Popularity of pickup trucks in the U.S. is simply uncanny. Ford F-series, Chevy Silverado and (Dodge) RAM trucks are among the best sellers in the market. They always have been, more or less. Despite being half-ton truck’s dominion, U.S. also finds way to adopt more compact foreign pickups like Toyota Tacoma, Honda Ridgeline and even Nissan Frontier. Then, there’s GM’s dynamic Canyonado duo and Ford’s upcoming Ranger. Finally, most of you will also likely remember the likes of Dakota, Chevy S-10, and even good old Dodge Power Wagon or Jeep Gladiator.
So, what else remains in this – at first glance – limited niche? Hell of a lot of models. For every successful, or at least partly successful truck, there come at least two or three that never made it here. It’s our job to safeguard these flops (from sales perspective) from oblivion, so every once in a while we compile a list like this one. This particular list will remind you of 15 pickup trucks available in the U.S. market at some point. Of course, none of these have managed to leave a lasting impression. Sadly, if I might add, because some of them were pretty radical. It’s probably due to that dreaded wrong place – wrong time scenario. Others, on the other hand, simply didn’t have that much to offer.
1972-1993 Mazda B-Series
Mazda B-Series is one of the most recognized pickup truck nameplates in the world. It still lives through Ford Ranger-based Mazda BT-50. B-Series nomenclature, however, was discontinued for 2006 model year. 45 years after being introduced back home in Japan.
But it wasn’t until 1972 and B1600 that Mazda B-Series finally arrived to North America. As the name suggests, compact was powered by 1.6L Mazda C engine capable of making 94 hp. Engine was enlarged to 1.8L in 1977, and again in 1980. This time to 2.0L. Former B1800 models delivered 98 horsepower, while B2000 generated 77 hp or 89 hp depending on carburetor configuration. 58-horsepower 2.2L diesel was optional between 1982 and 1984. Third generation North American models arrived in 1986, but their new 2.0L engine debuted a year before. It yielded 80 ponies before it made way for 85-horsepower 2.2L 4-cylinder in 1988. At the same time, Mazda introduced Mitsubishi-powered B2600 with 102 hp initially and 121 hp later on.
North American Mazda B-Series trucks were finally axed in 1994 when chicken tax and import costs rendered them too expensive for their own segment. They resorted to badge engineering and based their new trucks on North American Ford Ranger. It’s important to note that this Ranger and overseas Ranger had nothing in common beside the Blue Oval badge and Mazda involvement. It’s also important to notice that Mazda B-Series gave birth to more a than few spin-offs – some of which also made brief appearance in the U.S. market. Although it’s not exactly forgotten, North American B-Series still never managed to achieve the same level of recognition that it has across the globe.
1974-1977 Mazda Rotary Pickup REPU
As just mentioned, Mazda B-Series pickup trucks served as role models for numerous spin-offs. REPU, which is short for The Rotary-Engined Pickup, is one such offspring. This highly ambitious project was based on stuffing Wankel rotary engine inside B-Series pickup body. Needless to say, this was the first and only such experiment.
REPU was only available In the U.S. and Canada. It had petite 1.3L Wankel engine and four-barrel Hitachi carb which were good for 110 horsepower. Don’t forget they also had a high redline. REPU’s odometer maxed out after 7,000 rpm. Mazda Rotary’s somewhat low payload of 1,350 pounds was offset by truck’s low price tag. They went for less than $4,000 back then. There was more to 14,364 total REPU’s than just potent little engine. They were equipped with standard front disk brakes and came with rather nice interior setup.
But people will always come back to their 13B buzzer under the bonnet. It was simply a great performer, hitting 60 mph in 11 seconds flat and doing quarter mile in 18.3 seconds. Not the fastest truck in the U.S. at the time, but never too far from the top players. That’s why it was often raced. Biggest issue was its efficiency. Or lack of it. EPA gave REPU 13 mph in the city and 20 mpg on the highway. Yet, if looking from performance truck’s angle, these figures weren’t that bad. After all, rotary engine’s nature is to spin more than its conventional internal combustion counterparts. All things considered, they were well rounded. And they produced one of the meanest exhaust notes ever heard in a truck.
