Modern day pickup trucks and SUVs aren’t as sturdy and rough looking as those from a few decades ago. Well, pickups are still rather tough depending on build and manufacturer, but true body on frame SUVs are slowly but steadily becoming extinct. They are being replaced in favor of city-friendly unibody crossovers which simply don’t possess off-roading and towing capabilities of their predecessors. Not to mention the looks. This made us thinking. What were the coolest and best trucks and best SUVs ever made. There were so many great rides throughout the years and we have come up with no less than 50 of the best. Enjoy the scrolling.
Let us start with the SUVs’ forefather, the Chevrolet Suburban. What’s now extended-length, pickup-derived SUV started out as three-row half-ton Carryall Suburban back in distant 1935. It’s been one of GM’s most successful vehicles of all time which is clearly evident by its eight decade long production stint giving it an easy place as one of the best SUVs.
Another classic pioneer of the modern SUV market, Jeep Wagoneer saw very few changes during its healthy three decade long production run. Available with in-line sixes and V8s across numerous global markets, Wagoneer was usually offered with all-wheel drive. And those wood grain exterior panels became a trademark feature among similar vehicles of that time.
International Harvester Travelall
There was a time when International Harvester competed head to head with other major American pickup truck and SUV manufacturers. Travelall had four successful generations with latter two being the real deal. They were 5-door versions with either rear or all-wheel drive layouts, and they are a sorely missed suv today.
International Harvester Scout
If Travelall was successful, then the Scout was arguably IH’s best suv ever. It started off as soon as Travelall switched to third generation in order to fill the now empty 2-door SUV spot in the lineup. International Scout, and especially Scout II (1971-1980) still have a cult following long after their discontinuation. That testifies about their longevity and quality more than anything else.
Jeep Cherokee XJ
The Jeep Cherokee debuted in 1974 with the SJ variant, but it wasn’t until 1984 it became refined enough to set the standards for modern-day crossovers. Compact SUV was downsized and finally used the unibody structure. That’s pretty much the recipe for today’s crossovers which are slowly taking over the domestic car market.
Dodge Power Wagon
The original Dodge Power Wagon enjoyed plenty of success during the course of its fruitful lifespan. Known for their mandatory all-wheel drive (first civilian US application to accommodate such drivetrain) and imposing design, they helped many people in need for some workhorse back in the day. They were even the backbone behind United Arab Emirates’ oil empire.
Second Generation Dodge Ram
Power Wagon’s successor, the Ram didn’t really manage to earn its “Big Three” status before the second generation redesign. Sure, first generation had Cummins diesel in-line six, but it also had outdated, eighties look. Second generation cues can easily be seen in current trucks which speaks plenty about their craft and vision from 20 odd years ago. Needless to say, that’s the main reason why Ram remains one of the best trucks today.
It wasn’t really built for towing, but it had its own perks nevertheless. First it evolved from full-sized to compact, and then back to mid-sized coupe pickup which gave it plenty of versatility over time. That all depended on nameplates the Ranchero was adapted from. In any case, it was successful enough to spawn the GM competitor which actually managed to overshadow it over time.
Chevrolet El Camino
First produced in 1959 and 1960, El Camino was soon axed due to low sales. It would return in ’64 based on Chevelle which turned out to be one of the better moves GM had pulled. In the following years, El Camino would earn itself a cult following an become one of the best-known BVow Tie brand’s nameplates in history.
The Rambo Lambo still goes as one of the, if not “the” strangest Lamborghinis ever produced. This all-wheel drive SUV came with squared-off fenders, extended roof or uncovered short bed, and spare tire mounted on the tailgate. Certainly not what you’d expect from sports and supercars manufacturer. At least it came with V12 power which is Lambo’s hallmark for the change.
Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen is a combination of two seamlessly opposite things – indestructible ruggedness and plush luxuriousness. It’s an ugly duck on the outside and true Mercedes on the inside, an it’s been doing that for almost 40 years now.
