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Classic Trucks History

Article by Mark Trotta

Generally defined as a light-duty truck having an enclosed cab and an open cargo area, pickup trucks began as mere work vehicles with few creature comforts, generally found on farms, ranches, and construction sites. As the decades rolled on, the fine line between car and truck has all but vanished.

old Chevy pickup truck at car show

In the early 1900's, pickup trucks were simply modified cars. It was not uncommon for automobile owners who needed more storage area to remove the rear trunk and install an improvised wooden bed.

First Ford Truck

In 1917, nine years after the first Model T, Ford introduced their first truck. Named the Model TT, it was based on the Model T, and sold as a chassis only. The truck did not come with a cab or bed, it was up to the buyer to build them or have them made.

1947 Ford pickup truck

Ford's first factory-built pickup was offered in 1925. It was called the Ford Model T Runabout.

First Chevy Truck

The first Chevy truck went on sale in 1918. It was named Model 490, after its sticker price of $490. Like the Ford TT, owners had to add their own cab and bed. It wasn't until 1931 that Chevrolet offered a factory-assembled pickup.

First Dodge Truck

In 1918, the Dodge brothers developed a half-ton multipurpose truck for the U.S. Army. It was not a pickup but a panel truck, with a half-ton capacity and a 35-horsepower engine.

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Styling Changes

Starting in the 1930s, when styling became more important to sell vehicles, manufacturers began improving the looks of their trucks. Front grilles were redesigned to set them apart from cars. Ford alone would sell over three-million pickup trucks by 1932.

1939 Ford pickup truck at car show

Independent Automakers (Pre-WW2)

Before World War Two, Willys Americar produced half-ton pickups from 1937 to 1942. Studebaker and Hudson Motor Car Company also offered pickup trucks.

1941 Hudson pickup truck

American Truck Production During World War Two

Shortly after December 7, 1941 (the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese), civilian car and truck production in America stopped. Factories were converted to military-only production of trucks, tanks, planes, arms, and munitions.

Read: American Automotive Industry During World War Two

Although passenger car production was halted, the U.S. automotive industry continued to manufacture hundreds of thousands of Jeeps, trucks and armored vehicles.

Post-War American Trucks

After WWII was over, Chevrolet, along with GMC, were the first American manufacturers to introduce new post-war models. Debuting in May of 1947, Chevy's Advance Line Trucks started a whole new look for pickups, although mechanically they were mostly the same as the pre-war models. Ford and Dodge resumed production shortly after.

Classic Trucks, 1947 Chevy Pickup

Chevrolet Chief Engineer John Woods explained how truck production was able to be started up before the cars were: "Before the war ended, the government permitted Chevrolet to begin production trucks for civilians on the same lines on which military vehicles were being built."

Dodge Trucks

Dodge built the B-series trucks from 1948 through 1953, then offered the redesigned C-series Dodge pickups (1954-1960).

classic trucks history

Read: Dodge Pickup Truck History

Dodge Power Wagon

Classic Trucks Dodge Power Wagon

Designed for off-highway operations, the Dodge Power Wagon was one of the first mass-produced 4x4 civilian trucks. For decades, they have been called upon for pulling, snow-plowing, well-drilling, and providing portable power to remote areas.

Post-War Ford Trucks

Ford pickup truck

Post-war Ford Truck production started with the continuation of their pre-war "waterfall" grille trucks. In addition to stake bodies and pickup bodies, a 1/2-ton and one-ton panel truck were added, as well as a sedan delivery model.

In January of 1948, Ford introduced their new F-series truck line. Aside from drivetrain and 114-inch wheelbase, the new Bonus-Built truck series were completely different than the car-based trucks they replaced.

1948 Ford F1 pickup truck

The Ford F-series truck has been built continuously since 1948, and has since sold more than 40 million models. That statistic makes it the fifth most popular vehicle ever produced!

Independant Automakers (Post-WW2)

Aside from Ford, Chevy, and Dodge, three independent auto manufacturers (Packard, Nash and Studebaker) also produced pickup trucks after WW2. International Harvester would begin manufacturing a line of light-duty trucks in the 1960's.

Ford Truck vs Chevy Truck

The 2nd series F-series Fords, produced from 1953 to 1956, featured a longer wheelbase and longer front and rear leaf springs to improve ride quality. The front suspension was set further back to allow a tighter turning radius. A new cargo bed, measuring 6-1/2 feet long, would be used all the way up into the 1980s.

1956 Ford pickup on Main Street

In mid 1955, Chevrolet countered back with their new Task Force trucks, which not only shared Chevy's passenger car good looks, but their new small-block V-8 as well.

1957 Chevy pickup truck

Chevy Task Force trucks rode on a new, wider six-crossmember frame, allowing longer front and rear leaf springs to be fitted. The standard half-ton 3100 series rolled on a 114" wheelbase, which it shared with the smooth-sided 3124 series Cameo Carrier. The 3200 series trucks had a longer bed and rode on a 123" wheelbase.

In the five years Task Force trucks were produced, Chevy sold more pickups than any other manufacturer, capturing more than 30% of the market.

Ranchero vs Camino

Built in response to the success of the Ford Ranchero, the first-generation El Camino was based on Chevy's full-size two-door station wagon body. Several V8's were available for the Camino, including a 348ci with tri-power carburetion.

1959 Chevy El Camino ad

Ford Econoline Pickup

Shorter, lighter, and easier to maneuver, the Ford Econoline pickup was also less expensive than a conventional pickup. When Ford debuted their new line of cab-over light-duty vans and pickups in 1961, they were an immediate success.

Ford Econoline pickup truck

The idea of placing seats above the front wheels (allowing the cab to be shorter and the bed to be longer) was not new. In 1950, Volkswagen introduced the forward control, rear-engine Transporter, which arrived in America in 1954. In 1957, the Willys-Overland company offered their 4-wheel-drive FC-150 and FC-170 cab-over pickups (the FC designation stood for forward control).

Commercial Vehicles

Aside from the major manufacturers, there were dozens of smaller companies producing trucks. Many of these produced niche vehicles, built strictly for commercial use. One of the most interesting and collectable is the Divco Model U milk truck.

1938 Divco truck

Read: Divco Milk Truck History

Vintage campers are a fun choice for camping retreats or cross-country road trips. Plus, you can save money on hotel and accommodation costs.

classic travel trailer

Read: Vintage Camper History

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