Pick-ups – American workhorses

For some they are practical vehicles, for others pure provocation: pick-ups.

Three models exemplify the American workhorse. The fact that reason is not the decisive factor when buying a car should be amply demonstrated by the sales figures for SUVs. But as with sports cars, which are driven at moderate speeds through the suburbs and criticised by neighbours because of their loud exhaust, the same applies to pick-ups: Reason does not always have to win. Functionality is less debatable than taste – yet pick-ups are often the subject of heated debate and their usefulness is questioned. Especially on German roads, which are dominated by safety regulations, pick-ups are a rarity, and most of them are driven with a hardtop. Even rarer are classic pick-ups, which are true outlaws in the classic car landscape dominated by Mercedes and Porsche. These three pick-ups, however, could well be worth exporting from their home country.


One could go so far as to call the Ford F series an American Beetle or Golf. For more than 30 years, the F-Series, now in its 13th generation, has been the best-selling car in the USA, although the comparison with Volkswagen, especially in terms of dimensions, falls somewhat short. The success of the series was due not only to its relatively low price, but also to the countless versions of the F-100 that were offered in the individual generations. With increasing age, the F-100 gained in volume, wheelbase and space. The foundation for the success story was laid in the later 1940s with the Ford F-1, which was marketed from F-1 upwards to F-8 depending on the gross vehicle weight. The second generation, which appeared in the 1950s, established the sales designation F-100. If you look at the various generations of the American bestseller in historically correct order, you can trace the development from the almost spherical pick-up of the post-war period through the hard edges of the 1970s and 1980s to the more rounded designs of the more recent years. The full-size pick-up has always been powered by in-line six-cylinder or V8 engines, like the Chevrolet El Camino and the Dodge D-Series. Judging by the increasing size of the car, this is perhaps even justified for the later model years. In a way, 70 years of production history, more than 35 million units produced and an extremely loyal fan base speak for themselves.



The El Camino is, in a way, a phenomenon. The Chevrolet pick-up, built in five generations, is well-known from radio and television, was the inspiration for a successful rock album and made the phenomenon of the coupé pick-up acceptable in its day, after such attempts had already been abandoned after a short time in the 1930s. Like its main competitor Ford with its Ranchero, Chevrolet opted for a Spanish name – while the former means “rancher”, El Camino translates as “the road” or “the path” and refers to a path known as El Camino Real, which was laid out by Spanish missionaries in California. A special feature of the sporty pick-up is its base: it is based on a two-door station wagon and is thus much lighter on its feet than a full-blown heavy-duty flatbed truck of American design. In terms of design, the company moved with the times: while the first generation still came with a contemporary tail fin and chrome trim, the second generation was somewhat more spartan. Equipped with either a six-cylinder in-line engine or a V8, the El Camino could certainly be described as wasteful and overpowered from today’s point of view – but you could also drown out such annoying trivialities with the pleasant bubbling of the V8 and listen to Hank Williams chewing on a blade of grass.


While the American pick-up connoisseur would rather call the El Camino a car than a genuine truck, the Dodge D-Series has a different feel. The predecessor of the Dodge Ram, which was built between 1961 and 1980, was also available with either a six-cylinder in-line engine or a V8, and compared to the El Camino, it looked much beefier and more pragmatic. In total, the D-Series was built in three different generations, which were extended by special versions such as the “Custom Sports Special”, the “High Performance Package” and the “Dude Sport Trim Package”.

However, the robust load floor remained unchanged across the generations and still invites you to load heavy loads. The line of the D-Series is a remarkable example of the change in car design – while the first generation produced in the early 1960s was still in keeping with the spirit of the times with its corners and edges, the following generations became increasingly rounded and voluminous. It is regrettable that the D-series today is somewhat overshadowed by its successor, as it is the perfect way to fulfil the desire for an American pick-up. On the market for classic cars, American pick-ups are a niche within a niche; not every fan of classic vehicles is enthusiastic about American sheet metal, not every Yank fan likes pick-ups. And that is precisely what makes the subject exciting – here we are dealing with true exotics that often remain hidden from the masses. If you ignore the fact that the cargo on the loading area slides around and gets soaked in the rain, as well as German load safety laws, you can have a lot of fun with a pick-up.

Text: Jan Fröhlich Photos: Ford Motor Company, Gasoline Kitchen, General Motors, Historics Auctioneers

Author: Jan Fröhlich

Jan Fröhlich ist Redakteur beim Classic Trader Magazin und begeistert sich leidenschaftlich für klassische Fahrzeuge. Traum-Klassiker: Mercedes Benz 300 SL & Porsche 356 Eigener Klassiker: Velo Solex 3800 von 1968

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