Third Generation Toyota Hilux
Remember the time Toyota Hilux was offered in the states? Those times go ahead and beyond the third generation Hilux, but the third generation is still the most interesting to us. Why? Because that marks the introduction of all-wheel drive in the compact pickups. Furthermore, they had extremely high ground clearance and all the reliability and indestructibility they’re graced with today which is what places it on our list as one of the all time best trucks.
Speaking of Japanese compacts, there are a few like the Suzuki Samurai. Actually, Samurai counts among the lightest and nimblest all-wheel drive SUVs to ever wander the US roads and wastes. The off-road mini SUV had 80-inch wheelbase and it usually weighted no more than 2,060 pounds. That way its mid-60 horses 1.3L 4-cylinders didn’t feel as underpowered as they could have. I’ve been questioned many times for calling this one of the best suv of all time but I stand by it.
Datsun Trucks were the first Japanese pickups in the US market. It all started with Datsun 120/220 in late fifties, but culminated with fourth generation Datsun 620. They were the first to offer long bed in pickup trucks, and they debuted the king cab later on as well. Plus, they simply looked great.
Toyota Land Cruiser J40
Although Land Cruiser nameplate carries on today, Toyota J40 was a much different compact off-road vehicle back then. They were mostly offered with diesel engines, but FJ40 series came with Toyota F straight-six engines. The late FJ Cruiser tried to evoke that unique charm its distant predecessor possessed, but it’s definitely a wrong era for rugged compact SUVs we’re living in.
Ford F-100 “Effie”
Made after “Bonus Built” and before the “Refrigerator”, ’53 to ’56 F-100 is colloquially known as the “Effie”. They’re also the first F-Series pickups with modern nomenclature which still sticks today after six decades. Add to that more powerful powertrain and first Ford pickup automatic trans, and there’s your answer why we prize the “Effie” more than other pickups and SUVs.
Ford F-150 SVT Lightning
“Slightly” faster version of the F-150 pickup, SVT Lightning came in two short runs. First generation strut its stuff between ’93 and ’95, while second generation Lightning was available between 1999 and 2004 when it was de facto axed. Former models 240-horsepower 5.8L V8 engines, while latter came with supercharged 5.4L V8 making as much as 380 horses. They also featured different suspension and bolstered frame in order to accommodate all that power.
Chevrolet GMT400 454 SS
Ford SVT Lightning wasn’t exactly the first of its kind. After all, it was introduced in order to compete with fourth generation GM C/K performance-oriented truck. That truck was the 454 SS. As its name would suggest, it was crammed with 454ci 7.4L V8 big-block producing 230 horsepower. Limitations were mandatory rear-wheel drive, regular cab, and short box. Onyx Black paint was another, but I wouldn’t exactly call it a limitation.
GMC badge too had a high-performance pickup in early nineties. Although produced in only 2,995 units during 1991, GMC Syclone left quite a legacy behind it. During the time of its introduction, it was the quickest production pickup truck in the world. 4.3L turbo V6 with 280 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque was enough to ensure 0 to 60 acceleration of 5.3 seconds. That’s faster than what a number of supercars were capable of doing in previous decades.
Mentioning Syclone without Typhoon simply doesn’t make sense. Where former stopped, latter carried on. SUV Typhoon shared the same 4.3L LB4 turbo V6 engine with the Syclone pickup, but made 10 lb-ft of torque more and needed .4 seconds more in order to reach the 60 mph mark. After all, it was slightly heavier than its pickup sibling. There were close to 4,700 units produced during those two years.
Land Rover Defender
Although newer generations weren’t as bare-boned and off-road capable as early Landys, Land Rover Defender is a nameplate which mustn’t be omitted in any serious list regarding the best trucks and SUVs. Land Rover always offered a superb combination of off-road capability and comfort, but Defenders always leaned towards the latter. That’s why they have garnered a cult following.
Land Rover Range Rover
First generation Range Rover didn’t arrive to the US shores instantaneously. It needed more than fifteen years to do so, but when it finally did, it changed the perspective of the luxury SUV market. Sadly, it’s not one of the most reliable SUVs ever made, so it never became collector’s car.
