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15 of the Most Revolutionary Pickups Ever Made

These Legendary Pickup Trucks Have Helped Shape What We See Today

Updated October 29, 2018

Pickup trucks are now irreplaceable workhorses that drive the American small, medium and large businesses alike. They are actually more than that as revolutionary pickups have stepped out of their comfort zones and rediscovered the purposes that were unknown to them before. There was the number one truck in every single one of these new segments. Here are 15 of the most revolutionary trucks ever to have graced the American pavements and back roads alike.They sure have come along way from the old pickup trucks of yesterday to the luxury pickup models of today!

First pickup truck

Ford Model T Runabout with pickup body

Years: 1925-1927

To date, this remains one of the most important and revolutionary pickups ever made. After all, this was the first small truck offered to the general population back in 1925. Until then, the only hauling choices were massive, slow trucks or carriages in more remote areas. Blue Oval obviously has a long history of making the most popular and best-sold pickups, and it all stems from the good old Model T. Runabout with pickup body was available in black in true Model T fashion of the time, but it was also offered in green. 56 by 40 inches bed wasn’t exactly large by today’s standards but it helped many farmers and small business owners regardless.

Revolutionary Pickup Truck - 1926model-t-show-03

First light-duty 4WD pickup

Willys Jeep Pickup

Years: 1947-1965

Considering all the experience they had with Willys MB and later with Willys CJ-2A, it’s no wonder Willys-Overland Motors produced the first small 4WD pickup truck. Light-duty 4WD pickup wasn’t the unknown by the time Willys introduced their pickup, but other pickup truck players required the assistance from the third party manufacturers whereas Willys had them factory-made. One ton pickup was initially offered with 63-horsepower Go-Devil four cylinder engine which subsequently turned into 72-horsepower Hurricane engine. Later still, Willys pickup came with even stronger Super Hurricane and Tornado straight sixes.

Revolutionary Pickup Truck - willys_jeep_truck_3

First compact truck

Datsun 120/220

Years: 1955-1961

Compact pickup trucks don’t account for as huge chunk of the market as they did in seventies and eighties, but there was the time when they didn’t exist whatsoever. Datsun was the first to figure that out and they decided to remedy the situation by converting their 1000 sedan into compact truck. The result were the Datsun 120 and 220 pickups with anemic yet highly efficient 4-cylinder engines with power outputs between 25 and 60 horses. Datsun 120/220 were able to tow small cargos at much less expense than their full-size counterparts, thus revolutionizing the pickup segment.

Revolutionary Pickup Truck - 1959-datsun-220-pickup-1

First fleetside bed

Chevrolet Cameo

Years: 1955-1958

There’s more to Chevy Cameo than just the first fleetside bed. It was the first pickup to accommodate then new 265ci small-block V8, and it was basically the El Camino’s predecessor. Small-block engine survives to date, and so does the fleetside bed design. In fact, very few trucks after the Cameo featured the stepside beds which testifies a great deal about Cameo’s innovative status at the time.

Revolutionary Pickup Truck - 1957-chevy-cameo

First crew cab pickup

International Harvester Travelette

Years: 1957-1968

No pickup truck until then offered the crew cab configuration. International Harvester Travelette was the first, although it used three-door config between ’57 and ’61. After the full redesign in 1961, C-Series-based Travelette became the first American 4-door, 6-passenger, 4WD pickup truck. Travelette’s work duty crew cab concept would remain intact until the nineties when most pickups in the market finally received it as an option. Travelette isn’t one of the most revolutionary pickups of its era for nothing, after all.

Revolutionary Pickup Truck - 1967-IH-Travelette

First car-based pickup

Ford Ranchero

Years: 1957-1979

Innovative beyond comprehension at the time – Ford Ranchero is somewhat unappreciated today, especially compared to Chevy El Camino. Still, it remains the very first car-based pickup ever made and can be considered a design inspiration for all car-like trucks in the years that followed. It was full-size, compact and finally mid-size truck where it finally fulfilled its potential by being based on Ford Fairlane. Ranchero’s concept is something that current pickup truck market clearly lacks, but we’d still be surprised to see it make a comeback.

Revolutionary Pickup Truck - ford-ranchero-1965

First independent front suspension pickup

First Generation Chevrolet/GMC C/K Pickup

Years: 1960-1966

Although all of these are revolutionary pickups, there are very few that have revolutionized the segment as the first gen Chevy/GMC C/K trucks. There were many firsts involved with them, but most notable is their independent front suspension which allowed for almost car-like driving mechanics to what’s traditionally a truck. Pretty much every single one of their competitors saw the advantage of the independent suspension and all domestic trucks had one by the mid sixties. That speaks volumes about the first gen Chevy/GMC C/K pickups by itself.

Chevrolet_pickup

First independent front suspension 4WD full-size truck

Jeep Gladiator

Years: 1963

Among other things, Jeep is also known for being the first American manufacturer to have experimented with the independent front suspension in their full-size, all-wheel drive pickups and SUVs. Although Jeep Gladiator pickup was the first full-size truck to have featured that setup, independent front suspension with optional dual-rear wheels wasn’t exactly popular at the time. It took additional couple of decades until the setup caught the mainstream attention which happened with the seventh generation Ford F-150 trucks.

