15…First Midsize Pickup: 1987-2011 Dodge Dakota
The compact pickup truck segment was red-hot in the mid 1980s, and Dodge was already selling the Ram 50, a re-badged Mitsubishi. But the company needed its own home-grown small pickup with something to set it apart from the crowd. The Dakota all pickup with something to set it apart from the crowd. The Dakota hit in 1987 and was larger than the compact trucks it competed with, yet smaller than full-size machines. The Dakota was offered in a wide range of interesting configurations, including a high-performance Shelby model and even a convertible. In the early 1990s, Dodge added a factory-installed V8—the first for a small truck. And in the truck’s second generation, Dodge added a smart and roomy crew-cab model in 2000, beating Chevy and Toyota to the punch. The truck stayed in production for 24 years, and although it’s no longer produced, the Dakota had a lasting influence as the only midsize truck at a time when all other manufactures were still producing compact trucks. Today, new compact trucks don’t exist in America—every small pickup is a midsize, and the Dakota is the one that pioneered the trend.
14…First Dedicated Heavy-Duty Pickup: 1999 Ford Super Duty
Until 1999, the light-duty “half-ton” trucks meant for recreational drivers were using the same body and chassis as the heavier-duty 3/4- and 1-ton trucks used by contractors and commercial workers. Ford was the first to recognize that the needs of these two buyers were different enough to require two completely different trucks. So in 1999, Ford developed specialized heavy-use trucks under the Super Duty banner with their own chassis and bodywork, and these trucks were larger in every dimension. The Super duty’s frame was robust and used a durable solid axle, leaf-spring suspension for the front suspension of 4WD models. These trucks had unique bodywork that looked tough, and they offered significantly improved hauling capability over older trucks by improving the line’s GCWR by several tons. The Ford Super Duty is now the best-selling heavy duty pickup.
13…First High-Speed Off-Roader: 2010 Ford Raptor
Until the Ford Raptor leapt onto the road in 2010, no other manufacturer had succeeded in building a pickup truck that could handle the high-speed desert terrain of the American Southwest. The trend of emulating the look and performance of Baja 1000 race trucks was rooted in the 1980s. But the Ford Raptor finally made the dream of owning a factory-built truck with Baja performance a reality. Ford re-engineered the F-150’s suspension to deliver 11.2-inches of wheel travel up front and over 13-inches at the rear axle. Specially-tuned Fox racing shocks helped the Raptor land softly after fairly serious jumps. The first $38,995 Raptor used a 320 hp 5.4-liter V8, but the model was soon upgraded to a 400-plus hp 6.2-liter engine. Since the Raptor broke ground, Dodge followed suit with Mopar-developed, dealer-installed packages collectively called Ram Runner. Toyota has created an entire lineup of “TRD Pro” trucks designed specifically for the same terrain, and Chevrolet is on the eve of launching a more capable version of its own Colorado.
12…First Pickup Truck: 1925 Ford Model T Runabout with Pickup Body
11…First Muscle Truck: 1978-1979 Dodge Lil Red Express
Domestic truck manufacturers had offered big engines in their pickups since the 1960s, but the Lil Red Express (LRT) embraced performance like nothing else. It had glorious twin exhaust pipes that stood up straight behind the cab, just like an 18-wheeler. And between the special graphics, beautiful wood-lined bed and slotted wheels, the LRT looked custom. But under the hood is where it stood apart from the other trucks of the time. Dodge used a special 360 CID V8 with a police grind camshaft, a cop-spec intake manifold and carburetor and a few more performance parts. The result was a 225 hp engine that, when combined with aggressive 3.55:1 gearing in the rear axle, created a truck that Car and Driver said was quicker than anything on the road to 100 mph
10…First Compact 4WD Pickup: 1979-1983 Toyota Hilux 4X4
Datsun may have gotten the jump on Toyota by bringing the first compact truck to market, but Toyota pioneered 4WD, and their trucks went on to fuel a 4WD aftermarket industry. Toyota’s 1979 4WD trucks were tall-riding, rugged and wonderfully reliable machines. These small pickups could hang with Jeeps on the country’s worst trails and broke down so infrequently that they could be used as commuter vehicles. The legendary 22R four-cylinder under the hood returned excellent fuel economy and would go on to provide hundreds of thousands of miles of trouble-free power for second and third owners. These trucks did more than just set a benchmark for 4WD, they helped forge Toyota’s reputation as a builder of some of the most reliable vehicles in the world.
9…First Car-Based Pickup: 1957-1979 Ford Ranchero
Every smooth-riding, car-like pickup truck that has ever been built owes something to the very first Ford Ranchero. Blending car with truck, the Ranchero was a machine that drove just like an everyday station wagon but could haul like a small pickup. In fact, some of the earliest Rancheros could carry just as much in their beds as their full-truck brethren. The Ranchero had a huge variety of engines under its hood—from lowly six-cylinders up to mammoth V8s—and numerous body styles through its seven generations. The Ranchero inspired many vehicles that have come since, including Chevy’s El Camino (introduced just two years later), the compact VW Rabbit, Chrysler K-Car based pickups of the 1980s, and modern evolutions if the idea like the Honda Rideline Pickup
8…First Successful Independent Front Suspension 4WD Full-Size Truck: 1980-1996 Ford F-150
Ford’s 1980 F-150 was a breakthrough machine. It was not only lighter, more fuel-efficient and more aerodynamic than the trucks that had come before, but it debuted a daring new 4WD front suspension. Ford ditched the industry-standard solid front axle for a new Twin-Traction Beam, which made it the first commercially successful 4WD independent suspension on a big pickup. Yes, Jeep had pioneered the idea on its Gladiator pickup truck in the 1960s, but the option was unpopular and short lived. Ford’s system used two long arms that pivoted in the center. The differential was cast into the left side arm. This suspension design reduced unsprung mass by about 50 pounds and created a much smoother ride.
