20 of the Rarest and Coolest Pickup Truck Special Editions You’ve Probably Never Heard About Part II
Pickup trucks so rare you likely never knew they existed
Updated November 11, 2018
After a while, our popular list of largely unknown rarest and coolest pickup truck special editions is becoming a two-part series. Like it was the case with the first part, I’ll focus on some obscured and forgotten special editions of otherwise well-established models. Whether regional specials, dealer packages, third party supplier models or fully licensed official manufacturer’s packages, all have somehow fallen through the cracks. Neither one of the following 20 has managed to achieve a cult-like status of the Dodge Li’l Red Express or the GMC Syclone. So, please, don’t ask about them? Emphasis here is on forgotten and widely unknown. Although the former two were rare, they were also immensely popular during their heyday, and they still are. Don’t ask about the Jeep Honcho and the Ford F-150 Nite as well. They’ve already been listed in Part I which I’ve just linked for you.
1981 Chevrolet C10 Rollin’ Rebel
Square body GM pickup trucks were a breeding ground for special editions, as you’ll see below. One of them was the Rollin’ Rebel built on a short bed Chevy C10 chassis by a third party manufacturer. The Choo Choo Customs out of Chattanooga, Tennessee, to be more precise. Although its peculiar graphics scream 1970s, the Rollin’ Rebel was actually only released in 1981.
Apart from the silver paint scheme with gray inserts in red pinstripes, the Rollin’ Rebel also featured unique red velour upholstery, special wheels and tires, chromed bumpers, front air dam, aerodynamic side steps, and a roofline spoiler. The only engine available was the 305 cu in V8. Short-bed models mostly came with these anyway. Moreover, Rollin’ Rebels were only available in Custom DeLuxe trim and their only identifier (aside from Choo Choo upgrades) was a numbered plaque on their wooden dashboards.
1979 GMC Amarillo
You know that GMC really tried marketing the Amarillo since they offered it in three distinctive models. The Base Amarillo, Amarillo GT, and range-topping Amarillo Cowboy Cadillac. The nameplate itself comes from the range-topping GMC Caballero trim. Like the Rollin’ Rebel mentioned above, Amarillo too was commissioned by a third party manufacturer. American Coach Corporation from Warren, Ohio, this time.
Apart from a yellow paint job, and red and orange graphics and lettering, ACC also added LR 60 BF Goodrich tires into the entry-level mix. Amarillo GT came with larger LR 70 radials, finned wheels, color-matching front air dam, a roffline spoiler, and chromed side pipes. Finally, Amarillo Cowboy Cadillac further added softer upholstery and interior trim, a headliner, a carpet and a “truckers lounge” seat. the 1979 GMC Amarillo was one of the fastest trucks of the time, running quarter-miles in 15.6 seconds. A feat they were capable of achieving thanks to a 240-horsepower 454 cu in V8 engine and, of course, its slick BF Goodrich radials.
1983-1987 Chevrolet El Camino SS Choo Choo
The aforementioned Rollin’ Rebel wasn’t the only Chevy reworked by the Tennessee-based Choo Choo Customs. They also dabbled with the iconic El Camino. Between 1983 and 1987 – Elky’s last generation – the Choo Choo Customs customized exactly 4,950 El Camino units. 587 in 1983, and 1,309, 1,198, 995, and 861 later on respectively. Despite wearing the fabled SS moniker, all of them were actually conventional units with added badging. Chevrolet stopped offering the El Camino SS in 1983 and they simply contracted the Tennessee company to do so in their stead.
Known for their body modifications, the Choo Choo fitted conversion vehicles with custom-built SS type grille from previous years and aerodynamic polyurethane front nose. Likewise, they also branded the interior with a chrome train logo above the glove compartment. Performance was left intact, however and Super Sport badge didn’t mean a lot here in that regard.
1985 El Camino IROC-S pace car and 1986 El Camino Indianapolis track service car
Choo Choo Customs didn’t stop there. Chattanooga company was commissioned by the International Race of Champions in 1985 and for the Indy 500 in 1986. Former required a pace car which would end up being the only pickup truck ever to pace an IROC race. The original featured a roll bar with strobe lights, hand-painted decals and Goodyear tires alongside red, white and blue paint. It also came with the all-aluminum 350 cu in V8 engine. Choo Choo built 15 replicas of the original pace car to be sold to enthusiasts.
