7 April 2016

Top 5 muscle pickups

Did you know that Ram (formerly Dodge trucks) sells a rear-drive, standard-cab, short-bed R/T model with a 395-horsepower Hemi? It’s fast: Car and Driver got 0-60 in 5.4 seconds and the quarter mile in 14.1 sec. at 99 mph. The vented hood and roaring exhaust complete the muscle theme.

Maybe more amazing is that Car and Driver achieved similar performance from a bigger GMC Denali Crew Cab 4x4 with a 420-horse 6.2-liter V-8. The fact is, today’s workaday V-8 pickups are as quick or quicker than many classic muscle cars. And so, the buzz that once surrounded “muscle trucks” just doesn't resonate as it has in decades past.

Still, here are five that lit the fire.

1978-79 Dodge Li’l Red Express

The Mopar musclecar was dead by the late 1970s, but Dodge answered peoples’ need for speed and loudness in a unique way: The utterly ridiculous, yet undeniably wonderful, L’il Red Express truck. Based on the company’s shortest and lightest stepside pickup, the L’il Red Express looked like a hillbilly hotrod with its bright red paint, functional dual chrome exhaust stacks, chrome wheels and wood bed-side trim.

A high-performance 360-ci 4-barrel small block V-8 produced a decent 225 net horsepower, and the automatic transmission sent the torque back to a 3.55-geared Sure Grip axle. Early magazine reports with sub-15 second quarter-mile times came from a prototype truck; the production version ran the quarter in 15.7 seconds at 88 mph according to Hot Rod magazine. That was quick enough to out-drag a Camaro Z28, and it was downright phenomenal for a two-ton brick.

Dodge sold 2,000 of the $7,000 hotrod trucks. The 1979 L’il Red Express got catalytic converters, rectangular headlights and other changes but sold another 5,118.

The L’il Red Express was actually Dodge’s second muscle pickup. The brand offered a High Performance Package for the 1964 and 1965 D100 pickup, which included a 365-horsepwer (gross) 426-ci wedge V-8. It was rare then, but a few still exist.

1990-93 Chevrolet 454 SS

Following the L’il Red Express’s formula established a dozen years prior, Chevy built the 454 SS on the standard-cab, short-bed pickup. Under the hood was the good old Chevy big block, a 454-ci V-8 making 230 net horsepower. The suspension was also tweaked for better handling. Quarter-mile times were in the high-15s.

Chevy sold nearly 14,000 the first year, when the sole color choice was black with a red interior. Performance improved with 25 added ponies, a 4-speed automatic and 4.10 axle ratio the second year, but sales fell off a cliff. The 454 SS was gone after 1993. A Silverado SS introduced 10 years later was much quicker, yet more civilized with all-wheel drive and luxury features.

1991 GMC Syclone

GMC, which for the longest time marketed barely altered clones of Chevy trucks, unleashed about the craziest muscle vehicle ever in 1991: Syclone. Built on the compact Sonoma pickup, it packed a turbocharged 4.3-liter Vortec V-6, essentially a Chevy 350 small block V-8 minus two cylinders, teamed to full-time all-wheel drive.

Output was an impressive 280 horsepower and 350 lb.-ft. of torque, which made the Syclone more powerful than the standard Corvette. But speed was just one of its calling cards. The little monster could spring from 0-60 in just over five seconds and crush the quarter-mile in 14 seconds. At the time, that was serious performance car territory. With AWD and a lowered suspension, the freakish Syclone could hug the curves, too.

GMC built fewer than 3,000 Syclones before moving on its successor, the Typhoon SUV.

1993-1995 Ford SVT Lightning

Just when Chevy killed its 454 SS, Ford entered the muscle truck game with the first Special Vehicle Team (SVT) Lightning. The formula was familiar: standard cab short bed pickup with a hot V-8, tweaked suspension and special trim. In this case, the engine was an SVT version of the venerable 351 Windsor, now known as the “5.8-liter.” Horsepower was 240, and a 15.8-second quarter-mile timeslip was about the same as the defunct Chevy’s. But it took Ford four years to sell about 11,500 Lightnings.

The name returned on a 1999 model in the F-150’s tenth-generation “aero” body. Under the bulbous hood was a 360-horsepower, 440-lb.-ft. supercharged 5.4-liter Triton V8 (later, 380 hp and 450 lb. ft.). The new Lightning was actually quicker than the Mustang Cobra. Ford moved about 28,000 over six years.

2004-2006 Dodge Ram SRT-10

Dodge went nuclear in 2004, dropping the Viper V-10 into its lightest full-size pickup. (The regular truck V-10 was a far milder cast iron engine.) Here we had a 500-horsepower pickup, just because Dodge could build one. It even had a 6-speed stick shift, but the SRT-10 Quad Cab introduced later used an automatic. Dodge offered that version, Car and Driver reported, because Viper owners wanted a Viper-powered pickup to tow their Vipers. That makes sense. Dodge built just under 10,000 of these monsters.

