered by what could very well be America’s favorite diesel powerplant.
Dodge Ram- Cummins
After the release of the first-generation Dodge Ram, the pickup truck was in desperate need of an update. After all, the Dodge Ram was essentially a refreshed Dodge D-Series, a platform that dated back to the 1970s. Dodge had to find a way to increase sales of the Ram, and the Cummins Turbo Diesel powerplant was the answer.
Dodge released the Cummins-powered Dodge Ram in 1989. Unlike its competitors, the 5.9L Cummins was a flat-six turbocharged powerplant and not a V8. The heavy-duty variant of the Ram proved to be a great success, as Dodge saw an increase in sales for the first time.
Chevrolet C/K (2nd Generation)
The Chevrolet C/K Series was one of the longest-running production vehicles in the history of America. In fact, the first generation C/K debuted all the way back in 1959. Four generations and over four decades later, the Chevrolet C/K was discontinued in 2002. One of the most notable C/Ks is the second generation, which debuted for the 1967 model year.
The 1967 second-gen C/K defined a new era of pickups styling-wise. Chevrolet moved away from the iconic design language of the 1950s and presented a new, modern look. Other automakers soon followed. All second-gen C/K owners should consider themselves incredibly lucky, as the truck was only in production for 5 years.
Ford F-Series (2nd Generation)
The second-generation F-Series may only have been in production for three years, though it has quickly become an icon of the 1950s. The second-generation was more capable than its predecessor. The new F-Series also featured revised motors, an improved chassis, and a larger size.
What’s more, Ford was inspired by the Chevy Cameo Carrier and updated the truck’s cabin. In 1956, Ford fitted the F100 with a wraparound windshield for the truck’s final year. The 1956 F100 has become very sought-after by collectors ever since.
The Syclone is one of the most sought-after high-performance pickup trucks today. Back when it was released in 1991, the Syclone was anything but demanded. In fact, GMC only built around 3000 units before shutting down Syclone’s production line less than a year after its debut.
The GMC Syclone was the fastest production pickup truck at the time of its debut. The pickup, based on the GMC Sonoma, packs 280 horsepower from its turbocharged 4.3L V6 powerplant. It’s able to sprint to 60 miles per hour in only 4.3 seconds!
Shelby Dodge Dakota
What comes to your mind when thinking of high-performance pickup trucks? The GMC Syclone or the Lil’ Red Express Truck have become famous, yet the Shelby Dodge Dakota seems to have gone under the radar. Here’s why it deserves your attention.
The Shelby Dakota was only available for the 1989 model year, it was the first rear-wheel-drive vehicle that Carroll Shelby had modified in decades. At the time of its release, it was the world’s second-highest-performing pickup truck, right after the Lil’ Red Express. Only 1500 units were made in total!
Dodge B Series
The legendary Dodge B Series debuted at around the same time as the previously mentioned Chevrolet Advance Design series. The American automaker manufactured the B Series from 1948, and production ceased in 1955. The half-ton truck was fitted with a 95-horsepower straight-six as standard, while the 3/4 ton packed a 108-horsepower flat-six powerplant under the hood.
The main feature of the B Series was the innovative pilothouse cabin. The cabin featured great visibility and reduced blind spots dramatically, compared to other trucks from the same era.
The GMC 5-Window is a stylish pickup truck that has become an icon of the 1940s automotive design language. The stylish 5-Window seen in the photo above was a part of the previously mentioned Chevrolet Advance Design series, which saw many great-looking trucks sold under both GMC and Chevrolet brands. The series was introduced in 1947 and was discontinued in 1954.
The small pickup truck makes for a great base for restoration projects, as well as rods. A restored GMC 5-window is worth tens of thousands of dollars today.
The Comanche is yet another iconic pickup truck manufactured by Jeep. Unlike the Gladiator or the Scrambler, the small Comanche was not available with any V8 powerplant. Instead, the engine variants ranged from a diesel 2.1L flat-four up to a 4.0L flat-six that produced 177 horsepower.
The Comanche was developed to provide an alternative for Japanese compact trucks, as the demand for small non-work pickups was on the rise throughout the 80s. The Comanche was offered either in short or long-wheelbase variants. The truck was replaced in 1992 by the Dodge Dakota.
The Jeep Scrambler is perhaps America’s favorite compact pickup truck. The Jeep CJ-8 was first unveiled for the 1981 model year. Technically, the truck is a long-wheelbase variant of the CJ-7. The Scrambler was produced by Jeep up until 1986, as the sales never really took off. In its best year, Jeep sold just 8,355 units of the Scrambler.
The Scrambler CJ-8 can easily be identified by its unique removable half-cab, a feature that distinguished the truck from its competitors and the rest of the Jeep lineup. The Scrambler name actually refers to a common stylistic package available for the CJ-8, which included decals and a special set of wheels.
The Hummer H1 is admired for its off-roading capabilities, reliability, massive style, and military-like styling. After all, Arnold Schwarzenegger himself convinced AM Corporation to create a civilian version of the Humvee military vehicle and sell it to the public. The Hummer H1 released in 1992 was essentially a military Humvee converted for use on public roads.