Latter of the two was built in order to tag along the official Corvette pace car of the 1986 Indy 500 and perform various on-track services before and throughout the race. Service car also featured an all-aluminum 350 cu in V8 mill, strobe lights upon roll bar and 16-inch Center Line wheels like the IROC-S Elky from the year before. Both remained in Choo Choo’s possession until the company went out of business in mid 2000s when they were sold to the same collector. They’ve been resold and separated since 2008.
1976 Ford F-Series Spirit of ’76
Being one of the Big Three, it comes as no surprise that Ford jumped on board the America’s bicentennial wagon in 1976. However, their bicentennial offering was somewhat limited and reserved. The F-Series was their only selection for this patriotic special edition package and the package itself was anything but flashy. Ford remained reserved, unwilling to be perceived opportunistic.
Two exterior paints were offered; Wimbledon White or Bahama Blue. Rest of the exterior flair came from one wide golden eagle crest and stripe, and blue/red pinstripes surrounding it. Meanwhile, interior received blue vinyl seats with plaid red, white and blue cloth inserts treatment. The same eagle crest from the outside could also be found on the glove compartment. That was basically it. The Ford F-Series Spirit of 76 edition is extremely rare these days, meaning not many of them were ordered from the factory back then.
1976-1979 GMC Royal Sierra
The GMC Royal Sierra wasn’t exactly a special edition package, but it sure was rare. Even more so than most pickup truck special editions back then. This end-of-the-year promotional package served as an opportunity to stack one’s truck with as many options imaginable at discount prices. That’s why most of them are somewhat upscale. And it appears there haven’t been more than 500 or so Royal Sierras ordered in total. Much more popular Chevy Bonanza was basically the same thing.
Royal Sierras were all based on lower intermediate Z62 option code for the GMC Sierra Grande with added floor carpeting that was otherwise only available with more upscale Z82 and YE9 trims. This practice was abandoned after 1979. GMC continued offering discounted packages, but as of 1980, those were upper intermediate Z84 and luxury YE9 trims. However, they were still named High Sierra and Sierra Classic respectively. Until 1982 when Z84 High Sierra was discontinued, that is.
1979-1982 Plymouth Arrow Sport Pickup
No, it wasn’t based on a Mitsubishi Celeste hatchback rebadge otherwise known as Plymouth Arrow. The Plymouth Arrow pickup was actually a Mitsubishi Forte (Triton or L200 today) clone. This extremely rare and forgotten Plymouth did share it’s hatchback cousin’s Astron engine, though. Both the 2.0L and the 2.6L versions. Unexpectedly for such an obscured compact captive import, the Plymouth Arrow truck also offered a special Sport package.
The Plymouth Arrow Sport package came either in two-tone paint or with multi-color striping. Available colors mostly circled around black, red, yellow, orange, beige and gold. Contrasting color wheels and bumblebee-striped buckets were also part of the package. Apart from Forte being Mitsubishi’s first ever compact truck, the Arrow was also Plymouth’s first and only post-war rear-wheel-drive truck. This Ford Courier and Chevy LUV fighter simply came too late in order to make any notable impact. And Plymouth badge probably didn’t help it along the way too.
1989 Dodge Shelby Dakota
I dare say this is actually the best known special edition truck of this bunch. This rare sport truck was produced in only 1,500 copies – 640 of which were white and 860 of which were red. Apart from a limited selection of paints, the Shelby Dakota distinguished itself by offering unique body graphics and lettering, 15-inch 5-spoke hollow alloy wheels, special front air dam and bumpers, cab-mounted fiberglass light bar, and Bosch auxiliary lights below a blacked-out grille.
But what mattered the most was under the hood. Dodge Dakotas of the time were either fitted with four bangers or V6’s. Not the Shelby, though. This version was enhanced by a 5.2L Magnum V8 from Mopar’s full-size line. It produced 175 hp (5 more than in other models) and 270 lb-ft of torque. Extra 5 ponies came from replacing the engine-drive fan with an electric one, mounted in front of the radiator. This move was necessary since Dakota’s engine bay was too small to fit the original V8 setup. At the time, the 1989 Shelby Dakota was the best-performing truck on the market.
GMC Foxy Sierra
Alongside the Mule which we’ve covered in previous installment, the Foxy Sierra is likely the most mysterious of all square-body GM pickups. It was built by a third party manufacturer Alpha Vehicles Inc. from South Elkhart, Indiana, but neither total production numbers nor production years are known to us. Judging by its name, the Foxy Sierra was nothing more than a spiced up conventional GMC Sierra.
