The 1996 Summer Olympic games were held in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Former Olympian and boxing great Muhammad Ali, already battling the debilitating disease which would take his life some two decades later, lit the symbolic torch on the opening night at what was then called Centennial Olympic Park.
The opening ceremonies celebrated a lot of things about the host nation as it approached the end of the 20th Century. Perhaps it should have been predictable then that the festivities that night ended with the field of competition being completely encircled by pickup trucks.
There are reportedly somewhere around 6,500 pickups sold in America daily. All three of the remaining major Detroit auto manufacturers put their badges on an awful lot of them every year. In 1995, one year prior to the Atlanta Olympics, American consumers bought about 6 million light duty trucks, light duty meaning trucks not built for industrial applications.
Just twenty-two years later, that number had doubled to about 12 million units sold at retail in 2017. Any way you slice it, the honeymoon ain't over yet.
Here's a look at 8 of the most revered pickups in US history along with 7 that kind of missed the mark.
15 Good: 1925 Ford Model T pickup
The Model T was definitely not the first car Henry Ford and his company ever designed. The blue oval we all know and love was not even the first automobile manufacturing company he started, but it is now generally considered to be the first one of its kind that everyday people can actually afford to buy and use.
The Model T was "a car" to at least two generations of Americans. In 1925 the company released this model, the first designed specifically as a truck.
The legends about Model Ts in general include using it as a portable power source. The engines had what designers and engineers call power transfer out capabilities beyond driving the wheels. Some of that was built-in and some of it was directly related to the ingenuity of the people who used them.
Still, back then the pickup was probably not nearly as popular as the sedan. Today, however, nearly 100 years later Ford is most renowned for selling trucks.
14 Good: 1946 Dodge Power Wagon
The Willys Jeep and Dodge Power Wagon were mainstays of US and Allied war machinery during World War II. The Willys was known for being adaptable in the field and the Power Wagon (called "WDX" at the time) for being unstoppable regardless of terrain or weather conditions.
The two later brought 4x4 functionality to the masses in the peace time that followed. The civilian version of the Dodge was discontinued around 1980, but Chrysler revived the Power Wagon badge in the 21st Century and it continues to this day under the Ram brand.
The intention of the vehicle was always to be able to go anywhere, haul a ton (or at least 3/4 ton) and wield a powerful winch. The newest version carries on those traditions, but the original still looks the best.
13 Good: 1955 Chevy Stepside
The idea that trucks could be as comfortable as passenger cars seems to have run amok in the first quarter of the 21st Century. Pickups now regularly feature four doors, two rows of seats, climate control, Bluetooth audio and cell phone connectivity.
As nutty as it is at present, the idea behind it is not a new one. While the Model T pickup was a riff on a sedan, GM went a step further in the mid-1950's and started from the other end with the goal of making a pickup that acts like a car. The result was the Cameo Carrier, most often recognized in this "stepside" version.
GMC had their take on this classic as well, but the image of this pickup in particular has come to embody the transition period that was the US in the 1950's: TV, rock 'n roll, and Playboy magazine. Is it any wonder that people love these trucks?
12 Good: 1960 Studebaker Champ
Another US auto maker who made trucks for the war effort during WWII was Studebaker. If you love the US auto industry then it is hard not to be sad that it's gone. It was very much a family business, so it was also the very definition of the American Dream. In the end, that dream is likely what did it in.
At the beginning of the 1960s the company adapted its best selling product, the Lark midsize sedan, by replacing the back seat and trunk with an open payload to create one of the first car/pickup combos. They called it the Champ.
Studebakers did not change much in the looks department from year to year, so the 1962 model pictured is pretty much what they looked like during their entire run. The end of that model run coincided with the end of Studebaker, though there was some residual Canadian production.
11 Good: 1951 Ford F1
This isn't a very flattering photo for a car website, is it? On the other hand it is also a testament to the everlasting beauty and appeal of the Ford F1 because, gosh darn it, just looking at it makes you wanna start up your angle-grinder, doesn't it?
