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10 Classic Trucks That Simply Must be Restored at All Costs

These classic pickup trucks deserve no less

Updated January 23, 2018

Every gearhead trying to embark on a classic vehicle restoration has his work cut out in front of him. However, classic trucks are a different matter entirely. Their restoration is often on entirely new level, simply due to their purpose and nature. Having served as workhorses, often for decades at a time, most of classic pickups have at one point crossed the threshold of being worth saving. At least financially speaking. But since we gearheads are sensitive beings when it comes to classic vehicles, we often don’t care about financial aspects of a full blown restoration.

If, by any chance, pickup truck in question is one of the following 10 – restoration should be undertaken as soon as possible. Every classic pickup truck owner has a moral obligation towards the auto world society. After all, classic trucks aren’t growing on trees. There ain’t gonna be any more of them, and all of us have to do everything within our power in order to save as many of them as possible. Of course, all in accordance with means that are at our disposal. Here are 10 vintage classic trucks that are well worth saving.

1955-1958 Chevrolet Cameo Carrier

As vintage as vehicle can get – Chevy Cameo Carrier should be high on any truck aficionado’s list. But Cameos aren’t your average vintage pickups. They’re revolutionary vintage trucks. If you wonder which truck had reduced the stylistic gap between old school workhorse pickups and passenger cars, and when – look no further. It was the Chevy Cameo Carrier which had revolutionized the pickup in general, and instilled the idea of a more car-friendly workhorse, more than 60 years ago. And it was all done in one, rather simple move. Introduction of then new fleetside bed.

But fleetside bed with chrome-edged gap (between bed and cab) wasn’t alone in terms of more car-like updates. Full chrome front and rear bumpers were also uncommon in a workhorse beforehand, and so were optional features like radio and power steering. In addition, Cameo Carrier was the first Chevy pickup with V8 under its hood. In 1955, it was the 265ci overhead-valve small-block, while 283ci V8 came in 1957. Standard choice, however, was still 235.5ci straight-six mated to 3 or 4-speed manual transmission. Consider yourself lucky if you find the base setup, however, as most people decided to go with optional V8 and 4-speed Hydra-Matic auto.

Atop of that, Cameos were already rare. ’55 models were limited to Bombay Ivory exterior, and Commercial Red interior and bed. 5,220 of these had found their new owners that year. ’56 and ’57 year models added new color schemes, but their numbers dwindled regardless. Only 1,452 and 2,244 were sold respectively. Finally, by 1958 Cameo was playing its swan song. 1,405 of them were sold, and Chevy decided to discontinue the nameplate. Cameo did what it was supposed to do. It introduced the new, revolutionary car-friendly styling to the pickup truck world and it was time for C/K series to rise and shine. Task Force design went into well deserved retirement, and so did the stepside bed design.

1978-1979 Dodge Li’l Red Express

Austere and performance-sterile late seventies were more charitable than you think. They opened up the window of opportunity for numerous nameplates that couldn’t even dream of being in the mix for the fastest American vehicle beforehand. But still, who would have thought that a pickup truck would take the laurels?!

That’s exactly that happened in 1978, when Dodge morphed their “Adult Toys” Warlock truck into muscle-oriented Li’l Red Express. Someone at Mopar figured out that catalytic converter rule doesn’t apply to pickup trucks. That loophole practically put professional athlete that was Li’l Red Express into paralympic group consisting of every other car in the market. Unfair or not, Mopar’s performance-oriented half-ton D150 pickup packed 225 horses thanks to modified version of police (E58) V8 engine. 360ci four-barrel small-block (EH1) mill featured upgraded police cam, SuperFlow heads, dual-snorkel air intake, heavy duty valve springs, and modified A-727 TorqueFlite 3-speed auto transmission.

1979 models were slightly revised. They featured new flat hood and dual square headlights. Yet, their most important identity piece remained as dual semi-inspired chrome exhausts carried over unchanged. Of course, fastest American 0 to 100 mph vehicle for ’78 quickly caught EPA’s attention. That leads us to another change. ’79 year models also got the dreaded catalytic converter. Although detuned, they were still potent enough to tackle almost any car out there. Even the Corvette.

