Americans don't want the metric system, no matter what anyone else on Earth does. And on our isolated island of inches, feet and miles, the pickup truck rules completely.
There are a few reasonable Canadians and enlightened Mexicans who love pickups as much as Americans do, but in the rest of the world they're peculiar anomalies. In Europe tradesmen drive white vans, where their tools can be protected from the weather and they can catch a three-hour nap every afternoon. Most of the trucks in Asia are tiny things that would barely qualify as scooters over here. And in the war-torn parts of the world, pickups are usually seen filled with gun-wielding assassins looking to spread anarchy. But in North America everyone uses pickups for everything.
As mystifying as it must seem to fey Frenchmen and blasé Belgians, we truly love our trucks. At some point they stopped being mere tools and became parts of our families. We use them to play as much as work; to move our families as often as lumber; and to haul both grass and ass.
These are the 21 consumer pickups that have defined what America expects a pickup truck to be and do. No SUVs, no semis, and no vans. These are the compact to full-size trucks we actually buy and use. The 21 greatest pickup trucks to cover every inch, foot and mile of America.
21. 2004 Dodge Ram SRT-10 — The Viper was a sports car built around a modified, all-aluminum version of the Ram truck's V10, so it was full-circle engineering for DaimlerChrysler's Performance Vehicle Operations to put the Viper's 510-horsepower, 8.3-liter V10 and six-speed manual transmission into the Ram 1500 half-ton, regular cab pickup. Deceptively well engineered with a grab bag of parts from Ram heavy duty and Viper parts bins, the Ram SRT-10 remains the most powerful production pickup ever built. How fast? With NASCAR's Brendan Gaughan behind the wheel, a stock 2004 SRT-10 became the fastest full-size production pickup when it orbited the 4.71-mile oval at Chrysler's Chelsea, Michigan, proving grounds at 154.587 mph.
An extended cab, four-door version of the Ram SRT-10 with an automatic transmission was added for 2005.
20. 2000 Toyota Tundra — It's the first Japanese-branded full-size pickup and for that alone, it is considered pioneering. And like so many other Toyota trucks, this one has a proven track record for reliability that pays off on the bottom line: The resale values on first-generation Tundras are very high.
Back when it was new Edmunds.com compared the Indiana-built Tundra with the trucks from Chevy, Dodge and Ford and concluded, "Toyota's first true full-size truck is a very good one, especially for the general consumer rather than the contractor or construction worker. For the Personal Picks component of this test, the Toyota tied for 1st place with the Ford [F-150]."
19. 1947 Chevrolet 3100 — The bull-nose Chevrolet "Advance Design" light trucks were the first true post-World War II designed pickups. They became instant classics.
While the styling is so indelible that Chevy itself cribbed it for the 2003 SSR roadster pickup and the 2006 HHR twerp ute, it's this truck's reputation for stalwart reliability that led it to become a permanent part of America's trucking culture. Powered by Chevy's tough "Stovebolt" six-cylinder engines, many of these are still being used today on ranches and farms and as daily work trucks by tradesmen.
And they make fantastic hot rods. Even if they lose some of their dignity when painted candy colors.
18. 1970 Chevrolet El Camino SS 454 LS6 — While some here argued the El Camino doesn't deserve a spot on this list because it wasn't a "real truck," no one could argue that the SS 454 packing the LS6 big-block V8 is the meanest thing GM ever sold with a bed. After all, it was number 87 and its brother, the Chevelle SS 454 LS6, made it all the way to number eight on Edmunds.com's list of the "100 Greatest Chevrolets of All Time."
The numbers on the LS6 are almost too familiar. A full 450 hp (and likely more) from the 454-cubic-inch (7.4-liter) V8 that would run a quarter-mile in the low 13s when incompetently driven and high 12s when launched by a pro. Yes, there's some car in this El Camino's DNA, but there's even more muscle in there.
17. 1994 Dodge Ram — Dodge was a dead player in the retail pickup business entering the 1990s. That changed radically with the truly new 1994 Ram.
Smartly deciding that if it couldn't please everyone, it could at least make some people very happy, Dodge decided to produce a truck with an intentionally polarizing design. With headlamps segregated down on the fenders alongside the massive upright grille, the result was a truck that looked like a big rig shrunk down to civilian size.
Dodge sold only 95,542 of the 1993 model-year old-style Rams. Dodge shoved out an astonishing 232,092 of the new 1994 Rams. That's a 240 percent improvement in sales and almost all of those were at retail. Dodge trucks were relevant again.
16. 1999 Ford SVT F-150 Lightning — Ford seemed to abandon the performance truck market after letting the first SVT F-150 Lightning die off in 1995 after three years in production and a total of 11,563 trucks. Then, almost unexpectedly, the Lightning roared back to life for 1999 in a new supercharged form.
