The basic layout of the automobile was pretty much standardized in the early 20th century. The engine went in the front of the vehicle, the passenger compartment behind. This made for easy layout of the driver’s controls and the whole package could be easily set up for the comfort of both the driver and passengers. It was the simplest design and thus rose in popularity. Sure, oddball chassis layouts have always existed on the fringe of the automotive landscape, but only a few variations ever truly became viable.
One that gained popularity for pickups was the forward-control. By moving the passenger compartment as far forward as possible, a designer could add more utility space within the same wheelbase and overall length. This design would likely never pass modern crash tests, so fans of the style have to look to the past to get their fix. In terms of style and function, the 1960s was primetime for forward-control trucks, so here are four of the best from that decade ranked from cool to coolest.
Yes, an A100 was the base for the iconic Little Red Wagon and that is awesome. However, the base A100 is hardly anything to write home about. When production began in 1964, the pickups were motivated by the leaning-tower-of-power 170ci slant-six, which is a torquey and durable engine. Post 1965, the LA-series V-8 was optional. Both are tall engines, meaning the two bucket seats which comprise the interior are separated by a large doghouse cover. This removable cover allows for engine access but experience tells me that any engine service is still going to be a pain compared to a traditional layout. Additionally, the sheet metal cover doesn’t do much to insulate passengers from engine noise and heat.
The styling aligned with the traditional Dodge trucks, and the carrying capacity is admirable. The storage area is almost two feet deep and 7 foot long. This meant you could get a full-sized truck bed with a smaller overall footprint. However, the compromises were steep on the A100, so it comes up short in this highly subjective ranking.
The Dodge A100 was a copy of another domestic though, as Ford brought the budget-sell Econoline pickup to market in 1961. Unlike the A100, Ford never gave the E-series pickups a V-8. It was straight-six power only. Probably for the better too, as the weight distribution was horrendous. So much weight was carried by the I-beam front axle that the E-series was factory-fitted with a 165-pound counterweight just over the rear wheels. That is a significant chunk of weight for a vehicle that tips the scales at roughly 2500 pounds.
Though handicapped by the same flaws as the A100, the Econoline gets a bump up the list because it was first and therefore has an excuse for its flaws.
Volkswagen Type 2 (Transporter)
The Transporter gets a few things right, mainly the engine location. The Type 2 was introduced with an 1100cc flat-four which, if put to battle with a dynamometer, could put up just a 24hp fight. The engine location requires the bed floor to be uneven or be raised. VW elected for the latter which made for a high bed floor. It would probably make for a good workbench when on the go, but I would hate to have to load something heavy up that high. There is also cargo storage under the bed floor which is pretty darn slick.
The cab-forward transporters are lesser seen than the bus version but no less desirable. With parts commonality between the different body styles, it makes continuing to enjoy the driving experience less unnerving since repairs can be performed in the typical easy fashion. The engine access is limited to a fold-up rear panel though, making some jobs tougher than others. Overall, its iconic style, more balanced chassis, and additional interior space put this one above the Ford and Dodge.
Jeep Forward Control
The forward control design roots itself in practicality, so it makes absolute sense that Jeep created a truck on the layout. The FC-150 is the shortest wheelbase of the trucks on this list, with a scant 81 inches between the axles. Both of those axles received power too. Even with the diminutive wheelbase, the forward control design allowed for a 78-inch long bed.
The FC-150 actually shared its chassis with the contemporary CJ5. Those looking to do heavier work could opt for the FC-170 which had a payload rating a full ton over the FC-150’s 5000-pound gross vehicle weight. The off-road utility and almost cartoonish stature make this Jeep the runner-up on this list.
I’ll wait until now to disclose my bias. I’ve owned a Chevrolet Corvair Greenbrier, which is the van iteration of the Rampside. Regardless of that experience though, these pickups deserve the top spot on this arbitrary ranking for multiple reasons.
The Rampside pickups combine many of the best features of the pickups above, often executed better. A simple air-cooled engine is rear-mounted but gains two additional cylinders and twice the horsepower of the VW. The balance and interior pains of the front-engine designs were cured while also having enough power to get out of its own way with a payload.
Then there is the ramp. The load floor is not level, which can be a pain, but Chevrolet equipped the Rampside with exactly what the name implies–a ramp. It folds down from the passenger side and allows easy loading and unloading. This super low load floor was easily attained since the powertrain was a tight package at the rear, thus no need to raise the interior floor for transmission and driveshaft clearance. While it lacks the 4×4 utility of the Jeep, the cool factor of rolling a keg of beer right into your truck is not easily eclipsed. Thus, the forgotten Chevrolet Rampside is the best forward control truck of the 1960s.
This list was, of course, highly subjective and if you think I got it all wrong, be sure to tell me why in the comments below. I’ll happily discuss it, and you might even change my mind. But probably not.