The Evolution of the Pickup Truck in 7 Steps

Country music’s vehicle of choice is much more than just a candy-painted, jacked-up stereotype.

In his 2013 hit “I Hold On”, Dierks Bentley sings about his “old, beat-up truck” that he refuses to trade in for a newer model, despite his success and monetary wealth. The truck mentioned in the song is a real truck that Bentley refers to as his “best friend”. He even named it, “Big White”.

Big White is a 1994 Chevy dual cab with over two hundred thousand miles on the odometer. As stated in the song, Bentley and his dad drove Big White to Nashville together when he was 19 and just starting his career in music.

SEE ALSO: 10 Best Truckin’ Songs in Country Music 

Dierks Bentley is far from being the only country singer to love his truck. So many country songs have been written about trucks or mentioned trucks in the lyrics that pickups have become a country music archetype.

It’s easy to see why country folks love pickup trucks. When you work the land for a living, owning a truck is an absolute necessity. Just imagine trying to move hay bales in a sedan, it’s laughable. No. You need a truck.

In fact, pickups are so ingrained in country life now that it’s hard to imagine country life before their invention. Pickup trucks have come a long way since Henry Ford first rolled them off his assembly line and into our hearts. With that in mind, let’s examine the evolution of the pickup truck.

1. 1918 – Dodge Brothers and Chevrolet

World War I US Military Ambulance
World War I Dodge Brothers 1/2 Ton Pickup Bunn

Late in World War I, the US government asked the Dodge brothers for 20,000 half-ton chassis for various military use, which they readily supplied. The brothers had been in the automobile manufacturing business since just after the turn of the century and had a well-earned reputation for quality. They lacked the manufacturing capacity to supply the public’s demand for 1/2 ton pickups, producing instead a smaller quantity of larger commercial trucks.

In the same year, Chevrolet came out with the model 490 (so named because it cost $490), but Chevy sold only the engine and the chassis to the consumer, expecting the buyers to build a cab and bed out of wood themselves or they could purchase a cab that could be bolted onto the chassis separately for a whopping $100 extra.

2. 1920’s – Ford Model T and Model A

1928 Ford Roadster Pickup Wikipedia/Trekphiler

17 years after he introduced the original Model T, Henry Ford dove into an untapped market segment with this modified roadster. The first manufactured pickup trucks were simply Model Ts with open cabs in the back, but these were the first pickups available for purchase to civilians. The Model A followed three years later in 1928.

3. 1932 – The Introduction of the V8 Engine

1932 V8 Ford Pickup
1932 V8 Ford Pickup Sam’s Ford Garage/Image via Sam Baker (posted with permission)

With the inception of the eight-cylinder engine, pickup truck horsepower nearly doubled…to 65. By the end of the 1930’s, pickups were largely being manufactured and sold essentially the way we know them today, rather than piecemeal like the early Chevrolets. At the onset of World War II, vehicle production all but halted for the general population because the government commandeered most raw materials and manufacturing facilities for the war effort.

SEE ALSO: 10 Most Country Cars That Aren’t Trucks

4. 1947 – Pickup Trucks Arrive on the Farm

1940’s Chevrolet Thriftmaster Wikipedia/Wiarthurhu

After the war was over, Chevrolet set a new trend for pickups by releasing the first ever three-man seat pickup that featured a larger cab, bigger windows, and higher seats, and other manufacturers followed suit. Dodge created the B-Series which had higher bed-walls that were better designed for hauling. As far as pickup design went, art-deco was very popular during this time period, so trucks began having massive grills that were covered in arching chrome and scripted lettering.

1946 Jeep CJ-2A Wikipedia/Chile Willy’s

Surprisingly, the first pickup common on American farms was actually a Jeep. Introduced in the late 1940’s, the Jeep CJ-2A was marketed to returning GIs as “the All-Around Farm Workhorse”, and was touted as a replacement for plough horses.

5. 1955 – Ease of Drivability

1955 GMC 150 Wikipedia/Mr. Choppers

In the 1950’s, pickups became easier to drive with the inclusion of power steering, power brakes and overdrive. Four-speed automatic transmissions were invented, but still uncommon in anything but high-end luxury cars.

 6. 1960’s and 1970’s – Lifestyle Pickups and El Caminos

1966 Dodge Pickup Wikipedia/Dave_7

The 60s ushered in the era of work trucks. Pickups became larger and more powerful, and V8 engines became the standard.

1974 Dodge Wikimedia Commons/Dave_7

The 60s and 70s heralded the introduction of so-called “lifestyle” pickups, made popular because of the back-to-nature lifestyle of the hippie generation. Camper additions became commonplace, and trucks got lower to the ground and easier to get in and out of.

1979 Chevy El Camino Wikipedia/Agrestic

Due to the gas shortage of the 1970’s, the larger farm trucks became less common and there was a demand for more economical vehicles. Car/truck hybrids such as the Ford Ranchero and the Chevy El Camino rose in popularity.

7. 1980’s to Today – Modern Pickups

1987 Ford F 350 Crew Cab Wikipedia/IFCAR

Automatic transmissions and anti-lock brakes became more common in the 80s and 90s. Automatic windows and air conditioning started coming standard on most models about the late nineties to the early 2000’s.

Wikipedia/Bull Dozer

The most drastic change in pickup technology has come in recent years with advances in wireless technology. The newest truck models can come with features like their own wifi hotspots and satellite radio. Trucks are still used as workhorses, but their horsepower has drastically increased since the days of the first V8.

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The Evolution of the Pickup Truck in 7 Steps