Starting with a short-wheelbase, short-bed regular cab F-150, Ford's Special Vehicle Team (SVT) installed a version of the then-current 5.4-liter Triton SOHC V8 with forged pistons and a slightly reduced compression ratio that was capped by an Eaton Roots-style belt-driven supercharger. All that resulted in 360 hp and a thick 440 pound-feet of torque at 3,000 rpm. It was backed by a four-speed automatic transmission. That's an increase of 165 hp over the standard 5.4 Triton. On top of that, this was a full-size 4,670-pound truck that actually handled and could still tow a 5,000-pound trailer. And it could rip, claimed Ford, from zero to 60 in just 6.2 seconds. Top speed was an aerodynamically limited 140 mph.
According to our 1999 Ford F-150 SVT Lightning first drive, production was initially limited to 4,000 per year. Eventually Ford built 28,124 second-generation Lightnings over six model years. In 2001 a few tweaks boosted output of the supercharged Triton engine to 380 hp.
15. 1978 Dodge Little Red Express — In the doldrums of the late 1970s, what was the fastest vehicle Detroit had to offer? Dodge's Little Red Express.
It seems there was a loophole in the emissions regulations that Dodge exploited by shoving a special version of its 360-cubic-inch (5.8-liter) four-barrel carbureted V8 that ran without catalytic converters into the lightest truck it made — that's a short bed, stepside D100. Throw in tall semi-like exhaust pipes, a touch of wood trim, 15-inch chrome wheels with white-letter tires, red paint and some loud graphics and the result was the Little Red Express truck.
Dodge built 2,188 in 1978 and then another 5,118, now equipped with catalytic converters, for 1979.
14. 1988 Chevrolet C/K — Known as the CMT400 inside GM, these cleanly styled, well engineered and easygoing trucks were so attractive that they became the default truck for enthusiasts in the 1990s. In that bygone era every other vehicle on the road was a Chevy pickup slammed too low, wearing billet wheels and painted teal.
Only a handful of hard-core '90s nostalgia fiends still want full-size trucks that can't carry home a quart of milk without hitting their bump stops. But the C/K is the truck that was civilized enough to replace a car. It is, after all, not completely a coincidence that GM killed off its last full-size, full-frame, rear-drive cars during the production run of these trucks.
13. 1967 Chevrolet C/K — Chevy called these slick trucks the "Action Line" because, well, because. But with their angular, handsome, shark-nose lines they have defined how Americans think their trucks (at least their GM trucks) should look ever since.
Beyond that, these trucks have become increasingly popular as platforms for customization. Most of the half-ton versions used a trailing arm and coil spring rear suspension that is easy to lower or simply replace with airbags. And the 4x4 versions look great with a lift and big wheels and tires.
12. 1992 GMC Syclone — Gripped by insanity, GMC adds a turbocharger to the 4.3-liter V6 sitting in the mundane Sonoma compact truck, backs it with a four-speed automatic transmission controlled by a Corvette shifter, and feeds the 280 hp out through an all-wheel-drive system developed for the Astro minivan. A parts bin kit bash of the first order, the instrumentation came straight out of the Pontiac Sunbird Turbo.
For a brief moment, it was the third quickest vehicle built in America behind Chevrolet's Corvette ZR-1 and the Dodge Viper RT/10. Testing during the production run had the Syclone ripping to 60 mph in under 4.5 seconds and blitzing the quarter-mile in the mid-13s at about 100 mph.
11. 2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor — Ford's SVT turns its eyes away from street-based performance to produce an instant off-road classic in the Raptor.
The Raptor's wide body and thick tires distinguish it from regular F-150s, but it's the hard-core suspension that gives it true ability. Using the normal F-150 pickup points on the standard F-150 frame, SVT fits extended suspension arms up front for more travel and long-travel Fox Racing shocks in back. It's a suspension spongy enough for running over the desert at triple-digit speeds, but controlled enough to make commuting comfortable.
It's the genuine off-road truck so many manufacturers pretended to make for years before.
10. 1958 Datsun 220 — As American trucks grew ever larger, Nissan (then selling its products under the Datsun brand) thought there was a need in North America for a small, economical, four-cylinder truck. And in 1958 that truck came to this continent, establishing both Datsun and the small truck market here almost instantly.
With a chassis based on the 210 sedan and with a 1.2-liter engine wheezing out 48 hp, the 220 was hardly rugged or a powerhouse. But it was the first small pickup to make it over here. And that matters.
9. 1989 Dodge Ram Cummins Turbodiesel — Dodge was such a marginal player in the 1980s pickup market that it could risk adding a Cummins diesel to the line. After all, it had virtually nothing to lose.
The first 3/4- and 1-ton American pickup equipped with a heavy-duty turbodiesel engine was the 1989 Ram packing the 5.9-liter Cummins straight-six turbodiesel. Though it was rated at only 160 hp, the Cummins made a massive 400 lb-ft of torque at only 1,700 rpm. That simply revolutionized the world of towing. So much so, in fact, that today the vast majority of heavy-duty pickups come equipped with turbodiesel power.