17 Reader Comments

  • 1
    OURTEE TRISTATE April 13, 2016 at 15:51
    You forgot the 1998-2003 Dodge Dakota R/T
  • 2
    Andy Wisconsin April 13, 2016 at 16:53
    How about the 1989 Shelby Dakota? Only 1475 were made. 5.2 liter 175 HP (205 HP with the Shelby performance package) 4 speed automatic with 3.91:1 geared limited slip rear end. Not a screamer but it was snappy and fun to drive. This truck set the stage for the Ford Lightning and GMC Cyclone. The Shelby Dakota was also the first V8 vehicle built by Carrol Shelby since the AC Cobra.
  • 3
    Mike w Enid,OK April 13, 2016 at 17:05
    About the time of the Little Red Express Dodge also made the Dodge Warlock , same body style in a couple of color choices ( black and dark purple) maybe another color or two engine was a 440 4bbl They were made about 1year
  • 4
    Paul United States April 13, 2016 at 17:19
    How could you leave out the Shelby Dakota?
  • 5
    Tom Howe Western Colorado April 13, 2016 at 17:32
    How could you not include the '57 GMC with the big V8. Fastest truck of the 50's!!! T. Howe
  • 6
    Stang Legit Master S|Austin, TN April 13, 2016 at 18:16
    Don't forget the Dodge Dakota R/T 5.9 It was a 14 second truck when ordered with a regular cab.
  • 7
    Manny Miami Lakes Fl April 13, 2016 at 20:20
    I think we should not forget the 1997 to 1998 Dodge SST(super sport truck)5.9 L single cab. This is the truck with the two lines from the front hood to the tail including the roof. It came in four colors only. Before production in 1996 it was the Dodge Pace Truck in NASCAR Thanks
  • 8
    Craig M. Bryda Cochecton New York April 13, 2016 at 22:50
    Didnt Dodge offer the 440" in the Warlocks ? I had one that I built with over the counter parts, motor mounts, Oil pan, oil pump pick up tube.
  • 9
    John Murray Toronto Ontario April 14, 2016 at 08:07
    I like your picks, but why you did not mention 2008 Ford F150 FOOSE EDITION pickup with 450 HP.
  • 10
    Charles Loraine Sr Palm Bay, Fla April 14, 2016 at 08:54
    To bad the Dodge Dakota R/T from 98 didn't make it onto the list.
  • 11
    Philip Tron Moorhead, MN April 14, 2016 at 08:58
    It's not a street racer, but it's one hell of a work truck. I still own the '73 Chevy Camper Special my late father bought in the fall of '72. 454V8, Turbo 400 tranny, 4.10 axle ratio. He was known to use it to tow his '76 27 foot Winnebago 5th wheel camping trailer over the Beartooth Pass (he actually did it three times). After his death, I used it to carry a truck camper and tow a 17 1/2' fishing boat. It's now had a body-off restoration so looks nice, but its work isn't done. My wife is an avid gardener, so since the box was off, a box hoist was installed. The old Chevy still works, but it's a gardener's dump truck now.
  • 12
    Gregory Snider Gaines, Michigan April 14, 2016 at 09:15
    I have a Syclone #2603, cool lil'truck a blast to drive, surprises a few V8.
  • 13
    greg white Toronto April 14, 2016 at 09:48
    Yes the Warlock could be ordered with a 440, making it faster than the 'lil red and far more intriguing as there are no numbers available on how many of these trucks were ever made. I much prefer the Warlock as it available in black my favorite color for trucks. Mine is code x8. Starfire metallic black unlike most being tuxedo black. They also came in blue, green , orange and red. I think it's time for the very few to learn more about the REAL fastest production vehicle available in 1978. 335 horse verses 225 horse. No comparison. There's no replacement for displacement.
  • 14
    Sparky Midland, TX April 14, 2016 at 09:49
    In the early 80s I had a 1980 Z28. I was driving down the highway and passed a Li'l Red Express truck. For some reason the driver started tailgating me. All I could see in my rearview mirror was his grill. I stepped on the gas and was running close to redline. The truck was staying with me until his engine blew up. I slowed down and gave him the one finger salute as he pulled over. Don't mess with a Z28.
  • 15
    Dan Mahewson Tacoma, WA April 14, 2016 at 12:11
    Hey. What about the SHEBY Dakota? Car and Driver July 1989 test results showed a 16.5 sec quarter @ 82mph, and a top speed of 113 mph. Not to shabby with only a stock 175hp 318!
  • 16
    Steve Amarante north New Jersey April 15, 2016 at 13:28
    what about the big block El Caminos of the late 60's and early 70's ?? I have 1981 Elkay registration reads, 1981 PKUP in New Jersey that means" pickup truck" Had 1970 454 425hp
  • 17
    Dan Kavanaugh Yelm WA. April 22, 2016 at 20:20
    What about The Ranchero GT they came with anything from 302,351,429 and 460's.. Then there was the Choo Choo El Camino's, And the Ford Durango's, and The Earnhardt Intimidator's 2006 and Earnhardt Chevrolet still builds them in house at their dealership in North Carolina , Oh Roush Ford F150's and Lest I forget The Raptor, and one more Saleen f150 .. Hennessey builds a Chevy Silverado that's a screammer

Join the Discussion