Alongside the traditional body style of the Hummer H1, AM General Corporation offered the massive truck in a pickup configuration as well.
Many people don’t know that Studebaker even existed. After all, the automaker did go bankrupt back in the 1960s. The E-Series was a series of pickup trucks manufactured by Studebaker between 1955 and 1960. Ultimately, the E-Series was replaced by the light-duty Studebaker Champ that was built up until 1964.
The trucks were available with various different powerplants. The base model came powered by a 92-horsepower 3.0L flat-six, while the top of the range variant was fitted with a 4.7L V8 motor.
Ford F-Series (3rd Generation)
The iconic second-generation of the Ford F-Series was replaced by its successor for the 1957 model year. The exterior styling was refreshed, and the iconic wraparound windshield remained on the small truck. Gone were the wide front fenders in favor of smoother, clean lines.
The stylish third-generation Ford F-Series became a hit nearly overnight. Today, the F-100 built between 1957 and 1960 is just as sought-after as its predecessor. Ultimately, the small F-100 was dropped in 1983 in favor of the Ford Bronco.
Without a doubt, the Ford Bronco is one of America’s favorite vehicles of all time. The iconic truck was the first SUV ever to be produced by Ford. It debuted for the 1966 model year and was discontinued in 1996. However, the American automaker has revived the Bronco moniker, the all-new Bronco will hit the market once again in 2021.
Ever since the first generation, Ford has offered the Bronco in a pickup body variant. The available engine options have varied from a 2.8L flat-six up to a 4.9L small-block V8.
Chevrolet 454 SS
Not many auto enthusiasts know that Chevrolet’s powerful 454 cubic inch V8 motor used to be fitted in a pickup truck. The pickup truck in question, known as the Chevrolet 454 SS, was Chevy’s answer to the souped-up GMC Syclone. The truck was produced for just three years starting in 1990.
The Chevrolet 454 SS was powered by, you guessed it, the 454 cubic inch V8 motor that produced 230 horsepower. The powerful truck was based on the fourth-generation C/K Series, the smallest pickup offered by Chevrolet at the time.
The iconic Dodge D Series debuted in 1961 as a successor to the C Series. Initially, the base model D-Series was fitted with the Chrysler 5.2L 318 cubic inch V8 motor. However, larger powerplants (except for the Hemi) were available as extra options.
The D Series had one of the longest production runs of any pickup truck in this lineup. In fact, the Dodge D Series was produced from 1961 all the way until 1993. The D Series saw 3 different generations during its production run, before being replaced by the Dodge Ram.
In order to boost sales of the D-Series, Dodge introduced the “Adult Toys From Dodge” campaign. The campaign saw a variety of limited pickup trucks, such as the Lil’ Red Express or the Dodge Dude.
The Dude was an optional package available for the half-ton Dodge D100. Unlike the Lil’ Red Express, The Dodge Dude focused on cosmetic touches rather than performance upgrades. The Dude package featured decals, bucket seats, and a 300+ horsepower V8 under the hood. It may not have been as legendary as the Lil’ Red Express, but it was an innovative step towards a high-performance truck back in 1969.
Dodge Lil’ Red Express
You simply cannot skip the Lil’ Red Express when listing out the top classic American pickup trucks. The truck was released in 1978 as a part of Dodge’s “Adult Toys From Dodge” campaign. The Lil’ Red Express became one of the first-ever high-performance pickup trucks.
Under the hood, Dodge’s Lil’ Red Express packed a modified small-block 360 cubic-inch V8 found in police interceptors. Back in 1978, the Lil’ Red Express had the fastest sprint to 100 miles per hour out of any American production vehicle ever made.
Chevrolet El Camino SS 454
Although Chevrolet’s legendary El Camino had been around since the late 1950s, its most iconic variant was introduced for the third-generation. The El Camino SS fitted with the big block 454 cubic inch V8 motor was highly sought-after essentially from day one. The powerful El Camino SS 454 has remained one of America’s greatest muscle cars of all time.
The El Camino SS 454 is powered by an enormous big-block 7.4L V8 that produces over 450 horsepower. In effect, the powerful El Camino could finish a quarter-mile sprint in only around 13 seconds. The 454-powered El Camino is highly sought-after by collectors today, due to low production numbers.
The Ranchero was Ford’s answer to the previously mentioned Chevrolet El Camino. Like the El Camino, the Ford Ranchero was a unibody 2-door car with a pickup truck bed integrated into the design of the body. During its 22-year-long production run, Ford built 7 different generations of the Ranchero.
The third-generation Ranchero photographed above was only produced between 1966 and 1967. Available powerplants ranged from a 2.8L flat-six found in the base model up to a powerful 6.4L V8 for the highest level trim.
Dodge couldn’t be left behind after the debut of Chevrolet’s El Camino and Ford’s Ranchero. The answer was the Dodge Rampage, a small unibody pickup truck based on the Dodge Omni. The Rampage debuted in 1982, nearly three decades after its competitors. What’s more, the unique-looking pickup was far from a success.
