Fast Pickups


These trucks prove you can haul even with an empty bed

When your grandad — and probably even your dad — bought a pickup, luxury and speed were hardly an option.

Working folk wanted dependable, tough and economical from their pickups. And that’s exactly what the manufacturers sold. Very few truck buyers from the 1950s or ’60s opted for much more than a heater and a radio in their pickup, and the thought of today’s leather-clad, WiFi- and Bluetooth-enabled pickups was inconceivable.

While luxury was not on the plate early on, performance moved in fast as we exited the 1950s. By the 1960s, truck buyers realized that the big V-8 available on some coupes and sedans was also an option on a pickup, and instead of just hauling dirt or wood, they could haul, well, themselves. Enter the long, slow burn of the fast pickups.

We found more than a few at Barrett-Jackson in January.

In 1959, Chevrolet introduced the El Camino. It was not the first combination of car and truck, or “cruck,” but it was the cruck that stuck. In many ways, it was the dual use of the El Camino — and its Ford cousin, the Ranchero — that gave it permission to have a split personality for both practicality and performance. After putting in a full (if light) work week, the El Camino owner could use it as a passenger car, and more than a few owners opted for some extra kick.

Lot 1242 was a matching-numbers 1970 El Camino SS with a 375-horsepower 396 V-8 and four-speed transmission, power brakes and air conditioning. It sold for $41,800. You can either love or hate its original Cranberry Red color, but with the addition of the white hood stripes and especially the white roof, it’s got great visual appeal.

If you like your Chevy trucks a bit more traditional, there’s nothing quite like the C-10. Almost the pure vision of what a 1970s pickup is supposed to be, a very clean example brought home the goods; lot 872 sold for $51,700. This 400-cid V-8 Cheyenne Super 10 brought the big bucks for a good reason: It was pristine, with just 36 miles on the clock since a full restoration five years ago. It looked great in red with chrome side trim, while black bucket seats and all kinds of comfort options made this rare truck one of the ones to have.

Everyone comes away from an auction with a favorite or two, and one of mine was a 1991 GMC Syclone that sold for $17,050 as lot 905. Said to be a Saudi Arabia export that was returned unsold, this 280-horsepower, AWD Syclone had a gray cloth interior with red piping on the seats. With its 700R automatic transmission, the turbocharged V-6 Syclone was one of the fastest things on wheels in the early ’90s, hitting 60 mph in just 4.3 seconds.

Remember the Dodge Li’l Red Express? Also a fast pickup, and this 1978 model sold for $23,100. As lot 56, it was offered early on the first day of vehicle sales. Offered only in red with gold graphics and fantastic twin smoke stacks, these were limited-production trucks with a police-spec 360-cid V-8 and little in the way of smog equipment. As a result, they were among the fastest vehicles available in their day. This was a great buy, and also the perfect truck to park next to your Bandit Firebird.

This is just a jumping-off point into the world of fast pickups. Just about every manufacturer had one — some more memorable than others — and they show up for sale often. Even better, you don’t have to spend a lot to get a lot in this segment of the market.

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