Dodge sold 2,188 units in 1978 and 5,118 models in 1979. As you can see, apart from being extremely potent, Li’l Red Express’ were also quite rare. Their price tag had a major role in that. Base D150 started at $5,168, and Li’l Red Express package added another $1,131. That wasn’t all, however. Li’l Red Express required additional upgrades beforehand, raising the total to at least $7,422 with more available options to follow.

1973-1987 Chevy and GMC Pickups

Not the they were the best or the most famous of all C/K trucks, but they certainly did have that special something. The X factor of sorts. And I’m not only talking about around two dozen flamboyant special editions which we’ve covered earlier in part I and part II, here. Third generation C/K pickups were some of the most durable and often abused classic trucks ever to have come out of almost dozen American and Canadian GM assembly lines.

“Square body” generation were unlike anything else seen on the roads back in the day. And they were in development for five full years before they finally debuted in mid-1972. Although GM gave them somewhat misleading “Rounded line” moniker, both Chevy and GMC full-size twins actually started a boxy revolution that would reach its peak years later.

Long production cycle, naturally, meant numerous changes. Total of nine different powertrains were used including straight and vee-angled 6’s, V8’s and two diesels. One of which was dreaded Olds 350ci V8. At the same time, 73-87 Chevy and GMC trucks offered no less than six different transmissions. Countless numbers of different equipment codes, stylistic changes and millions of sold trucks were another part of this truck’s proud history. If you get the chance to prolong the life of one such illustrious pickup – don’t hesitate to do so.

1946-1956 Dodge Power Wagon

Ask anyone in United Arab Emirates who built their country, aside from humongous oil reserves? The answer will unmistakably be the Power Wagon. And if we’ve been taught something about UAE, it’s that they love nice cars over there. It’s not exactly an epiphany – the fact that classic Dodge Power Wagon is one fine vehicle – but it’s nice to know someone on the other side of the world shares that sentiment.

Although we can now bask in the light of new Power Wagon, classic models strutted their stuff between 1946 and 1978. Vintage specimens, however, have to be the first two series’ which ran from 1946 to 1950 and from 1951 to 1956 respectively. These are the essential workhorse, no nonsense vintage Power Wagons. Being built for military during WWII, it comes as no surprise they were also practically indestructible and highly reliable. Another reason why Dodge Power Wagons deserve to be restored, wherever they may be.

What’s more, Dodge Power Wagon became the first mass produced 4×4 pickup. Although, Willys 4T would become the world’s first light-duty truck with similar credentials, the following year. Civilian one-ton Power Wagons were very slow in promoting changes. There were precious few of them, but second series’ initial year seems to have brought the most. In 1952, bed was completely restyled, but it kept the same 8-foot length. Engine got the new starter for increased power output, and fresh rubber mountings, but 230ci Flathead six itself remained. Both axle capacities increased, but yet again, Power Wagon remained almost unchanged.

They were so helpful on all fronts that Dodge kept producing them for export until 1978, even though US production ceased a decade earlier. They likely made them until tooling drew its last breath. One example of Power Wagon’s helpful nature were New York State Telephone Company’s specially equipped models. They came with a boom and winch powered by 6-hp auxiliary motor. Thanks to these, crew of two men were able to drill a 12-inch wide and 5.5 feet deep posthole in matter of minutes. Restore one and you might be able to do the same too.

1960-1984 Toyota FJ45 Pickup

Toyota FJ40 Series alone is one of the most epic off-road vehicles ever made. FJ40 Series trucks (dubbed FJ45), on the other hand, are as good as classic trucks can get. Although they were available worldwide and produced in seamlessly limitless numbers, they’re highly deserving of a makeover. Plus, pickups were still rather rare compared to SUV’s.

Land Cruisers came to pass as Japanese answer to the first Jeeps and Land Rovers. In fact, they also started their career as military vehicles during the Korean war. US military needed their Willys MB’s in the far east, but it was easier to assemble them closer by. Toyota was seen as the best candidate and US military gave them 100 Willys specimens from which they would build on. By 1953, Toyota started full production by themselves. By 1955, J20 Series became the first civilian Land Cruiser generation, and by 1960, they switched to J40 Series which most people consider the ultimate classics these days.