Yes, GM did install its legendarily horrid Oldsmobile diesel V8 in pickups during the late '70s. But they inspired revulsion, not a revolution. And there had been other diesel pickups, too. But it was the turbocharged Cummins that changed everything.
8. 2011 Ford F-150 EcoBoost — America loves V8 engines, but it loves a sweet piece of technology, too. "With the EcoBoost," we reported in our first 2011 Ford F-150 track test, "Ford has flipped the truck maxim from working harder to working smarter. The F-150 EcoBoost uses a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 with direct injection and variable valve timing on the intake and exhaust valves. We're looking at 365 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque from that setup. More than the 5.0-liter V8, which makes due with 360 hp/380 lb-ft."
The EcoBoost V6 engine has proven so popular that it currently outsells V8-powered Ford pickups. That would have been unthinkable only three years ago. And don't think that every other manufacturer hasn't noticed. This is a breakthrough in both efficiency and utility for pickups.
7. 2001 Ford F-150 SuperCrew — Until the SuperCrew came around, true four-door cabs were reserved only for heavy-duty 3/4- and 1-ton pickups. They were the trucks telephone line crews and university geology departments drove. The SuperCrew was the first half-ton pickup (with a gross vehicle rating under 8,500 pounds) to enter mass production with a four-door cab. "Contradicting common belief that the F-150 SuperCrew was created for contractors and other laborers," Edmunds reported, "a Ford executive told us it was built with families in mind."
The SuperCrew was an instant and massive hit. Because of their utility, the majority of trucks sold to consumers today are crew cabs.
6. 1955 Chevrolet 3100 — Ford had been selling flathead-V8-powered trucks since 1932. And Dodge actually beat Chevy to the punch by offering an overhead-valve V8 in its 1954 trucks. But the '55 Chevy introduced GM's small-block V8, and it is the most popular American truck engine of all time.
Thanks to a four-barrel carburetor, up to 180 hp was available from the 265-cubic-inch (4.3-liter) small block in '55. Today, that engine's successor, the 5.3-liter direct-injection small-block used in the 2014 Chevy Silverado, is rated at 355 hp. That's just 5 horses short of twice what the first truck small-block made.
5. 1956 Ford F-100 — It's a beautiful truck. There had never been one before. And there are those who contend that there hasn't been one since.
Essentially the same body as was introduced for 1953, but the '56 is distinguished by its wraparound windshield and available oversize wraparound rear window. That was enough, however, to make this the most stylish pickup ever built.
4. 1973 Dodge D100 Club Cab — In retrospect it was a fiendishly brilliant idea. Just stretch out the cab of the D100 18 inches so that owners could now have some indoor storage alongside all that stuff riding outside in the bed. Suddenly pickup trucks were vastly more useful for people who didn't necessarily need a work truck.
The Club Cab is the truck from which modern extended-cab trucks evolved.
3. 1979 Toyota Pickup 4x4 — Solid axles front and rear, a tough frame that could take abuse, and one of the most reliable engines ever made. All that was enough to establish Toyota's first factory-made four-wheel-drive pickup (not counting pickup-like Land Cruisers) as an instantly iconic part of truck culture.
Over the years the fabled 22R four-cylinder engine would give way to newer-design fours and V6s, the solid front axle would disappear in favor of more supple independent suspension, and the pickup would gain the name Tacoma. But the youthful spirit and rugged ability of the original hasn't diminished.
Plus, Marty McFly has one.
2. 1946 Dodge Power Wagon — Pulled off the battlefields of World War II, the Power Wagon has been what Americans think of when they think of tough trucks for almost seven decades.
Dodge had been building four-wheel-drive trucks since 1934, so when the war broke out, those trucks were a natural for adaptation to military service. Using the cab introduced in 1939 and the big L-head six, the military Power Wagon was instantly famed for its durability and usability. So it was natural that the men who had used it to achieve victory would want a civilian version when they returned home.
Uncompromised by many aesthetic considerations, the Power Wagon nevertheless achieved a brutal beauty built around parts designed to take a beating. It's this tough character that every other 4x4 has been chasing since.
And you can get one today with the Dodge Ram 2500.
1. 1925 Ford Model T Runabout With Pickup Body — When Thomas Jefferson became president in 1801 about 95 percent of Americans lived on farms. Back then, their main transportation was usually a one-horse wagon. By the start of the 20th century, only about 35 percent of Americans still lived on farms, but most businesses still used one- or two-horse wagons as their main mobility tool. In 1925 Ford produced the first viable alternative to those wagons: the factory-made pickup truck.
The pickup truck was as much a societal sea change as the Internet would be 70 years later. Merchants, farmers, dairymen, construction companies and virtually every other enterprise were finally liberated from the horse for the light-duty tasks of everyday work.
It only had 20 hp aboard, but the Model T pickup changed America.