Pickup trucks are America's workhorses. Each year Ford, GM, and Dodge move more than a million of them, most of which are destined for a lifetime of heavy duty. But a small percentage of these trucks are special editions, models designed with standout style, performance, or both.
1991 GMC Syclone
The Syclone, a one-year-only monster mini pickup, arrived just as the sport truck scene was gathering steam. GM had some recent experience turbocharging V-6 engines, and this one channeled the soul of the mightiest turbocharged Buick Grand Nationals of the 1980s. The result was a GMC S-15 pickup that trounced a Ferrari in a famous Car and Driver test that pitted the just-under-$30,000 Syclone against a $122,000 Ferrari 348.
The turbocharged 4.3-liter V-6 that sent the Syclone to 60 mph in just 5.3 seconds put out 280 hp and 360 lb-ft of torque, channeled to all four wheels through a four-speed automatic borrowed from the Corvette. The Syclone only came in black and was followed in 1992–1993 by the Typhoon, a GMC Jimmy SUV with the same powertrain.
1989–1991 Dodge Dakota Sport Convertible
Who says you can't have utility and fun in the same package? Before hitting the showrooms, the American Sunroof Company removed the metal roof and installed a folding fabric top and roll bar. The result was the only convertible pickup truck until the Chevrolet SSR came out in 2003. But unlike the Chevy's retro styling and limited utility, the Dakota convertible was pretty much exactly like the hard-top Dakota. That didn't seem to make a difference, however, as both droptop trucks sold poorly and have kept automakers from trying this wacky experiment one more time. The closest thing we have to the Dakota today is the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet convertible SUV.
1977 GMC Indy 500
GMC produced some strange special edition pickup trucks in the '70s. In 1975 the company made a black and gold truck called the Gentleman Jim, though the difference wasn't much more than a paint job. That same year the Beau James model debuted, packing some more serious equipment. It was a blue and silver heavy-duty 3/4-ton truck with softer springs and a smoother ride.
In 1977 GMC was the official truck of the Indy 500. To commemorate the occasion, the company built special edition GMC pickups in both 2WD and 4WD, with deep front spoilers, a sweet black and white paint scheme, and big wide raised white letter tires (and red pinstriping). These were some of the coolest and rarest of the 1970s GMC pickups. The success of these trucks made room for 1980's GMC Indy Hauler, when the company joined Pontiac (Turbo Trans Am) to pace the race that year. Indy Haulers were even emblazoned with the Trans Am's screaming chicken hood sticker, making them one of the most outrageous pickups of the era.
2004–2006 Dodge Ram SRT-10
GMC wasn't the only brand making wild, hot-rodded trucks in the '70s; Dodge's 1978 L'il Red Express Truck, with wood bed accents, giant 18-wheeler-like exhaust pipes, and a Police Interceptor 360-cid V-8 under the hood, was one of the craziest.
In 2004 Dodge reprised that idea with even more radical results. Chrysler's in-house tuning arm, SRT, took the 500 hp, 8.3-liter V-10 and six-speed manual transmission from the Dodge Viper and slithered it into the chassis of the Ram pickup. The incredible package, combined with hardcore suspension enhancements, produced a pickup that would hit 60 mph in the 5-second range. In 2005 a Quad Cab model with an automatic transmission and the ability to tow made the SRT-10 slightly more practical, but practicality wasn't why anybody bought this $45,000 monster. This remains one of the most potent pickups in history, and we wouldn't be surprised if they become highly collectible in years to come.
1976–1983 Jeep Honcho
In the 1970s the more aggressive the vehicle name and the wilder the paint, the better. Jeep had plenty of wild models at the time: Remember the 1975 Golden Eagle, a gold accented package available on the CJ? The Golden Eagle was emblazoned with (of course) a giant eagle sticker on its hood. It was like the Trans Am of Jeeps.
But one of the coolest packages Jeep offered was based on Jeep's half-ton full-size pickup, the J-10. Jeep's J-series full-size pickup trucks were launched in 1964 as "Gladiators" but no model was more brazenly over-the-top than the Honcho. Ads proclaimed "Honcho means boss... and Honcho is macho. And that means brawny, powerful and tough."
The Honcho package used the "wide-track" Dana 44 axles from the Cherokee and included big 31-inch tires and white wagon-type wheels. The stoutest Honchos packed AMC's 401-cid V-8. Many wore the optional front brush guard as well as a roll bar in the bed. And some even came with a dealer-installed hidden recovery winch. Jeep produced less than 1500 Honcho Sportsides so these rarities are coveted machines.
1990–1993 Chevy 454 SS
Special edition trucks in the 1990s didn't quite have the visual pop of their '70s and 80s predecessors. Still, the "454 SS" graphics on this truck's bedsides left little to the imagination as to what was under the hood.
