10 Classic Pickups That Deserve to Be Restored
Pickup trucks have it hard. No, we’re just not talking about the fact that they’re work vehicles, depended on by millions to start every morning and take punishment for decades. It’s that when most trucks have done their 15 or 20 years of duty, they’re unceremoniously put out to pasture. Whether that means parked out back, sold for scrap, or given away for cheap to spend their last few running years doing even more punishing work, it seems like a shame. To make matters worse, pickups have long been given short shrift by the collector community. Luxury cars, muscle cars, and exotics are prized for being artifacts of an era, or telling a story; vintage pickups are largely just old trucks.
But that’s been changing lately. While modern pickups continue to sell in record numbers, the market for vintage small trucks and 4x4s is beginning to take off. With classic Toyota Land Cruisers and Land Rovers beginning to change hands for six-figure prices, collectors are starting to turn to other vintage iron – and there’s a lot of it out there.
There have been dozens of noteworthy trucks over the years, and many of them are likely worth saving. But of all of those, we’ve come up with 10 of our favorites that are likely to get the credit they deserve sooner rather than later. If you’re in the market for a vintage truck, snap one of these up today before they get too expensive.
1. 1946-1978 Dodge Power Wagon
Like the Jeep, Dodge’s most famous pickup (and possibly the best named truck ever) has its roots in World War II. The Power Wagon began life in 1941 as the WC, a 1/2 ton, four-wheel drive truck for the Army. In 1946, it arrived at Dodge dealerships, becoming the first factory-built 4×4 truck. With civilian-friendly amenities like an enclosed cab and “styled” bed, the original-style Power Wagon was sold in the U.S. until 1968. After it couldn’t meet safety and emissions standards anymore, Dodge continued selling building them for export for another 10 years. Just about the only thing that can kill one of these icons is rust, so if you can get your hands on one, fix it up and hold on to it forever.
2. Chevrolet C/10 Cheyenne
They were only sold from 1967 to ’72, but Chevy’s “Action Line” pickups rank as one of the best-looking trucks the company has ever built. The range-topper was the ’71-’72 Cheyenne, which introduced more car-like features to the still spartan full-size truck range. On top of front disc brakes and a standard radio (both new for ’71), the Cheyenne also had special trim, a more luxurious interior, and a carpeted, insulated cab. Any Action Line truck is worth saving, but the Cheyenne is still the one to have.
3. 1991 GMC Syclone
In the early ’90s, GMC finally caught muscle car fever (hey, better late than never), and shoehorned a 280-horsepower turbocharged V6 into its compact S-15 Sonoma. The result was incredible: a pickup that could keep up with Corvettes and Ferraris, and was good enough to impress the famously pickup truck-hating Jeremy Clarkson. Most of the 2,995 Syclones have been saved, but a few have managed to slip through the cracks. This may be the newest truck on the list, but GM models from the ’80s and ’90s didn’t exactly age well; if you come across a needy Syclone, consider it your duty to nurse it back to health.
4. 1978-1979 Dodge Li’l Red Express
The mid ’70s were the nadir of American automotive performance. Thanks to rising insurance rates, the switch to unleaded gas, and strict safety and emissions standards, the muscle car was all but dead. But someone at Chrysler realized that most of these new laws didn’t apply to pickup trucks. Enter the Li’l Red Express.
The Express was based on the lightest truck Dodge built, with a 360 cubic inch V8 that was modified at the factory with a combination of Police Package and ’60s-era MOPAR performance parts, a beefier rear axle, and unforgettable chromed exhaust stacks. Believe it or not, the 225-horsepower truck was the fastest American-made vehicle from zero to 100 in the late ’70s. Its styling may not be for everyone, but the Li’l Red Express is an undeniably important part of American performance history.
5. 1960-1984 Toyota FJ40 Truck
To call the FJ40 Land Cruiser an icon is an understatement. Built largely unchanged from 1960 to 1984 (and then in Brazil until 2001), the FJ40 ranks with the Jeep CJ and Land Rover as one of the most rugged, go-anywhere 4x4s in the world. The pickup variant is rarer than both the open-top or enclosed, and can do everything its counterparts can, plus haul a small payload. As is the case with most vintage Japanese vehicles, rust is just about the only thing that can kill a Land Cruiser pickup. Keep an eye on the tin worm, and you’ll have yourself one of the most desirable classic pickups in the world.
6. 1965-1996 Ford F-Series
As far as pickups go, the 1948-1956 F-Series trucks are about as accepted in the classic car community as a truck can get. But it was the fifth-generation Ford that established the brand’s clean, boxy look that it held on to for 31 years and four model generations. The sixth-generation trucks (above) represented a big leap forward in terms of comfort and safety (bigger cab, front disc brakes, better rustproofing, more interior options), and are still about as rugged and simple as a classic pickup should be. There are plenty still on the road; hopefully a new generation of enthusiasts will make sure things stay that way.
7. Jeep Scrambler
The CJ-5 and CJ-7 Jeeps are legendary among off-roaders, but to many, the CJ-8 is a bit of a unicorn. Introduced in 1981, it was a long-wheelbase variant of the CJ-7, offering a small pickup bed to augment the go-anywhere Jeep lineup. But it never caught on, and was discontinued with the rest of the CJ- lineup after 1986. Today, its scarcity makes the CJ-8 (also known as the Scrambler, after an available trim package) one of the most desirable Jeep models ever made. Every single one of them is likely worth saving, but be warned: There aren’t too many cheap ones left.
8. 1979-1984 Volkswagen Rabbit Pickup
In the ’70s, Americans were still scooping up thousands of compact trucks a year, and Volkswagen wanted in on the action. The result was the strange Rabbit Pickup, a compact, American-built unibody truck largely based on Golf mechanicals. The Rabbit Pickup was discontinued in the U.S. after 1984, but in Europe, its compact size and reliability kept it in production until 1992. Modern customizers have done great things by swapping out the original 1.5-liter diesel or 1.7-liter gas engines for powerplants, transmissions, suspensions, and trim from a Mk. I GTI. Rabbit Pickups are weird and rare enough to live on, but we don’t mind if they get a little souped up along the way.
9. Chevrolet Cameo
In the 1950s, it was a radical idea to think of a pickup as anything more than a bare-bones workhorse. But in 1955, Chevy introduced the Cameo Carrier, a beautifully-styled, fast, comfortable pickup that was built to be driven and enjoyed, not just for work. Things like full-hubcaps, chrome trim, carpeting and a radio, a slab-sided bed (made of fiberglass by the same company that built Corvette bodies, no less), and powerful engine options set it apart from any truck on the market. But despite strong initial sales, a high price and increasing competition doomed the Cameo, and it was gone after 1958. Today, it’s considered one of the most beautiful and collectible pickups ever built.
10. 1964-1966 Dodge Custom Sport Special
Let’s say it’s the ’60s, and you love muscle cars, but need a truck for work. What can you do? The answer was the Dodge Custom Sport Special, a relatively rare package offered by Dodge. Outside, you got steel wheels and racing stripes. Inside, you got bench seats from a Dart, a center console from a Polara, and thick pile carpeting. With the CSS, you could also opt for the High Performance Special, which added the 365-horsepower 426 cubic inch V8, TorqueFlite 727 automatic transmission, and torque rods. A special and criminally underrated truck, the Custom Sport Special is one of the most interesting performance vehicles to ever come from Dodge.
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