Revolutionary Pickup Truck - Jeep gladiator

First dual-rear wheel pickup truck

Chevrolet/GMC C/K 30 Big Dooley

Years: 1973-1991

Beginning with the third generation, Chevy and GMC C/K pickups started offering the dual-rear wheel configuration in order to tow more load and stabilize the same. The “Big Dooleys” were optional in one ton C trucks (and K trucks since 1977), and they could tow up to 10,000 pounds thanks to the famous 454ci V8 among other things. Big Dooleys can still be seen roaming the roads, but their modern counterparts are now part of the heavy duty lineups.

Revolutionary Pickup Truck - big dooley

First muscle truck

Dodge Lil’ Red Express

Years: 1978-1979

Powerful pickup truck wasn’t the unknown by the late seventies, but Dodge Lil’ Red Express elevated the muscle pickup truck term to an entirely different level. Specially tuned 360ci V8 surrounded by performance parts was able to generate a hefty 225 horsepower which was more than most vehicles made at the time. As its name suggests, it only came with red paint. Moreover, it featured a wooden-covered bed and 18-wheeler styled twin exhaust pipes. That way it both looked and sounded menacing which is no less than what one of the most revolutionary pickups deserved.

Revolutionary Pickup Truck - Dodge lil red

First compact 4WD truck

Toyota Hilux 4X4

Years: 1979-1983

Third generation Toyota Hilux saw the introduction of the all-wheel drive to the lineup. 4WD was far from the new concept at the time, but it was a new thing for the compact pickups. 4WD Hilux wasn’t only one hellishly capable off-road truck, but one of the most reliable ones as well. This is when Hilux earned itself “the indestructible truck” moniker and with good reason at that. Moreover, Hilux was quite efficient having only 4-cylinder engines in its bay. It was really an amalgam of pros which helped cement not only Hilux’s, but Toyota’s reputation as an automaker for the years to come.

Revolutionary Pickup Truck - toyota-hilux-1980

First mid-size pickup

Dodge Dakota

Years: 1987-2011

Although we’re mostly talking about the compact pickup segment, it’s worth noting that compact truck segment doesn’t actually exist. At least not in the US. We have Dodge Dakota to “thank” for that. It was the very first mid-size pickup which started “killing off” the smaller competitors. Dakota came in many interesting forms during its 24 year production stint including the Sport Convertible and Shelby performance editions. Although it’s not being produced at the time, every single current mid-size pickup carries over its legacy.

Revolutionary Pickup Truck - Dodge_Dakota_1994_SLT

Arguably the most revolutionary diesel pickup

Dodge Ram W250/W350 Cummins

Years: 1989-1993

It wasn’t the first diesel pickup in the US. It wasn’t even the first Dodge pickup in the states, but it did earn itself a status of one of the most revolutionary pickups to date. 5.9L straight-six turbo diesel was built to last, it had more torque than any of its competitors, and it was more fuel efficient at the same time. What’s most important, it helped propelling the Ram nameplate to what it is today. Ram-Cummins cooperation is still sound today which probably speaks the most about W250 and W350 heavy duty diesels. Moreover, other manufacturers too use diesels in their own heavy duty lineups now.

Revolutionary Pickup Truck - 1991-dodge-ram

First specialized heavy-duty pickup

Ford Super Duty

Years: 1999-present

It wasn’t until 1999 that Ford figured out something had to be done with their heavy duty pickup lineup. Up until then, all manufacturers used the same chassis and bodywork on both half ton and one ton pickups, even though they were intended for different purposes. New Ford Super Duty lineup at the time changed all that and offered the first dedicated HD trucks. They finally had the new bodies more capable and better suited for what they were actually intended for – towing.

Revolutionary Pickup Truck - f250

First performance-oriented off-road pickup

Ford F-150 SVT Raptor

Years: 2010-2014

Second generation Raptor sales are just a whisker away from commencing, but it was the 2010 SVT Raptor that started it all. Unique pickup truck to date emphasized on extreme performance and even more extreme off-road capabilities thanks to the powerful engines and custom long-travel suspension. Performance-oriented off-roader started off with 310-horsepower 5.4L V8 engine and continued with 411-horsepower 6.2L V8 unit soon enough. It even spawned the extremely powerful Shelby and Hennessey performance editions along the way. As if it wasn’t powerful enough as it was.

Revolutionary Pickup Truck - 2013-Ford-F-150-SVT-Raptor

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Nikola Potrebić
About Nikola Potrebić

Despite driving a piece of junk, Nikola still manages to survive the harrowing experience called "A road trip in a Yugo," day in, day out. On the other hand, precious few things move him as muscle cars do. Especially those from the bygone golden era, which makes him wonder why wasn't he born a few decades earlier? Well, at least he's been given the opportunity to enjoy the likes of the Pontiak Aztek, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Fiat Multipla, and other lovely millennials, right? Come to think of it, I'll stick with my Yugo. Thank you very much.

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