1972-1982 Ford Courier
Here’s yet another Mazda B-Series derivative. This captive import was introduced in order to satisfy Ford’s demand for a compact pickup they didn’t have. It served that purpose for over a decade. Until Ford Ranger was introduced for 1983 model year. By then, however, Courier’s price came dangerously close to that of base F-150. So forcing smaller option into early retirement looked like a wise decision.
Before Courier received a facelift, front disks and larger 2.3L Pinto’s Lima engine with 88 hp and 118 lb-ft of torque in 1977, it retailed for just north of $3,000. Ford kept its prices low by importing it without the bed, thus avoiding the 25% chicken tax. Cargo bed would then get attached to the chassis and sold as a pickup truck. Older Couriers were powered by Mazda’s 1.8L 4-cylinder making 74 hp and 92 lb-ft of torque. That was enough for a payload of 1,400 pounds. Not exactly imposing figure, but often enough for small truck buyers.
All early models were also standard with 4-speed manual transmission. 3-speed auto was optional, and 5-speed manual also came after 1977 redesign. Another interesting fact is that Courier actually looked like miniature version of the F-100. At least before both trucks got redesigned for 1977. After that, Courier and then-new F-150 went their separate ways.
1972-1982 Chevrolet LUV
The same way Ford captured their import compact truck, Chevrolet got theirs. Only difference being, Chevy went to Isuzu for help. After all, they owned a large stake of shares in one of the oldest Japanese car manufacturing companies. This is how Chevrolet Light Utility Vehicle (LUV) based on Isuzu Faster was born.
Like Ford Courier, Chevy LUV too was assembled in Japan, and in chassis cab config. It too managed to avoid the chicken tax and GM only got to pay 4% instead. LUV also had the same 1,400 lbs payload. As a matter of fact, it even had very similar engine. Difference was, Isuzu’s 1.8L 4-cylinder made 75 horsepower and 88 lb-ft of torque. Unlike Courier, though, Chevy never bothered with restyling the outdated compact. Neither did they bother to offer stronger engine. Changes came rather late, in 1980, but even then LUV only yielded 80 ponies and minor cosmetic refreshments. Chevrolet knew they needed a small truck of their own, so, like their arch rival Ford, they introduced the S-10.
Similarities between Ford Courier and Chevrolet LUV were uncanny. It’s like they made them from the same mold and simply named them differently. But limited as they were, Japanese captive imports still did their job. They bough their respective manufacturers time. Time they’ll use to develop compact trucks of their own. Pickup trucks that would become largely successful.
1978-1987 Subaru BRAT
BRAT or “Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter” was Subaru’s answer to the compact pickup craze in the U.S. market during the seventies. Unlike the aforementioned Courier and LUV duo, BRAT was directly marketed by the Japanese carmaker. That’s probably one of the reasons it arrived much later than its direct competitors. Other is, Subaru lacked the means to commission it earlier. But that’s not the only thing that distinguished Subaru BRAT from the rest of the pack.
Like all modern-day Subarus, BRAT also featured mandatory four-wheel drive. Furthermore, it offered an optional T-top split roof and two rear-facing jumpseats mounted in the cargo bed. Rather unconventional way to avoid the chicken tax, but that’s exactly why Subaru decided to implement the peculiar seating arrangement. This way, BRAT wan’t a pickup truck anymore. In the eyes of a tax man, it was now a plain old family vehicle.
Prior to 1981, all BRATs were powered by 67-horsepower 1.6L horizontally opposed 4-cylinders. After the 1982 model year redesign, BRAT received slightly larger 1.8L H4 mill, now making 73 horsepower. Finally, the ultimate Subaru BRAT would have to be one with turbocharged version of the larger displacement engine. Available only for 1983 and 1984, this version developed 94 ponies and came with 3-speed auto transmission. Other models were standard with 4-speed manual trans.
Main reason people loved BRAT was it being different. As far as notable owners go, former president Ronald Reagan had one on his California ranch. If it was good enough for former president and Hollywood actor, then it was good enough for most of us. Only it never caught on, which is sad.