That's the thing about the Cameo Carrier/Chevy Stepside and this Ford F1, they are both defining classics of the genre. One of the things that is most classic about trucks from this era is that they were intended to be farm-to-market vehicles. They were for families living a suburban life, but not in the suburbs. At least in the US, those were still developing.
These were FR, 2W-, RWD vehicles. The suspension and chassis were beefier than their pavement riding brand mates, but these trucks were not 4x4 off-road beasts like those that had been developed for military applications.
10 Good: 2001 Chevy z71 Silverado
The Silverado L71 from the early 2000's was one of the first US pickups to try and appeal to the consumer off-road market. Though the L71 badge and the off-road package itself have become a bit watered down in Chevrolet's offerings since, the first incarnation walked the walk and was a big hit with buyers.
Not all Silverado L71s were as tricked out as the one shown in the photo. But with the rise in popularity of off-road pickup packages like L71, Toyota's TRD and Ford's Raptor series, the aftermarket for bolt-on customized parts was also beginning to take hold in the early 2000s.
Boutique shops specializing in offering accessories such as "Nerf" style running bars, cross-bed tool boxes, and spray-on bed liners began to spring up. America was learning to dress up their favorite form of transportation for the new century.
9 Good: 2010 Dodge Ram 1500
The 2010 Dodge Ram 1500 makes this list because it was the first to be marketed under just the Ram brand. In that way it marked the end of one era and the beginning of another.
Traditionally, pickups were distinguished by the fact that there was just a single bench for seating. It was enough for two, or three if one of them was short. As time went on that style began to be relegated to the work truck market and viewed as old-fashioned. It's like the missionary position of truck design.
As heralded by Ram and evidenced by the 1500 line, crew cabs and super-cabs are where it's at now. If your partner comes home tonight and asks you if you wanna do crew, you'd better...um, be prepared.
8 Good: 1968 el Camino SS
El rey! There are two reasons this one could well be called the king of "pickups". First, it kind of brings things full circle to where we started with the Model T. This one is a car—a coupé to be specific—that became a pickup.
But while Studebaker's Champ was a sincere attempt to create a farm-to-market vehicle using the same chassis as a sedan, this one was created more for the US suburban market strictly speaking.
The El Camino was more a truncated station wagon than it was a mutated sedan.
The second reason that this one is so special is that it came in the SS packaging. There was a time when SS meant the best that GM could produce and in that era, GM was the biggest and the best. El Camino was a city car, a country hauler and, for just a few lucky drivers of the SS version, American muscle too.
7 Not So Good: 1980 Ford Courier
If you've ever visited Tokyo then you know why Japanese car makers tend to make smaller vehicles. The streets are fairly small, the city is extremely congested, and the train system is so efficient that any resident would be nuts not to use it. As a result, a good many of the vehicles there are commercial.
Add that to what's already been said about the restrictive nature of the city's streets and you get small trucks. The Ford Courier was known to most of the world as a rebrand of a Mazda product. Though the label was discontinued in North America in 1998 and in the rest of the world in 2013, there are still a lot of these around.
The early 80s version was no worse than any of the others, but it was a come-down in terms of "urban pickup" from the El Camino era. In that respect it was a miss.
6 Not So Good: 2002 Chevy S-10
The S-10 series had a lot of variation in both its internals (i.e. engines, part sources, etc.) and its external packaging. It is renowned for being the first American built compact pickup.
The S-10's most well-known offering was an off-road "Baja" package. The Baja was derivative of the ground-breaking Subaru Brat which preceded it by about two decades, at least in North America. The S-10 also served as the basis for the Chevy Blazer midsize SUV and, truth be told, that is probably what I personally most dislike about this model line.
