10 of History's Greatest American Pickup Trucks

Look back at these ten trucks and see how the pickup made its way from American farms to suburban driveways.
  • Not long ago, pickup trucks hauled sand, gravel and equipment for farming and construction.  

    Times have changed, however. Today, pickups represent one in every five vehicles on the road. Many are parked in suburban driveways and on city streets.

    “The American pickup is one of the fascinating stories of personal transportation,” Andrew Beckman, archivist for the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, IN, told Design News recently. “It’s gone from strictly being a work vehicle on the farm or job to almost being a means of vehicular personal expression.”

    Until May 6, 2018, the Studebaker Museum is tracing that evolution in a new exhibit, Keep on Truckin': The American Pick-Up Truck. The exhibit examines, not only the pickup truck itself, but the particularly American phenomenon of its growth. “The geographic necessities of huge farms made the pickup a tool for economic development of this country in the automobile era,” Beckman told us. “It evolved along with the auto industry. You don’t see that anywhere else.”

    In its exhibit, the museum includes historically significant pickup trucks from Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge, Studebaker and International Harvester. It even alludes briefly to the early roots of the SUV.

    On the next pages, we offer a peek at the vehicles on display in the new exhibit. From the Model A Ford to International Harvester’s early SUV, here’s an online look at the history of America’s hardest-working vehicles.






  • 1929 Ford Model A.

    Built atop Ford’s A-chassis, the Model A pickup was one of the earliest vehicles of its kind. A successor to the famed Model T pickup, it was launched in December, 1927 with a wide variety of new features, including body, frame, wheels, transmission and engine. Standard equipment also included a left-fender-mounted spare tire, hand-operated windshield wiper, artificial leather seat, and a tool kit.

    By 1929, the Model A’s open-cab design had even been replaced by a “luxurious” closed cab with a safety-glass windshield. For consumers, however, the Model A’s big draw was its power. Its 3.3-liter, four-cylinder engine produced 40 HP, compared to the Model T’s 20 HP. That additional hauling prowess boosted its utility, making the Model A a staple of rural life in the United States into the late 1940s.

  • 1937 Studebaker Coupe Express.

    The Studebaker Coupe Express was a groundbreaking vehicle, bringing passenger-car-styling to the previously-spartan look of the pickup truck. It employed the frame, running gear, and front sheet metal from a passenger car called the Studebaker Dictator, then added an all-steel pickup box. P

    ower was supplied by a 3.6-liter, six-cylinder flathead engine mated to three-speed manual transmission. For its day, the Coupe Express was powerful, offering 86 HP. It lasted from 1937-1939, but never sold in great numbers. Only 5,700 were built during its three-year run.

  • 1937 Ford Model 73.

    In 1937, Ford added a 2.2-liter, flathead V-8 engine to its product line, boosting the power output of the half-ton pickups to 60 HP. The power boost appealed to utility-minded consumers looking for an upgrade from their 40-HP Model A’s. Still, the ’37 Fords will always be remembered more for their look: rounded, with a V-shaped front grille and inset headlights.

    Also notable were the mechanically actuated brakes and large water pumps for more efficient cooling. Truck cabs were produced by Budd Manufacturing Co., an innovator in all-steel body construction. Sales were brisk, hitting 79,884 in 1937.

  • 1947 Dodge Power Wagon.

    The Dodge Power Wagon was the United States’ first mass-produced four-wheel drive pickup truck. A civilianized military vehicle marketed for agricultural and commercial purposes, the three-quarter-ton Power Wagon was launched to the public just eight months after the end of World War II.

    Stylists purposely exposed the powertrain to showcase its rugged chassis and accentuate its military roots. A 3.8-liter, flathead, six-cylinder engine produced 94 HP and was mated with a four-speed manual transmission. A power takeoff (PTO) and a winch were added as standard features, making the Power Wagon a strong choice for rural and agricultural consumers.