The 454 SS was a performance model of the Chevy 1500 launched in 1990. Instead of the ubiquitous 350-cubic-inch small-block V-8 that came in most 1500-series models, Chevy dropped in the 230-hp 454-cid V-8 from its heavy-duty trucks, which pumped 385 lb-ft of torque. It was paired to a three-speed automatic and at first came only in black. The 454 SS sat lower in the rear and wore stiffer front springs to handle the weight of that enormous engine.
A small truck with a huge engine should be a dragstrip terror. But even in 1993, when this motor was massaged to 255 hp and 405 lb-ft, it was good only for mid-15-second quarter-mile times. At the time that wasn't exactly slow, but it couldn't match the Camaro Z/28 or Ford Mustang GT. Chevy introduced a Sport model of the 1500 that sold alongside the 454 SS and looked identical to its more powerful sibling, except for the "454 SS" stickers. Perhaps that's why this cool model lasted only four years.
1990 Dodge Rod Hall Signature Edition
Baja race trucks in the 1980s and early 1990s enjoyed a staunch fan base and inspired the look of street trucks. In 1987, to capitalize on the prerunner craze, legendary racer Rod Hall developed a custom truck backed by Dodge. The 1987 trucks emulated his race prerunners by having a taller and firmer suspension. The trouble was, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) didn't care much for this suspension. Dodge made only 14 Rod Hall Signature Editions and NHTSA recalled every one. Few ever returned to owners' hands, and even fewer still are around today.
However, in 1990 Hall teamed up with Carroll Shelby, who had a relationship with Chrysler at the time, to build a new batch of Signature Series trucks. They made a total of 33, and each one wears cool prerunner bumpers front and rear, a bed-mounted light bar, and Rod Hall driving lights.
All of these trucks came with Dodge's least powerful eight-cylinder engine, the 318-cid V-8 with a measly 170 hp. So they weren't nearly as quick as they looked. Nonetheless, the Rod Hall Signature models were some of the most interesting, rare, and unique trucks Dodge ever offered.
1993–1995 Ford F-150 SVT Lightning
After the early '90s sport-truck performance onslaught by General Motors with the GMC Syclone and 454 SS, it was time for Ford to provide a little competition. But instead of stuffing its biggest V-8 into the Lightning, Ford decided to modify the lighter 5.8-liter V-8 with GT-40 aluminum cylinder heads, plus a unique camshaft, intake manifold, and throttle-body fuel-injection system. The resulting 240 hp and 340 lb-ft of torque was enough to match the 454 SS in a straight line. Ford's in-house performance tuners, SVT, then reworked the Lightning's suspension to provide much more grip and speed in the corners than the heavy Chevy.
The Lightning was a true performance vehicle with upgrades to every aspect of its character. Its capability and speed are that much more impressive when you realize the basic truck platform was already 13 years old when the Lightning debuted. It was so successful that Ford built a second-generation supercharged Lightning from 1999 to 2004. These trucks paved the way for the incredible Raptor of today.
1977-1981 Dodge Macho Power Wagon
The Power Wagon nameplate is one of the longest-running in Dodge history, stretching from the original military Power Wagons of the 1940s to today's Power Wagon, a heavy-duty off-road version of the Ram. In the 1970s Dodge launched a Macho version of the Power Wagon that delivered some visual heat for the 1970s 4X4 fan.
Dodge had some of the craziest pickups on the market, from the gold-trimmed Warlock and Warlock II ('76–'79) to the L'il Red Express Truck ('78–'79), which used tall vertical exhaust stacks combined with the wood-lined bed of the Warlock. The Macho was in production longer than any of them, and came in either short- or long-bed models with a roll bar mounted to the bed, and special flat black and yellow paint accents that included "Power Wagon" in giant letters on the bedside and color matched wagon-type wheels. Although these machines were available with any of Dodge's small block V-8s, the most desirable Machos packed the top dog 440-cid big block V-8 housed in the sportiest short-bed body style.
Machos saw their popularity soar thanks to a long-bed model that played a starring role on the small screen on the 1981 to 1995 hit TV series "Simon and Simon."
2002 Lincoln Blackwood
Put an F-150 into a Lincoln Navigator's bodywork and you had the Blackwood, a one-year-only pickup from Ford's luxury brand. The idea was a truck as luxurious as it sounds, and the Blackwood's engineers went to great lengths to make this vehicle essentially unusable as a pickup. Its bed was designed more for looking pretty than anything else, with plush carpeting, stainless-steel bedsides, LED lighting, Dutch-style doors replacing a traditional tailgate, and even a power cover.
Unsurprisingly, you paid for that luxury. The Blackwood was only available in 2WD and sold for more than $50,000. The truck failed to attract buyers in any number in its day, but today it's a quirky and rare collector's item.
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