The GMC Sonoma versions of the S-10 were better-looking. The Colorado (GMC Canyon) has since supplanted the S-10. These latter day incarnations are mostly Isuzu products.
5 Not So Good: 2006 Chevy SSr
Before anyone can get angry about the SSr making the Not So Good list, let me offer these disclaimers: First, I love and respect hot rods. I am not so much a purist that I believe that hot rods can't be production cars. When Chrysler introduced the PT Cruiser, though I did not like the thing, I was at least happy to see it on the market. Ditto for GM's response, the SSr.
My second disclaimer is that I actually like this one much better than the Chrysler offering. But, and here's the rub, it's not a truck. It's not even a compact truck. True, it has pretensions of tubbed rear wheel wells, and yes it pretty much only provides "missionary seating" up front. But it's a convertible for cryin' out loud.
A pickup can be a lot of things, but not a convertible. Nice 'rod, but not a truck. Not ever.
4 Not So Good: Dodge Dakota (any year)
The Dakota was around for roughly twenty years starting in the mid-1980s. The one pictured above is a 1994. It was meant to out-power the Ford compact trucks—Ranger and Courier. As a result the line offered a V8 at one point and was never quite as "compact" in size.
Perhaps its greatest sin was that it mainly filled the definition of a "work truck." A work truck is basically auto industry code for fleet vehicle pickup. We could get into the tax-related reasons that "light duty trucks," at least in the US, became an appealing option for businesses in the 1990s, but that's not really the point here.
The point is that Dakota, along with GM SUVs like Suburban and later Yukon, also garnered a lot of sales for the same reasons. So, there are a lot of white Suburbans, Yukons and Dakotas still roaming free among us.
3 Not So Good: Chevy Avalanche (any year)
Speaking of the relationship between SUVs and modern pickup trucks, the Chevrolet Avalanche was intended to be "convertible" from SUV to pickup on the fly because...Actually, we have no idea.
In practice the thing is really just a sub-par Suburban—which is a sub-par vehicle to begin with. It has a panel that can be pulled into place to separate those in the second row of seats from what then becomes the pickup's payload. As a complete insult to their loyal customers, GM also offered the Avalanche in a Z71 package. Seriously?
The Avalanche, like all of its kindred "lifestyle Sport-Utility-Trucks" (looking at you Honda Ridgeline) is a bad idea that was poorly executed and, most importantly, not a worthy pickup.
2 Not So Good: 1959 Ford F 100
The F100 is not on this list for being a bad vehicle or a bad truck. It is true that it would qualify as a miss mainly due to the end of the previous era of styling that it represents. By 1960 all three big US manufacturers had abandoned the classic styling cues that could be seen in the Ford F1 and Chevy Cameo. In Ford's defense, the new kind of rectangular front end for its F100 was pretty much the trend at the time.
That's also a big part of the reason that this truck is on this list. In a way, it marks the end of the post-WWII era in the US auto industry, both in terms of style and, sadly, in terms of production.
With the advent of the F100, Ford began to move its truck factories out of Detroit and into the wider world. It was the beginning of the end for that portion of the history of auto manufacturing in the USA.
1 Not So Good: Tie! Ford/Chevy/Dodge mid-1960s
I promised 8 good and 8 not so good pickups when we started. But in the mid-1960's all three US manufacturers did poorly, So it's a tie for this last spot.
Things went from bad to worse in terms of truck styling in the 1960s. The F100 was just the beginning of the end of that. Things really hit bottom around 1965. This was perhaps due in part to the demise of Studebaker or, more likely, to the rise of the "work truck" and fleet mentality at all three major US companies.
Regardless of why, where the '50s had featured pickups with voluptuous curves and big eyes, everything became angular on the new rectangle-faced square bodied trucks of the 1960s. This is a photo of a 1964 Dodge above but it really doesn't matter since all the Fords and Chevys of that era looked pretty much the same: bad.
Sources: www.statista.com; The Model T: A Centennial History," Robert Casey.