QOTD: What Was the Golden Age of Pickups?

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
qotd what was the golden age of pickups

She was only sixteen… only sixteen… with her eyes all aglow.

“She” in this case was my 1995 Ford F-150 XL Regular Cab 4×2, and she was only sixteen thousand dollars plus change. Of course, the equipment list was pretty light: 300 cubic-inch inline-six, three-speed automatic, air conditioning, sliding rear window, argent styled steel wheels, argent rear bumper, full vinyl bench.

You can’t get a truck like her anymore, and in some respects that’s a relief, particularly when it comes to the absurdly skimpy legroom Ford regular-cab trucks had until the Great Change of 1997. Yet as I steer my Iowa-class 2017 Silverado Crew Cab Long Bed around town I can’t help but feel a bit of nostalgia for the sensible size, simple operation, and anvil toughness of the old trucks. Even the loaded-up Eddie Bauer F-150s of those years look fairly basic in retrospect.

My wife, the infamous Danger Girl, has similar feelings about the Chevrolet half-tons she drove around Albuquerque as a teenager. Her 1990 regular-cab 1500 (struck, but not quite totaled, by an undocumented dreamer) and 1995 regular-cab 1500 (struck and absolutely totaled by an undocumented dreamer being actively chased by police) were already pretty beat-up by the time she took delivery, but they each went well past the 150k mark with very few problems. Simple, reliable, and sensibly sized.

With the introductions of the ever-more-medium-duty-ish 2018 F-150 and ziggy-stardust-style 2019 Silverado, maybe it’s time to ask ourselves where the half-ton wave broke and finally rolled back.

I’m going to vote for the 1992-1996 F-150 as the best and most appropriate half-ton ever built. It amounted to a light polish on the all-new 1980, but the changes were worthwhile, particularly in regards to electronic controls that made both the straight-six and the optional 302 cid V8 easy to start in all weather and dead reliable on the move.

On the Chevrolet side, I think the 1988-1998 GMT400 was probably the best compromise of size and capability. I prefer the styling of the “squarebody” predecessors, but they were pretty nightmarish from a safety perspective.

In terms of sheer truckin’ beauty, I don’t think you can beat a mid-80s Dodge Ram in midnight black with gold trim. But that’s just me.

What say you, B&B? When did pickup trucks reach a peak — and when did they go too far?

[Image: Ford Motor Company]

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  • Finderskeepers Finderskeepers on Dec 29, 2017

    I've owned lots of trucks over the years, but there is only one that I wish that I could have back again. My 1974 C-20 3/4 ton. With the factory optioned "high torque LS9" 350 V-8 and the 350 turbo tranny. Although it was equipped with power steering and power brakes, it was missing any and all electronics and had zero emissions controls. If something broke, you knew what and where within seconds of opening the hood. You could sit on the inner fender and work on the motor yourself. I miss that simplicity, now when I open the hood the tubes and wires and sensors are endless, every spare inch of underhood space is taken up with some unknown system. I think the 1973-1979 chev and GMC pickups were the high water mark for trucks (as trucks should be). If you had one, chances are you had a farm, a business, a trailer. You weren't a poseur driving a "bro-dozer" with neon glow lights.

  • Dukeisduke Dukeisduke on Dec 30, 2017

    Sometimes I still miss my '95 F-150 (SuperCab short bed XLT 4x2, 5.0, 4R70W, with a/c, power driver's seat, Alcoas), but I don't miss 13 mpg, and my Tacoma (4.0 V6) could smoke it in a drag race, and gets 16-17 mpg. It was a nice truck (stickered for $21,600, I got it for $9k. I put 214k on it in 17 years, and it was amazingly reliable, at least until it developed a random hard start/no-start problem in the last year.

  • Inside Looking Out "And safety was enhanced generally via new reversing lamps and turn signals fitted as standard equipment."Did not get it, turn signals were optional in 1954?
  • Lorenzo As long as Grenadier is just a name, and it doesn't actually grenade like Chrysler UltraDrive transmissions. Still, how big is the market for grossly overpriced vehicles? A name like INEOS doesn't have the snobbobile cachet yet. The bulk of the auto market is people who need a reliable, economical car to get to work, and they're not going to pay these prices.
  • Lorenzo They may as well put a conventional key ignition in a steel box with a padlock. Anything electronic is more likely to lock out the owner than someone trying to steal the car.
  • Lorenzo Another misleading article. If they're giving away Chargers, people can drive that when they need longer range, and leave the EV for grocery runs and zipping around town. But they're not giving away Chargers, thy're giving away chargers. What a letdown. What good are chargers in California or Nashville when the power goes out?
  • Luke42 I'm only buying EVs from here on out (when I have the option), so whoever backs off on their EV plans loses a shot at my business.