  • 1949 Studebaker 2R-5.

    The 2R-Series was Studebaker’s most successful truck line, with sales of approximately 117,500 units from 1949-1953. It was notable for being the first American truck without exposed running boards, and for being the first to use a double-sided pickup bed that was smooth on both the inside and outside. The 2R-5 (shown here) was powered by a 2.8-liter inline six-cylinder engine that produced 85 HP.

    Built in South Bend, IN in a plant that still stands today, the 2R-Series is said to have boosted Studebaker’s share of the truck market to almost 5%, according to the Studebaker Drivers Club.


  • Chevrolet 3100.

    Chevrolet’s Advance Design truck line, which launched in 1947, started the movement toward bigger, stronger and sleeker designs. The truck line featured the “Comfortmaster Cab,” which was significantly larger than predecessors and allowed for three-across seating.

    It also featured adjustable bench seating, improved heating and ventilation, and increased glass area for greater visibility. The 1952 Chevrolet 3100 (shown here) was powered by Chevy’s venerable 3.5-liter overhead-valve six-cylinder engine, which produced 92 HP. The Advance Design line was the US’s top-selling truck for nine consecutive model years.

  • 1958 Chevrolet Cameo Carrier.  

    Part of the so-called Chevrolet Task Force line of trucks, the Cameo Carrier is said to have “foreshadowed the modern pickup truck’s role in personal transportation.” Marketed for everyday transport and occasional hauling, it was more about styling than payload.

    The Cameo featured two-tone paint, fiberglass-bed overlays, and a host of standard features. Despite its historical significance, the Cameo struggled to find buyers. It remained in Chevy’s lineup for only four years. The 1958 model (shown here) sold just 1,405 units. (Source: Design News)

  • 1961 Studebaker Champ.

    In 1960, the Champ carried on Studebaker’s strategy of delivering passenger-car-styling to its pickup trucks. To accomplish that, the automaker’s engineering staff modified the front half of a Lark sedan and fitted it to a truck chassis, thereby forming a new line of trucks. The Champ reportedly even shared many of the same components with the Lark sedan.

    It was intended to compete with the Ford Ranchero and Chevy El Camino, which had by then had also adopted Studebaker’s passenger-car-styling strategy. Still, Studebaker sold only 27,889 units between 1960 and ‘64, and the Champ turned out to be the last truck designed by the company. The Studebaker Drivers Club lamented that “Studebaker often seemed to be 20 years too early.”

  • 1967 International Scout 800.

    International Harvester’s Scout is considered by many to be one of the ancestors to today’s sport utility vehicle (SUV). Built in Fort Wayne, IN, it was marketed as a sophisticated competitor to the Jeep. Comfort was key: It offered bucket seats, car-like instrumentation and heating, an updated dashboard, optional rear seats and a four-cylinder engine that produced 111 HP (shown here).

    Later, International Harvester even went so far as to produce a Champagne Series, or “Doll Up Scout,” that featured a headliner, door panels, and carpet. Most significantly, the Scout featured four-wheel-drive in an era when the availability of such powertrains was limited in the recreational market. The Scout debuted in 1961 and remained in production through 1980.

  • 1977 Chevrolet C10 Cheyenne.

    The Chevrolet and GMC C/K pickups were historically notable, not only for their appearance, but because they were among the first trucks to be designed under the heavy influence of computers and wind tunnels. As such, they featured sculpted body work and an aerodynamic cab with a raked windshield. The styling cues included rounded windshield corners, rounded cab roof corners, rounded corner doors, rounded pickup box corners, slanted front fenders, and wraparound tail lamps.

    To some degree, all of those features were added as a means of boosting fuel efficiency. The C/K line used many different powertrains, including a popular 5.7-liter V-8 engine that produced 165 HP. A window sticker from the vehicle shown at the Studebaker Museum set the price at $4,768.02.

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Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 33 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and auto.



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Image source: Design News

October 24, 2017

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