2002 Lincoln Blackwood
Lincoln Blackwood is the prime example of a wrong place – wrong time scenario. Luxurious version of Ford F-150 Crew Cab pickup never stood a chance with its high $54,495 price tag. That was 15 years ago, mind you. Moreover, luxury pickup trucks that would mostly serve as daily commuters were still frowned upon back then. Maybe it would fare better today, but that doesn’t make a difference anyway.
Due to extremely poor sales, Blackwood disappeared after only one year in the market. It did get to see 2003 model year in Mexico, though. Lincoln only managed to sell 3,356 of them in total. Although their first try at pickup truck parenting ended in disaster, Ford’s luxury division didn’t stop there. They introduced Mark LT in 2005. Since they learnt from their previous mistake, Mark LT fared much better. But still not good enough to warrant a permanent spot in Lincoln’s lineup alongside then-newly introduced F-150 Platinum.
Blackwood shared its engine with tenth generation F-150. It was offered exclusively with 5.4L Triton V8 capable of making 300 hp and 355 lb-ft of torque. Another reason it never caught on was likely a very limited cargo bed. Then again. who would have splashed $50,000 on a truck if they needed a workhorse? Moreover, it lacked some premium features usually standard for that kind of money. Goodies like power adjustable seats, for instance. All in all, Lincoln Blackwood wasn’t thought through and it became one of the automotive biggest flops of the 21st century.
1957-1959 Dodge C-Series Sweptside
C-Series pickup trucks were Dodge’s very first all-new post-war design. Built from the ground up, C-Series offered much better wheel clearance, completely new frame, single piece curved windshield, optional new Hemi V8’s, and much more. But it wouldn’t be until C-Series’ midway point that Dodge tried something really new.
Enter Dodge C-Series Sweptside. Finned pickup truck you never knew you wanted. Although C-Series lived throughout larger part of the “finned fifties,” stylish rear end tails weren’t exactly common on pickups. Dodge Sweptside aimed to change that while drawing as much attention to itself as possible. Sadly, it failed. Only around 1,200 people were ready to jump in on a new truck trend that also hampered Sweptsides from doing what they were supposed to do, along the way. To hauls as much cargo as possible. After two years, wider flat-sided bed made its debut, and sent Dodge Sweptside into early retirement.
Maybe it was the way in which Dodge assembled Sweptside that had doomed it from the beginning. Dodge Sweptside borrowed most of its cues from other Chrysler products. All Sweptsides were hand assembled in special equipment section of the Dodge truck plant. Other than that, and narrower cargo bed, Sweptside wasn’t much more than conventional C-Series truck with four additional holes which housed bolts that held fins glued to the bed. Not enough for it to catch enough attention.
2009-2012 Suzuki Equator
Suzuki Equator was so obscure that it’s basically already forgotten. Although it disappeared from the market no more than 5 years ago. During Japanese mid-size pickup’s short tenure, though, it was nothing other than rebadged Nissan Frontier. As if Nissan’s smaller truck wasn’t outdated already. In fact, Frontier too should have disappeared or gotten a facelift when Suzuki’s version of the truck got axed.
Both the Nissan and Suzuki were available with 2.5L 4-cylinder and 4.0L V6. Former made 152 horsepower, while latter produced 261 ponies. Neither of the two was particularly good as 4-cylinder lacked power and V6 guzzled too much fuel. But it’s the reasoning behind Suzuki’s decision to enter the pickup truck segment that baffles us. I don’t even have to mention that compact truck market was stagnant at best back then. But add global economic recession into the equation and you’ll easily figure out why Suzuki only managed to sell slightly north of 8,000 units over 4 years.
Furthermore, it’s not coincidence that Suzuki went under together with its ill advised truck after 2012 model year. Japanese automaker’s North American division filed for bankruptcy and condemned Equator alongside the rest of its lineup to oblivion. All things considered, it’s not surprising precious few people still remember the Equator.