Toyota Land Cruiser FJ-80
J80 generation Land Cruiser is as sturdy as any Cruiser, but it also offered modern-day looks. At least for its own era. Fitted with 4.2L straight-six, it was able to overcome any natural obstacle while offering smooth city ride with room for the entire family (and a large one at that).
Jeep Wrangler TJ
Second generation Wrangler is revered as most capable off-roading period of this iconic SUV. Wrangler was smaller then than it is now, and it used more capable suspension. At least as long as off-roading goes. Late second generation is also the period when Jeep launched the Rubicon trim package.
Jeep Wrangler Renegade
If it’s not the second generation Wrangler TJ, then it has to be the Wrangler Renegade. Renegade package included fully reworked 4.0L straight-six engine with higher than normal output of 190 horsepower. It might not seem like much today, but it was quite close to what Mustang generated back in the day.
Jeep CJ-8 Scrambler
Sticking with Jeeps for the moment. CJ-8 Scrambler is basically extended CJ-7 with removable half-cab. In other words, it’s effectively a combo between trucks and SUVs. Who says Jeep’s long-anticipated pickup is the first of its kind?
No matter what you think of it, Hummer had its high points. Although some will say it’s just an overpriced gas-guzzling immobile behemoth, don’t forget it had 16 inches of ground clearance and could have climbed over 22-inch high obstacles. As far as we are concerned, first generation H1 takes the cake here.
Ford Super Duty
There are few pickups as capable and versatile as Ford’s Super Duty lineup. Introduced in 1998 to compliment the iconic F-150, these heavy pickups are intended for much more serious towing. Workhorses as they are, they have remained somewhat outdated, but next model year finally brings aluminum to the table. Let’s see how that works out for the Blue Oval.
Ford SVT Raptor
2017 Ford Raptor is finally coming, but it wouldn’t have been one of the most wanted pickups of the decade had it not been for its predecessor. Ford SVT Raptor from a few years ago was powered by the normally aspirated V8 – a feat new Raptor won’t utilize. Like its successor, though, the old Raptor too was very capable off-roader, and its owners are still lucky they have it.
4Runner is still available today after more than 30 years in the market. That alone is quite a feat. SUV ha gone through quite a lot of changes over the years, but every single generation ended up being reliable. First 4Runners probably deserve the most plaudits being much more similar to the pickup trucks of the day.
Dodge Lil’ Red Express Truck
Dodge Lil’ Red Express is the proof that Ranchero, El Camino, and later on Syclone, weren’t the only high-performance pickup trucks ever created. Its 360ci V8 squeezed out 225 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. That’s more than strongest Corvette did at the time. And all that while carrying protruding exhaust stack more suitable for 18-wheelers.
W-250 and W-350 Dodge Power Ram
Early nineties Dodge Power Ram marks the introduction of the Cummins turbo diesel engines into the lineup. By doing so, Dodge Ram finally became worthy of its Power Wagon predecessor and even outclassed its Ford and Chevy competitors by offering 400 lb-ft of torque. If you’re wondering, this is where the torque wars actually started.
Willys CJ-2A was basically the first massively produced civilian iteration of the famous military SUV. Its 134ci Go Devil in-line four engine and 2,100 pounds light frame nicely complemented each other while creating a set of abilities early Willys’ are known for. CJ-2A was and will remain the epitome for a workhorse.
Jeep Gladiator/J Pickup
Jeep pickup might just become reality in a couple of years, but full-size Jeep pickup is long gone. Gladiator (renamed J Pickup in ’71) did fill that slot a few decades ago, and it did that with style. It was much more modern than its Willys-based predecessors, and it paved the way for the future generations.
There are no words to describe the void left in Ford’s lineup after Bronco’s demise. Sure, Expedition and Explorer are doing their jobs, but the Bronco was more than simply a reliable and capable vehicle. It was an icon, and its name alone meant the world. Maybe we’ll get it back someday.
Bronco wasn’t the only nameplate that died out that fateful day in 1996. Centurion – the unofficial Bronco spin-off ceased to exist that day as well. 4-door Bronco was based on F-150 and F-350’s chassis with SUV’s panels. At least the Expedition does one fine job of occupying that full-size three-row slot in Blue Oval’s lineup now.