It came with special hood and side three-part stripes and corresponding interior with unique upholstery, carpeting and a console ice box between the buckets. Some of them even got the optional bed-mounted roll bar with driving lights. Alpha Industries did recommend potential conversion buyers to order solid-colored fenderside trucks with a smaller V8 engine paired to an automatic transmission. Whether all of their customers followed that recommendation, is anyone’s guess.
1977 GMC Desert Fox
The Desert Fox special was so good-looking that it spanned across both the Sierra pickup truck and the Jimmy SUV lineups. It was also available with both the fenderside and the wideside body styles, and with both the rear and the four-wheel drive configurations. Desert Fox’s main distinguishing item was its Buckskin paint job with five additional stripe colors. The package itself came to $1,731 when it first came out.
Apart from one of the loveliest paint schemes among square bodies, Desert Fox also offered a standard rollbar with with dual Cibie lamps and matching color PA6 sport wheels. On top of that, Desert Fox could have been ordered with a standard set of options including the air conditioning, cruise control, and many other upgrades. This wasn’t a factory-installed package, however, but a third party special done by the Hickey Enterprises inc. based in Ventura, California.
2007 Ford F-150 Saleen S331
Saleen isn’t known exclusively for their S7 supercar. They’re also adept tuners and accomplished special edition builders. One of their most interesting offerings is the F-150 S331 sport truck built upon the eleventh generation SuperCab FX2 F Series. Saleen only built 398 of them and six SuperCrew model exceptions are known to exist as well.
The Saleen S331 is easily distinguishable by its Saleen decals, 22-inch BF Goodrich radials wrapped around 23-inch forged wheels, rocker-panel extenders, and a stamped aluminum hood. Under that hood beats the 5.4L V8 heart bolstered with Saleen’s in-house 2.3L blower. While original F-150s started at around $30,000 and delivered 300 horsepower, the S331 started from $55,000 and generated as much as 450 ponies. There was also the non-supercharged version of the Saleen F-150 which cost $10,000 less and delivered “only” 325 horsepower.
1976-1981 Chevy Sport
Being available for six model years, the Chevy Sport package stuck the longest of all square body GM truck’s special editions. Needless to say, it had also changed a lot between its inaugural and farewell years. Initially available exclusively with stepside trucks, Chevrolet expanded it to its fleetside lineup later on. Mandatory requirement for this RPO Z77 Sport package was the second tier RPO Z62 Scottsdale trim.
Although they changed over the years, body stripes were always a part of the Chevy Sport setup. They were all white initially, but ended up being multi-colored by the time everything was said and done. Rally wheels, a hood ornament, and a deluxe front bumper were also part of the setup depending on a model year. Base engines were also the least powerful 250 cu in six and a 2-barrel version of the 350 cu in V8. Options included a 4-barrel version of the 350, 454 cu in V8 and 400 cu in V8, albeit the latest was exclusively tied to four-wheel drive units.
1976 Chevrolet Spirit of ’76
Being the largest U.S. automaker, GM simply couldn’t afford to pass up on the opportunity to exploit country’s bicentennial back in ’76. Like Ford, however, they remained rather reserved, pushing only 500 or so of these pickup truck special editions into the market. Most were blue/white or white/blue, but it seems that light blue models with red, white and blue side body stripe were also available.
All of them got the same interior styling, though, which consisted of “Spirit of ’76” emblems on door panels and red, white and blue vinyl seat treatment. That was basically all there was to them. Otherwise, they were all built on the same Bonanza custom trim which added special fender callouts, wheel covers, a chrome grille, color-keyed carpets, air conditioning, etc.
1976 GMC Impact Edition
Impact edition of the GMC Sierra is extremely easy to confuse with the aforementioned Spirit of ’76 edition. Apart from being marketed in the same year, the Impact Edition featured a red white and blue strobe side body and hood stripes that were usually associated with Mopar’s Spirit of ’76 editions. Furthermore, Impact Edition pickups also resemble the 1975 Indy truck from which they got the stripes. Thing was, the Impacts were also available with all-red stripes. And they were actually converted by the Motortown Corporation out of Dearborn, Michigan.
Aside from the 1975 Indy truck stripes, the package itself included a revised functional front air dam, front and rear wheel flares, and dual custom outside mirrors. Optional equipment and features like a roof air deflector, painted cargo bed, and Delco AM/FM stereo units were also available Impact Edition could have been ordered exclusively with wideside half-ton and three-quarter ton trucks.