1978-1987 GMC Caballero
Sure, everyone remembers Chevy El Camino and Ford Ranchero. But how many people would instantly remember Elky’s mechanical twin? Not that many, I’d wager. Like pretty much every GMC car, Caballero too was overshadowed by GM’s volume brand offering of the same type.
Caballero actually began its journey as GMC Sprint in 1971. It was only renamed Caballero after the 1978 redesign. Such extensive redesign that GMC’s El Camino twin didn’t only receive new shape and name – it also received new underpinnings. Unlike previous generation Sprint and Elky which were based on Chevy Chevelle, new Caballero and El Camino were based on Chevy Malibu.
GMC Caballero wasn’t exactly a sales flop. However, where as Chevrolet pushed 317,163 El Caminos over the years, last gen GMC Caballero only sold 37,719 units. That’s slightly over 10% of Elky’s total numbers. Even bigger shame is the fact that people forgot all about GMC Caballero Diablo. A sporty special edition car-truck with fiery decal between ’78 and ’82. Diablo remained an option until Caballero’s final demise in 1987. That’s something, at least.
2005-2009 Mitsubishi Raider
Another one of forgotten Japanese mid-size pickup trucks from early 21st century. Unlike the usual badge engineering business practice where American automakers import Japanese cars, Raider is Japanese pickup of American origin. It was based on popular Dodge Dakota truck. A straightforward way to avoid the chicken tax.
Dakota and Raider shared more than just a platform. They also had the same Chrysler Power Tech engines. 210-horsepower 3.7L V6 was the standard one, while 230-horsepower 4.7L V8 was optional. It’s obvious that Raider’s V8 lacked some motivation that Dakota had. Dodge Dakota actually squeezed 30 additional ponies from the engine.
But that’s only one of the reasons Raider never succeeded in the U.S. Mitsubishi only sold 21,890 of them, mainly because it didn’t offer anything that wasn’t available already. Especially since other options in the market offered more. Like its role model Dodge Dakota, for instance. And, then there’s the issue of decline in sales of the mid-size trucks by the turn of the first decade of the 21st century. At least Mitsubishi Raider is more often sight on the roads than the likes of aforementioned Lincoln Blackwood and Suzuki Equator.
1986-1992 Jeep Comanche
Jeep pickups had long gone from this world. Popular Jeep pickup truck has been absent even longer. Ever since Gladiator was discontinued in 1988, that is. But, back in the day, AMC Jeep offered a new, radical unibody Comanche truck. It was introduced in 1985 but never really managed to bring down the house. AMC simply lacked the funding to give it proper marketing. And we all know what happened next. Chrysler stepped in and bought the Jeep in 1988. Since they didn’t want any competition for their Dakota truck, they let Comanche wither on the vine before finally axing it in 1992.
Sad, really, because this is what has probably doomed Jeep pickup trucks all these years. At least Wrangler-based truck is finally coming back. It was long overdue. But let’s get back to Comanche.
Cherokee XJ-derived truck featured a 4-cylinder and a V6 option throughout its run. It even offered Renault’s turbodiesel 4-cylinder during its first year. Slow selling diesel was discontinued after that, however. Problem was, Chrysler never updated Comanche. At least not substantially. That left it vulnerable against its competitors: Ford Ranger and Chevy S-10. 190,446 total units were produced during Comanches’s run. Not exactly a figure to be trifled with, but Ford sold more than 1.5 million Rangers and Chevy pushed slightly smaller quantity of S-10’s during the same period. All of a sudden, Jeep Comanche does look like a sales flop.
2002-2006 Subaru Baja
Baja is another unsuccessful pickup truck produced and marketed by the beloved Subie. Unlike the BRAT, which gains in popularity as time passes, Baja is still rather obscured. Undeservedly so, if I might add, because cute compact pickup was as durable as they came. Courtesy of its Subaru Legacy/Outback origins.