FJ45 pickup trucks debuted at the same time as their shorter FJ40 counterparts. F stood for engine type (petrol), J stood for Jeep, and numerals depicted configurations. For instance, 40 stood for short wheelbase, two-door, four-wheel drive, while 45 stood for long-wheelbase, 2, 3 or 4-door, and all-wheel drive. BJ Land Cruisers came with diesel B-type engines.

FJ45 pickup trucks benefited from the same praise-worthy 3.8L inline-six F-type petrol engine as most other Land Cruisers. This engine was so good that it could have pushed for 500,000 miles and more without a single problem. Not only was their engine durable, but so were transmission and leaf suspension. In fact, only rust and force were able to destroy the good old FJ40. As of 1975, F-type engine was replaced with larger displacement 4.2L 2F-type mill. It was more powerful and efficient, but otherwise similarly reliable as its predecessor.

There were some differences between the years and options. Some FJ45 pickups came with optional removable hardtop, while some came with extremely short beds very difficult to find today. They may be commanding premium price these days, but FJ45 pickups can also easily return on investment in the future. Around 300 imported 1983 models command extra premium these days. These were the last American market FJ40’s, while Canada was supplied for additional year. In contrast, Brazilian market FJ40’s started in 1968 and continued well into 2001.

1948-1956 Ford F-Series

First and second generation Ford F-Series are true classic trucks that simply must be restored. If they weren’t already restored, that is. I’m aware that I’m not surprising anyone with their inclusion to the list, but that’s exactly the point. Most popular American vehicle of all times hides some mysteries, but that’s natural for a vehicle that’s been in the market for nearly 70 years and sold millions of units along the way.

First generation F-Series was also Blue Oval’s first post-war truck design. Bonus-Built line, as they called it, spanned across all sizes from half-ton to three-ton extra heavy-duty models. Power came from base Flathead inline-six (215ci, 226,ci and 254ci), Flathead V8 (239ci and 337ci) and Y-Block V8 engines (279ci and 317ci). Designations started from F1 (half-ton) and went all the way to already mentioned three-ton F8’s with 20,000–22,000 pound GVWR. All of them, however, were no-nonsense workhorses with very little in terms of more refined optional features. Marmon-Herrington all-wheel drive was one of these, and so were foot-operated “See-Clear” windshield washer, sun visor and chrome trim. First generation went through couple of revisions in 1951 and 1952 which brought new styling, two levels of cab trim (first time since late thirties) and new hood respectively.

From 1953, second series dubbed “Economy Truck Line” received new numeral designation starting from F100 and ending with F700. Engines also switched generations. New inline-six “Mileage Maker” 215ci and 223ci made their debut. On the other hand, Flathead 239ci V8 was retired after 1953. Rest of the lineup consisted of Ford 239ci and 256ci Y-Block V8’s and Lincoln 279ci and 317ci Y-Blocks. Styling changes occurred more often this time. Grille was changed for all four model years, and addition of new tires and optional power brakes for ’55 rounded up the changes. First F-Series are true classic trucks that offer many restoration options due to availability of parts and equipment.

1981-1986 Jeep CJ-8 Scrambler

Although it represented everything a pickup truck enthusiast desired, CJ-8 Scrambler went under the radar like very few Jeeps had back in the day. Basically a long-wheelbase CJ-7, CJ-8 was introduced five years into its sibling’s production cycle. What made it unique, apart from 10 extra inches, was removable half-cab which effectively converted it into a pickup truck. It also came with optional Scrambler appearance package adding tape graphics, Scrambler lettering and special wheels. Since many people ordered their CJ-8 with this feature, name Scrambler stuck forever.

Final production figures stopped at 27,792 which was much less than Jeep expected. With around 5,500 models per year average, for 5 years (plus 128 leftover trucks sold in ’86), Scrambler is now one rare and increasingly expensive find. All-wheel drive was standard across the board while small pickup went on without too much motivational force. Only 2.5L 4-cylinder and 4.2L AMC in-line six were offered and they didn’t really make too much power. Former pushed 82 horses while latter made 110 ponies. 4-speed manual was the most popular transmission option that came with the Scrambler. Other options consisted of a 5-speed manual and the 3-speed Borg-Warner auto. Bonus powerplant was offered in European exports which featured 60-horsepower 2.4L 4-cylinder diesel.