1972 Chevrolet Highlander Pickup
Highlander was nothing other than a unique plaid upholstery package available on 1972 Chevy Suburban, Blazer and Pickups. However, it was extremely rare to begin with and only handful seat covers have likely survived 45 years of servitude, if any. Helping circumstance is the fact that the Highlander package was available with any Chevy pickup size imaginable.
There were four color options for this tartan upholstery: blue, gray, avocado green, and orange. Only requirement was the Custom DeLuxe Z62 RPO trim with which came a chrome front bumper, a power steering, a Turbo-Hydramatic transmission, an A/C unit, and special wheel covers in C10 pickups or chrome hubcaps in larger C20 and C30 trucks.
1998 Ford F-150 NASCAR
The F-150 NASCAR special edition was released upon Blue Oval’s inaugural year of their 5-year sponsorship deal with the NASCAR. There were a total of 3,000 of these all-black trucks made, and they all sported a checkered flag stripe with NASCAR official truck emblem near the rear end of the bed. They also got color-matching 16-inch aluminum wheels, Roush dual stainless-steel exhaust tips, and a front air dam.
All were powered by a 4.6L Triton V8 mill capable of making 220 horsepower back then. Ford has managed to complete the entire project in just 17 weeks, but then again, the F Series was already well into its tenth generation at the time. This special edition commemorated both NASCAR’s and F Series’ fiftieth anniversary, and it commemorated it in style.
1977 GMC Sarge
The Sarge was another one of square body special editions that wasn’t limited exclusively to the pickup truck series. It also appeared on the GMC Vandura van and the GMC General class 8 trucks. GMC Sierra Sarge was, however, the smallest vehicle of the three. To make it somewhat more imposing, GM limited the Sarge package to larger three-quarter ton trucks. Both the rear and four-wheel drive were still available, though.
Like so many special edition trucks from the seventies, the Sarge too sported a set of multi-colored stripes. Three-tone red, brown, orange stripe was a welcome addition to its silver paint job. Hood sported an ornament, while rear-quarter panel boasted Sarge lettering and railings which stretched across the top of the bed. Finally, the package was completed with forged aluminum wheels and blue a collar interior with a flashy leather-wrapped sport steering wheel.
1989-1991 Dodge Dakota Sport Convertible
When Dodge unveiled convertible version of their mid-size truck in 1989, with the help from the American Sunroof Corporation, it became America’s first convertible pickup since the Ford Model A. The 1989 Dodge Dakota Sport Convertible was powered by a 3.9L V6 mill with 125 horsepower, while 1990 and 1991 units received an additional engine options. These models were dubbed the SE, and they drew power from a 99-horsepower 2.5L 4-cylinder K engine.
The Dakota Sport Convertible came with features such as an integral padded sport roll bar, 15-inch cast aluminum wheels, and power everything. Dodge sold 2,842 of them in 1989, another 909 in 1990, and, apparently, only 8 units in 1991. The latest are sure to become classic collectibles and they were only produced in order for the ASC to complete its contract.
1965 Chevrolet El Camino L79
The fabled L79 RPO package hidden behind the small-block 327 cu in V8 is arguably one of the rarest Chevrolet option codes in existence. Very few vehicles were fitted with these underdog engines and the 1965 El Camino is the rarest of the lot. The exact number of original L79 Elkys escapes us, but less than 10 of them have been accounted for in the L79 registry.
The 350-horsepower small-block was a rocket anywhere between 2,400 rpm and 5,800 rpm. Chevelles and Corvettes were a match made in heaven for the wee L79, but the El Camino wasn’t exactly undesirable as well. The rest of the L79 setup often consisted of a Holley 3806 carburetor and a Muncie 4-speed transmission with a positraction rear end.
1978-1980 GMC Street Coupe
Like a few other square body pickup truck special editions, the Street Coupe also wasn’t exclusively limited to trucks. It found its way to Jimmys and Suburbans as well. No matter where it wound up, the Street Coupe package always came in a two-tone ZY5 paint scheme. The GMC Street Coupe pickup trucks also featured a hood ornament and recognizable stripes.
Despite being available for a while, the Street Coupe was a pricey option, hence many potential buyers decided against going with one. Moreover, it wasn’t really made for off-roading – being on the plushy side and all. Finally, it was only available with two engines: the 140-horsepower 350 cu in V8 and the 205-horsepower 454 cu in V8. That’s likely another reason why some people decided to look elsewhere for their daily workhorse.
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