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.

  • Dave M. Although the effective takeover by Daimler is pooped upon, this is one they got right. I wasn't a fan of the LHs, mostly due to reported mechanical, NVH and build quality issues, but I though Chrysler hit it out of the park with the LXs. The other hyped release that year was the Ford Five Hundred, which, while a well-built car with superior interior space, couldn't hold a candle to the 300.
  • Art Vandelay I always liked those last FWD 300's. Been ages since I've seen one on the road though. Lots of time in the RWD ones as rentals. No complaints whatsoever.
  • Cardave5150 I've had 2 different 300's - an '08 300SRT and an '18 300C. Loved them both a LOT, although, by the time I had the second one, I wasn't altogether thrilled with the image of 300's out on the street, as projected by the 3rd or 4th buyers of the cars.I always thought that the car looked a little stubby behind the rear wheels - something that an extra 3-4" in the trunk area would have greatly helped.When the 300 was first launched, there were invitation-only meet-and-greets at the dealerships, reminding me of the old days when new model-year launches were HUGE. At my local dealer, they were all in formalwear (tuxes and elegant dresses) with a nice spread of food. They gave out crystal medallions of the 300 in a sweet little velvet box (I've got mine around the house somewhere). I talked to a sales guy for about 5 minutes before I asked if we could take one of the cars out (a 300C with the 5.7 Hemi). He acted like he'd been waiting all evening for someone to ask that - we jumped in the car and went out - that thing, for the time, seemed to fly.Corey - when it comes time for it, don't forget to mention the slightly-stretched wheelbase 300 (I think it was the 300L??). I've never found one for sale (not that I've looked THAT hard), as they only built them for a couple of years.
  • Jkross22 "I’m doing more for the planet by continuing to drive my vehicle than buying a new one for strictly frivolous reasons."It's not possible to repeat this too much.
  • Jeff S Got to give credit to Chrysler for putting the 300 as a rear wheel drive back on the market. This will be a future classic.