Country singer, Garth Brooks’ song: “Ain’t going down ’til the sun comes up…Going ‘round the world in a pickup truck.”
A pickup truck is a light duty truck having an enclosed cab and an open cargo area with low sides and tailgate. Once a work tool with very few creature comforts, but in the 1950s consumers began purchasing pickups for lifestyle reasons rather than utilitarian reasons. By the 1990s less than 15 percent of owners reported use in work as the pickup truck’s primary purpose.
Now in North America, the pickup is mostly used like a passenger car. Canadian sales of light vehicles rose by 4.6 per cent in 2017, cracking 2 million units for the first time, thanks to record strength in truck sales. Sales of light trucks rose by 8.7 per cent year-over-year to reach almost 1.4 million vehicles. However, passenger car sales slipped by 3.4 per cent last year to come in at 639,823. As of Dec. 5/17, the top 3 selling vehicles are (in order): Ford F-150; Chev Silverado 1500, & Ram 1500. Note: all trucks!
I’m guessing, the very first pickups, were built by handymen (Red Green?), who took a “retired” car, and cut the original 4 passenger body. Then, they made it a 2 passenger, and added a box.
In 1896, Gottlieb Daimler (now Mercedes Benz) invented the first pickup truck that he marketed as a horseless wagon with a whopping 4 horsepower, 2 cylinder (1.1 Litre) engine. Dubbed vehicle no. 42, it was advertised that the crude vehicle could carry up to 3300 pounds.
Most of the initial North American car manufactures, sub-contracted the bodies, to coach builders. The manufactures offered bare bone chassis, and the the customer could choose the pickup body.
During World War II, the U. S. government halted the production of privately owned pickup trucks. The “Big 3” (GM, Ford, & Chrysler) all built various vehicles for the war effort. Dodge designed a 6 wheel drive truck. Ford built several prototype 3/4-ton military vehicles, including this forward-control four-wheel-drive cargo truck. GM of Canada built Chev 3 ton, 4×2 trucks. They were used by the famous Long Range Desert Group in North Africa.
Car-like smooth-sided fenderless trucks were introduced, such as the Chevrolet Fleetside, and El Camino; the Dodge Sweptline; and Ford’s Styleside, and Ranchero. Pickups began to feature comfort items like power options and air conditioning. Regular cabs trucks became more passenger oriented with the introduction of club cabs and crew cabs.
The US government’s 1973 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) policy set higher fuel economy requirements for cars than pickups. CAFE created a loophole for manufacturers, thus the promotion of the truck-based SUV. The gas guzzler tax, taxed fuel-inefficient cars while exempting pickup trucks, further distorted the market in favour of pickups.
In 1978, the fastest thing out of Detroit, wasn’t a Corvette, Camaro, or Mustang. It was a Dodge pickup: The Lil’ Red Express! They were powered by a 360 CID/5.9 Litre V8 with a 4 barrel carb. 225 horsepower.
My own pickup truck experiences
As a kid, my late Grandparent’s best friend, was in the roofing business. At his Washago, ON cottage, I recall his “Silver Moss” green, Mercury M-Series (Ford F-Series cousin) pickup. It had Twin I-Beam front suspension. It was probably a in-line 6 cylinder; “3 on the Tree” manual transmission, standard steering and brakes; metal dashboard; manual roll-up windows, and no radio. It did have (homemade?) racks over the box. It was a NO frills, work truck!
My parents bought a “compact”1969 Dodge Dart Swinger, with a Slant 6. They paid $2945. That year they could have bought a full-size pickup, for about the same amount. You can’t do that today! The average sedan is $30,000, and the average pickup is $50 grand. Some are over $100k!
As a teen, I worked (part time) as a gas jockey. The Shell Oil garage owner had a yellow 1969 Chev C/10 step-side pick up. It was a 250 CID/4.0 Litre, inline 6. It was “plain-Jane,” too. It had the power to do burn-outs! Now, it’s rumoured that step-sides will make a comeback. Everything old…is new again…
In 2007, I bought my 1st pickup. It was a 2004 Dodge Dakota. I loved the quad cab’s size! 2 years ago, I retired it. I bought a 2010 Chev Silverado. Good truck, but too big for my needs. Next time, I’ll go smaller.
Last year, my son bought a huge 2015 Toyota Tundra Crewmax. Limo operators would envy that back seat!
My favourite looking pickup? 1949-1952 Chev/GMC 3100, in “Jupiter Green.”
More pickup stuff
In the past, we saw small, basic import pickups. Then, the Big 3, countered with small, and mid-size models. Along with their mid-size models, the imports offer big pickups today. Ford is bringing back the (mid-size) Ranger next year. GM recently re-introduced their Canyon, & Colorado, mid-size pickups. Ram (Dodge) hasn’t brought back the Dakota, yet.
Autoweek.com claims Ford sells an F-150 pickup every 30 seconds, in the USA! That’s where they sell 6,500 trucks, EVERY DAY!
NASCAR has had the truck series since 1995.
Most products have features, benefits, and limitations. Soon, gardeners, and landscapers will be getting their topsoil, shrubs, flowers, etc. They’ll need a pickup. Backyard renovation projects will require a pickup when going to the lumber yard, and transfer station/dump. It’s so much easier tossing that perfect Christmas tree, in the back. Who cares if the annoying needles fall there? Sweep, or rinse with a hose. A sub-compact just doesn’t cut it to haul stuff. Pickups are so darn handy!
Objectively, there are downsides to today’s pickups: parking at the mall (those spots are shrinking); hand washing and waxing (they’re huge!); and fuel economy. On a good day, my 5.3L Chev will get 10 Litres/100 km or 28 imperial mpg. Pretty good compared to my buddy’s 75 GMC with a 7.4 Litre/454 CID! But, last week I got 6.3 Litres/100 kms or 44 imperial mpg in my 2016 (300 hp V6/CVT) family sedan.
Try pulling your 1000 lb.+ boat, or RV, with a front wheel drive (FWD) car. You can’t! You’ll need a pickup, or SUV.
Really, pickups today, are really “luxury cars with a box/bed.” They’re not your Grandfather’s pickup!
Story and photo by Larry Barnett