Furthermore, Baja offered mandatory all-wheel drive and a sound 2.5L 4-cylinder Boxer engine. Horizontally opposed 4-cylinder was capable of producing 170 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque. Respectable figures in their own light, but far from everything Baja had to offer. The same mill was teamed up with a turbocharger for 2004 model year. In this setup, Baja generated 210 horsepower and 235 lb-ft of torque. Sadly, turbo Baja arrived too late to save the nameplate from untimely demise. Sales were poor as Subaru managed to push only 33,132 units over four years. Some of them well below the MSRP. Then again, Baja was only offered in the U.S. and Canada. And Chile, of all places.
But Baja’s main issue wasn’t the lack of power. It was rather short 41.5-inch open bed. Way too short to stuff anything of significance back there. No surprise most of North American buyers opted for pretty much anything else.
2003-2006 Chevrolet SSR
Being Subaru Baja’s coeval, Chevrolet SSR had all the prerequisites to do better than the Subie. It was manufactured by automaker with decades of experience in building pickup trucks, and it could have had a proper, usable cargo bed. Only it never got the latter. But then again, Super Sport Roadster wasn’t exactly imagined as a cargo hauler. This atypical roadster/utility mashup was more of a daily commuter with too many role models for its own good. So many in fact, that it failed in every category it tried competing in. It was too slow and robust to be considered a roadster. It didn’t have the payload of a pickup. And its retro convertible design was an acquired taste, really.
I’m not saying SSR’s engines weren’t powerful enough, though. Base models powered by 5.3L V8 initially, just never offered enough motivation for 4,764 pounder. 300 horsepower simply wasn’t enough. By the time 390-horsepower 6.0L V8 arrived in 2005, it was already too late. Furthermore, $42,000 sticker didn’t exactly help its cause either.
During its 4 year short tenure,Chevrolet SSR never managed to find its niche. Not surprising considering all of the aforementioned. To this day, it remains one of the bigger flops in Bow Tie brand’s recent history with 23,479 units sold in the U.S. Another 657 SSR’s were sold in Canada.
1937-1939 Studebaker Coupe Express J5
Studebaker Coupe Express J5 is, hands down, one of the most beautifully designed vintage trucks. It appeared during the twilight of the Art Deco era, and promptly disappeared from the scene just before the outbreak of the WWII, leaving no successor for 1940 Studebaker pickup lineup.
Unlike most of its coevals, Coupe Express proudly wore its passenger car-derived mask. With styling equal to that of entry level Dictator models, it actually predated Ford Ranchero and other car-derived pickups that would arrive full two decades later. It was also better equipped than its Ford or Chevy coevals, sporting such amenities as double-walled bed, wing windows, and optional Borg-Warner 3-speed transmission with overdrive. That also raised its price by some 15%. Compared to its competitors, of course. And that’s likely the main reason why it never caught on in the first place.
During Coupe Express J5’s three short years in the market, only some 5,000 people decided to give it a chance. Approximately 3,500 of them were built in 1937, 1,200 more followed in 1938 and around 1,000 were 1939 year models. Studebaker apparently built a few “woodie wagon” versions of the Coupe Express, but good luck finding them now.
1982-1984 Dodge Rampage/Plymouth Scamp
By the time eighties had arrived, Chevy El Camino remained the only successful car-based pickup in the market. Partially successful, if I might add. That didn’t hinder others from marketing similar models, though. Namely Chrysler whose Dodge Rampage/Plymouth Scamp duo held Mopar’s torch in this shrinking segment for three short model years.
Built upon compact Chrysler L platform shared with Dodge Omni and Charger, Rampage and Scamp were supposed to sell much more than 40,000 units between them, that they had. Rampage remains the rarest L-body Dodge out there, and you’ll be especially hard-pressed to spot a Plymouth Scamp nowadays. Especially since Scamp was only marketed for 1983 model year, and no more than 3,500 were produced.
Their leisurely tow ratings and anemic power outputs didn’t exactly help. Front-wheel drive layout was another detail that bothered traditional American pickup truck buyers. However, it was also one of Rampage/Scamp’s stronger points. Depending on perspective, of course. Another plus was 4-cylinder K engine’s solid fuel economy for the time. Rampage was rated 21 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway by the EPA. But all that wasn’t enough in the end. Both models got axed after 1984 model year and Chrysler never again offered a similar car.