7…First Fleetside Bed: 1955-1958 Chevy Cameo
The 1955 Cameo was significant for two reasons. First, it was a design innovator. Before the Cameo, pickup trucks had stepside beds— a rectangle inner steel cargo box flanked with exposed wheel arches on the outside of the bed. The Cameo used fiberglass panels to cover those old-timey fenders, creating a smooth-sided pickup that would become the design standard in the decades to come. The Cameo was also part of the truck line to receive the all-new 265 CID small-block V8 engine. Though Ford beat Chevy to the punch with a modern V8, the small-block GM would become an incredibly influential engine, inspiring other automakers to create similar engines. The small-block was so well engineered that its basic design (although enlarged and modernized) has continued to today.
6…A Revolutionary Diesel: 1989-1993 Dodge W250/350 Cummins
In 1989 Dodge offered a heavy-duty Cummins turbo-diesel option for its biggest pickups. This wasn’t the first diesel pickup truck diesel—it wasn’t even second—but when Dodge teamed up with Cummins and dropped the four-year-old 12-valve, 5.9-liter inline-six (6BT) into their heaviest-duty trucks, a legend was born. The Cummins was essentially a commercial-duty engine that was more potent than the competition and designed for incredibly long life. In 1989, the big turbocharged six made 160 hp and a whopping 400 lb-ft of torque way down at 1,700 rpm. That was more torque than any other diesel pickup at the time. The impressive engine not only helped save Dodge’s lagging truck business, but was also the driving force that popularized diesel engines and help them become the dominant force in heavy duty pickups.
5…First Factory-Built Light-Duty 4WD Pickup: 1947 Willys Pickup
It should come as no surprise that Willys pioneered the first factory-built light duty 4WD pickup truck. After all, with considerable knowledge, success and good will following the production of the wartime Willys MB and later civilian CJ-2A, the company had considerable 4WD expertise. So in 1947, Willys launched the first factory-built pickup on a light duty chassis. (Yes, the civilian version of the extreme-duty Dodge Power Wagon arrived a year earlier, but that was a heavy-duty machine.) The little Willys—just over 3,000 pounds—used a 63 hp four-cylinder linked to a three-speed manual and split power to the solid axles with a two-speed transfer case. At the time, trucks from Chevy and Ford had to be converted to 4WD by third-party manufacturers like Marmon-Herrington. By the time Ford released their first factory-built 4WD pickup in 1959, Willys owned almost 70 percent of the market.
4…First Dual-Rear Wheel Pickup Truck: 1973-1991 Chevrolet C/K 30 Big Doolie
Cruise across the heartland of America today and it’s likely that any pickup towing a heavy gooseneck or fifth wheel trailer will have dual rear wheels. Dual rear wheels can spread a heavy load over four tires instead of just two, and if one of those tires has a blowout, there are still three left to stabilize the load. Chevy (and corporate twin GMC) were the first manufacturers to engineer dual rear wheels into a modern-era pickup truck back in 1973. It was a huge breakthrough for towing. The “Big Doolie” model had a GVWR of 10,000 pounds and could be optioned with the legendary 454 cid big block V8. Chevy added the option of 4WD to the Big Doolie in 1977 adding another level of capability to the truck. Rival Ford didn’t offer a dual rear wheel truck until 1980.
3…First Crew Cab Pickup: 1957 International Harvester Travelette
Today, the four-door crew cab pickup dominates the market, but early trucks were mostly single cab designs, with only room for two or three riding up front. International broke new ground when the company launched the first pickup truck with a crew cab body style. The six passenger pickup, called the Travelette, used three doors instead of four in its first few years of production. The truck finally received a fourth door in 1961 when International completely redesigned the machine. Finally there was a truck that could haul six workers to the jobsite. Dodge and Ford soon followed with versions of their own. It would continue to be primarily a work-duty option until the 1990s, when mainstream light-duty trucks received the option—and the crew cab’s popularity exploded.
2…First Compact Truck: 1959 Datsun 1000 Pickup
Small pickups are routine sights on American highways. But in the early 1950s, the breed didn’t exist. Datsun brought over the very first one back in 1959. The Datsun 1000 pickup was a tyke that used a tiny 37 hp 1000 cc four-cylinder engine and had a hauling capacity of 500 pounds. Full-size American trucks were for the really big jobs, so there was clearly a place for a smaller, more efficient truck. Datsun beat its rival Toyota to the US with a compact by half a decade, jumpstarting a compact trend that would peak in the late 1970s and 1980s with yearly sales in the hundreds of thousands.