Rod Hall Signature Edition Dodge
There were only 33 Rod Hall Signature Edition Dodge Ram 150s ever made which alone makes them badass. Sadly, they were only fitted with 318ci V8s which didn’t exactly offer the performance worthy of both Rod Hall and Carroll Shelby.
Effectively successor of the Datsun 720, Nissan Hardbody is the US name for the Nissan D21 generation of pickups. Hardbody nameplate wasn’t there for nothing. Nissan’s trucks back then featured double wall beds, and were generally tough. All-wheel drive units added that extra flare which forces us mentioning the truck on this list.
Dodge Shelby Dakota
Rod Hall Signature Edition Dodge wasn’t the only Dodge/Shelby pickup mashup. Shelby-powered Dodge Dakota was only offered in 1989, and it was powered by the 318ci LA V8 engine capable of making 175 horses. Only 1,475 were made, and they only came in white or red.
Chevrolet/GMC V3500 Crew Cab
Although light duty Chevy and GMC C/K trucks already switched to fourth generation design in ’88, heavy duty units remained old school for a few more years. That was a good move because modern design had its limitations in terms of towing capabilities. It somehow became a trend to evolve heavy duty pickups with that same lag from then on.
Second Generation Chevrolet/GMC C/K Trucks
Speaking of Chevy/GMC C/K trucks, second generation is probably the first series of them to catch much needed attention. They were manufactured across the states and world alike, and came with a number of different packages. They were also much more advanced then their predecessors, so it’s no wonder they made the list of the best pickups and SUVs ever made.
Kaiser Jeep M715
What do you get when you upgrade civilian Jeep Gladiator with military components? Kaiser Jeep M715 happens. This ton and a quarter pickup was one of the most capable such trucks of its era thanks to its sturdiness and 231ci Tornado straight-six engine.
The universal motor device is one of the most significant trucks ever made without a doubt. The Mercedes-Benz Unimog first appeared just after the WWII and has evolved quite a deal in the past 70 years or so. Used for military, civilian, firefighting, and pretty much every other purpose you can think of, the Unimog remains one of the most useful trucks to the present day.
Dodge Power Wagon Top Hand
One of the rarest Power Wagons ever made came in either 200 or 402 units depending on source. Top Hand was the package option introduced by Vic Hickey. Apart from being available with Power Wagons, it was also available with the Ramchargers and the Plymouth Trail Dusters.
Dodge Ram SRT-10
One of the meanest modern pickups created, Ram SRT-10 boasted 500 hp and 525 lb-ft of torque. Regular cab models were able to top 154 mph and accelerate to 60 in 4.9 seconds. Who says sports pickups were long extinct? Every once in a while someone manages to surprise us, and Dodge division has done that on numerous occasions.
Ford F-150 Harley-Davidson Supercharged
Harley-Davidson package for F-150 was available between 2000 and 2012, but 2007 models had some extra pizzazz to them. They featured the optional Saleen-made supercharger which bumped 5.4L V8’s figures to 450 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque.
Ford F-250 Highboy
After Blue Oval revised the F-250 for 1977/5 model year, all models made prior to that were given the new moniker: Highboys. They were appropriately named being 2 inches taller than their successors and all. Most of them were powered by 360 ci V8s. Easily among the best trucks ever made.
Ford Baja Bronco
One of the most kickass Broncos was the Baja, produced between ’71 and ’75 under Bill Stroppe’s supervision. They were painted in unique way, paired with 302 ci V8s and C4 transmissions, and offered with wide range of optional goodies. They are still some of the best off-road SUVs ever made.
Chevrolet Blazer Chalet
Chevy Blazer alone was one of the most important SUVs in history, but Chalet can be cooler if you look at things from campers’ perspective. They were equally capable as regular models, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find them today since less than 2,000 were made.
Ford Model T Runabout Pickup
Grandfather of pickup trucks – Model T with pickup body was introduced to the market more than 90 years ago. Needless to say, it changed that very same market in an instant, and shaped it into what we have today. The first model of one vehicle type is always deserving a mention on the list of most important such vehicles created, even if it had only 20 horsepower.