What makes Scrambler a fine restoration candidate is he fact that it shares most of its panels with the CJ-7. On the other hand, they’ve already become recognizable classic trucks in high demand, which makes them rather expensive. Furthermore, many of them have been moded to some extent so finding fully stock originals is even harder. Then again, it would be a shame if too many of them ended up in a scrap yard. There certainly ain’t gonna be any more of them.

1974-1977 Mazda Rotary Pickup (REPU)

As the world’s only ever Wankel rotary-engined pickup truck, Mazda B-Series qualifies as one of the rarest classic pickups ever made. What’s more, they were exclusively limited to American and Canadian markets. Compact in size with even smaller 1.3L engine and low payload of 1,350 pounds, Mazda Rotary pickup is definitely one of the most outrageous attempts at marketing a truck.

However petite, that 13B Wankel buzzer and four-barrel Hitachi Carb generated 110 horsepower and redlined at 7,000 rpm. Moreover, base versions went for less than $4,000 back in the day. Although styling and affordability were its main advantages, REPU also boasted one of the most incredible engine sounds ever heard in a truck. That’s what rotary engine was best at – squeezing as much power as possible with laughably small displacements and producing great exhaust notes along the way. Although not very practical as a workhorse and less than efficient considering its engine size, REPU is much sought after these days. The fact that it only ran for three years and around 14,364 of them were assembled, makes it somewhat expensive.

On the other hand, considering more and more people are buying classic trucks (and pickups in general) for styling and not for practicality these days, REPU is actually one fine choice for pickup restoration. It won’t be helping you move away and switch apartments, but it will certainly turn some heads while you’re driving it. And driving one is supposed to be rather fun.

1964-1967 Dodge Custom Sport Special

First and second generation Dodge D Series trucks can’t exactly boast with good looks. Incidentally, it’s exactly then, that Dodge had marketed the CSS package with D and W 100, 200, Sweptline, Utiline, and Chassis cab trucks. CSS stood for Custom Sport Special and it really packed some kick when coupled with HPP (high performance package). In a sense, it was a predecessor of all future performance-oriented trucks.

CSS trim was only offered from ’64 to ’66, but some CSS trucks were marketed in 1967 as well (though without the HPP). What’s interesting is that CSS package actually consisted of various parts taken from other Dodge cars. Bucket seats, for instance, came from Dart, while center console migrated from Polara. Floor and gas tank carpet, chrome bumpers, and racing hood stripes were the rest of $235 worth of options.

HPP, which often came with CSS, consisted of power steering, dual exhausts, torque rods taken from Chrysler Imperial and heavy duty instruments. Most important part, however, was the 365-horsepower 426ci wedge-head V8 with 727 pushbutton 3-speed auto transmission. Here comes the tricky part. CSS was available with most Dodge trucks at the time, and could have been ordered with smaller 225ci slant six and 318ci V8. HPP which cost additional $1,200 or more, was only available with D100 and D200 long bed pickups.

Apparently, less than 30 trucks were ordered with both of these packages which makes them sort of a holy grail of pickups. Any Custom Sport Special Dodge, however, is a fine restoration candidate, regardless of what’s sleeping under its hood. And engine swaps aren’t that uncommon these days as well.

1939-1942 and 1945-1947 Hudson Big Boy C28

Some time prior to Nash/Hudson merger which resulted in creation of AMC, both companies were struggling to compete with the big three. Given the fact they couldn’t offer affordable workhorse, Hudson brass opted for different approach. They took their Commodore sedan and converted it into a pickup truck. This became one of the more refined classic trucks of its era with interior designed by one of America’s first female car designers Betty Thatcher Oros.

Produced between ’39 and ’42, and between ’45 and ’47 after the war, Hudson C28 pickup trucks got the “Big Boys” moniker. At least three-quarter ton versions did. The same name wasn’t intended for half-ton models, but years passed and the name stuck with all C28’s.

Big Boy Hudson classic trucks were powered by 102-horsepower 3.5L straight-six dubbed “Super Six.” They also featured column-mounted 3-speed manual transmission which was a step forward at the time when others were still using floor-mounted shifters. With 3,500 pounds of weight, 128-inch wheelbase and 8-foot bed, “Big Boys” clearly earned their moniker. Don’t miss on an opportunity to work on one if you get the chance. They’re rare and expensive, but they’re also some of the most beautiful vintage trucks ever made.

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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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