The Rampage came powered by a 2.2L inline-six motor that only made around 100 horsepower. Its load capacity peaked at 1100 pounds. The Rampage was neither fast nor capable as a work-horse. The vehicle failed to sell well, less than 40,000 units were sold throughout the Rampage’s short two-year production run.
Dodge D-Series (3rd Generation)
The Dodge D-Series has made history for various reasons. Perhaps the most iconic variant of the D-Series is the one introduced for the 1973 model year, just a year after the third-gen debuted.
In 1973, Dodge pioneered the Club Cab. The Club Cab offered more space than the standard two-door cab. On the other hand, it was smaller than the four-door crew cab. The Club Cab featured two doors as well as small rear windows. It could accommodate up to 5 passengers, and the innovative cab design has been around ever since.
Although Jeep has revived the Gladiator nameplate for the 2020 model year, the original one was released all the way back in the 1960s. Unlike its modern cousin, the original Jeep Gladiator was only available in a 2-door cab configuration. Interestingly, the automaker dropped the Gladiator moniker in 1971 and simply referred to the truck as the Jeep Pickup.
The Jeep Gladiator was available with a variety of powerplants. The base model came fitted with a 232 cubic inch 3.8L flat-six. The large 401 cubic inch 6.6L V8 was the most powerful engine variant available for the Gladiator.
Chevrolet C-30 Dually
The Chevrolet C-30 Dually released in 1973 was another world of firsts in the history of pickup trucks. In fact, it was the first crew cab dually truck offered by Chevrolet, and the world’s first heavy-duty truck ever made! As we all know, heavy-duty trucks have carried on and are still widely used as specialized vehicles today.
Chevrolet’s C-30 Dually offered room for up to 6 passengers in its large crew cab, along with heavy-duty components, a long wheelbase, and a large bed. The best part of it all had to be the 454 cubic inch V8 that has made its way under the hood of this monstrous truck.
Ford SVT Lightning
The Special Vehicle Team, or SVT in short, is responsible for developing lots of exciting Ford vehicles in the last decades. While the Ford SVT Mustang is well on its way to becoming a future classic, the SVT Lightning seems to have been overlooked and forgotten about.
The Ford SVT Lightning is a high-performance variant of the Ford F150, made to compete with the Chevrolet 454SS or the GMC Syclone. The first-generation SVT Lightning was introduced in 1993, it packed a 240-horsepower 5.8L V8 under the hood, paired with a heavy-duty 4-speed automatic transmission.
The C/K Series of pickup trucks was replaced by the all-new Chevrolet Silverado back in 1999. Before the truck’s release, the Silverado moniker was used to distinguish the highest trim level of the C/K Series. The Silverado has remained as a flagship pickup truck in Chevrolet’s lineup ever since.
A souped-up variant of the first-gen Silverado, dubbed the Silverado SS, was introduced in 2003. The truck packed a 345-horsepower 6.0L V8 motor under the hood. Two years later, Chevrolet introduced a rear-wheel-drive variant of the Silverado SS to boost sales.
Dodge Ram (2nd Generation)
The second generation of the Dodge Ram isn’t exactly classic. In fact, it was introduced back in the 1990s and had been in production until 2002. Nevertheless, it is an iconic truck that’s certainly worth mentioning in this list!
The second generation of the Ram remains one of the favorites among pickup truck enthusiasts. The truck was offered with a variety of Magnum engines, ranging from a 3.9L V6 all the way up to the powerful 8.0L Magnum V10 powerplant!
Dodge Ram SRT-10
2004 saw the introduction of a hardcore, high-performance pickup truck built by Dodge. The Dodge Ram SRT-10 pays homage to souped-up trucks of the past, and it is perhaps the best high-performance pickup of the 2000s.
What’s the recipe for the ultimate muscle truck? Fit the pickup truck with Viper’s 8.3L V10 powerplant. In effect, the supercharged Dodge Ram SRT-10 peaks at 510 horsepower. A sprint to 60 miles per hour takes just 5.2 seconds. The Ram SRT-10 was only available with a manual transmission.
Ford Super Duty
Though the Super Duty nameplate was first introduced back in the ’60s, the Ford Super Duty became its own line of trucks starting in the 1999 model year. Although not exactly classics, these reliable workhorses surely deserve a mention in this lineup.
The Ford Super Duty trucks are built on a different chassis than the standard F150, allowing for higher payloads and better performance. If you look around your hometown, you’re likely to see at least one Super Duty converted into an ambulance, box truck, or another kind of utility vehicle.
The original Jeep Gladiator dates back to the 1960s. Although Jeep’s flagship pickup truck was discontinued in 1988, the model has made a comeback for the 2020 model year. The pickup truck, unveiled back in 2019, was anticipated by Jeep enthusiasts worldwide.
The all-new Gladiator resembles the Jeep Wrangler from the front end. The truck is only available with a 4-door cab. The new Gladiator is powered by a 3.6L Pentastar V6 motor that produces 280 horsepower. A diesel variant is available, too, powered by a 3.0L EcoDiesel turbocharged V6.