America's Peculiar Love Affair With Pickups
The Gyrhead boys are prone to pondering the most arcane matters. Would a lobster win a fight with a crab? Why do people watch reality TV? Recently the beer fueled question arose of why Americans love pickup trucks. This same question has tortured European intellectuals for decades, though they've handily concluded the whole matter with the declaration that we're all idiots.
love pickup trucks, and that's a matter of fact. In
the 2005 model year, the Ford F-Series, Chevrolet
Silverado/GMC Sierra and Dodge Ram garnered the
top 3 spots in new vehicle sales. This sales
performance in a year when hurricane Katrina and
the Iraqi war caused fuel prices to rise and fall
as much as Kirstie Alley’s weight. Incredible.
What is it that Americans find so appealing
about trucks? After much toe kickin’ and ponderin',
we have an opinion on the matter. Since it’s
our website – you’re gonna hear it. Ahh, the
wonder of the Internet.
40 years ago you
could walk into any car dealership and spec out
the car that perfectly suited BOTH your priorities
and realities. Wanted a 426 Hemi Coronet post
coupe with dog dish hubcaps, column shifter and
rubber floor mats? Mother MoPar would be happy
to build you one. Needed a full size Impala
wagon to haul the Cub Scouts but not ready to give
up the drive-through holeshot? Chevrolet had
you covered, with FACTORY built L-72 wagons complete
with woodgrain, 12 bolt, positraction and a Muncie
4 speed. Man, those were wild times, and they
left a dizzying legacy of one-off musclecars that still
Deep down we knew
the good times couldn’t last. Any manufacturing
executive worth a darn understands the supply chain
nightmares associated with giving consumers infinite
product choices. So limitless choice gave
way to pre-engineered option packages, and
serious car enthusiasts have been suffering ever since.
Buying a new car
today is as much fun as buying a dishwasher. Pick
your color, pick your sound system and that’s about
it. No more ala-carte engine options, no more
big blocks, seldom any transmission choices, and
certainly no option box for a 4.10 posi.
But, there's good news. Pickup trucks represent the last
bastion of fun and freedom of choice with the vehicular
order form. GM offers no less than SEVEN engine
picks in the Silverado, and they aren’t bashful
about whooping about the horsepower ratings either.
Pick the entry-level 4.8 liter V8 and get
285 horses. Go with the 5.3 liter and get
10 more ponies but about 35 more Lb/Ft of torque.
Get the 5.3 liter Vortec “Max” and 345
horses are yours – along with the confidence that
Oakland Raider great Howie Long approves of your
engine selection. There's also a 6.0 small
block complete with a lumpy, bonafide Z06 cam. Go really nuts and GM’s
happy to supply the 496 cube big block with 455
Lb/Ft of torque. You’d better believe they proudly
call it the Big Block too. Before pooh-poohing
these horsepower figures, remember that they are
stingy SAE net ratings – so these engines are easily
out 300-400 gross horsepower. Despite
the pushrod design, they are smooth, refined and
make great power all the way through 6,000 RPM.
Ford offers no fewer than 3 V8
options and a monster 6.8 liter V10. In terms
of performance, the Fords seem to make a lot more
bottom end grunt than the GMs, but we find the 4.6
and 5.4 Triton to be painfully thrashy – with terrible
NVH characteristics. The exhaust note
of the 6.8 V10 is just plain weird, but many of
our commercial customers are racking up well over
500,000 miles on the V10, so we know it's stout.
offers up 2 V8s, including the now media over saturated
5.7 Hemi. (Must Mopar put the Hemi in everything
they make? And those little Joey-with-the
Hemi Durango ads make us feel like puking) All the
same, the new MoPar Hemi is awesome, but there just
isn’t the variety of selection in the Pentastar
truck engine lineup. Yes, the SRT-10 is the
undisputed brawn king, but most of us will never get seat
time in such a limited production super truck. Most SRT-10s
seem to spend their days stored in climate
controlled collector garages anyway. In terms
of diesel power, all 3 manufacturers have mondo
offerings. The Duramax, Power Stroke and Cummins
units are each kinetic monuments to Archimedes himself.
Want to bang gears?
Then order the manual transmission – it’s available
with most every engine in the big 3’s pickup line.
Pick from 3.55, 3.73 or 4.10 axle ratios and
make it a locker – just like the old days. A
word to the wise though: with the deep overdrives
and tall tires on today’s trucks, skip directly
to the 4.10’s with a limited slip. You’ll thank
us and the gas mileage penalty with the digger gears
isn’t nearly as bad as you’d think. Make
no mistake, all full sized trucks are astonishing
gas hogs - they'll burn through your budget faster
than a Nigerian internet scam. We strongly
suggest owning one only if you really need
one, because the cost of being a pickup dilettante
is simply too great.
The incorrigible PJ O’Rourke wrote the greatest treatise EVER on the joys of performance pickup truck driving:
a pickup at high speed is a difficult skill
to master. The first step is to assume the proper
driving position: Use one hand to firmly grasp
the drip rail on the roof. This takes the place
of shoulder harness, lap belt, and air bag and
lets you give the finger to people with anti-handgun
bumper stickers on their cars. Then place your
other hand on the gearshift knob so you'll always
know what gear you're in (which is second, as
I pointed out before). Now take your third hand...Perhaps
some picture of the difficulty is beginning
to emerge. Anyway, be sure to balance your beer
can carefully in your lap.
second step is to drive over to the 7-Eleven
and get more beer. Use your down vest to mop
up the one you spilled all over your crotch
as you backed out the driveway.
third step is cornering technique. There are
three ways to take a high-speed curve in a pickup.
The first way is to use the traditional racecar
driver's "late apex": Go deep into
the curve at full speed doing all your downshifting
and useless brake-pedal pumping in a straight
line. Then, in one smooth motion, turn the wheel
to the full extent necessary for the curve.
Aim for an apex slightly past the geometrical
apex of the inside edge of the curve and slowly
bring the steering wheel back to straight ahead
as you reapply the throttle. This will put your
truck into the woods. The second way to take
a fast curve is to come into the curve slightly
slower, dial in a greater amount of steering,
and stay on the throttle so as to propel the
truck into a "power slide." This will
put your truck in the woods too. The third method
is to come to a full stop before entering the
curve and have a beer. While you're doing that
someone else will come along in another pickup
truck and knock you into the woods anyway.”
Anyone raised on
old-school trucks knows this is true, and we launched
Dad’s stovebolt powered C-10 into the puckerbrush
more than once in our younger years. But my,
pickups have come a long, LONG way in the past two
How the engineers
did it is a mystery – but the new breed of pickup trucks
actually handle. Unlike our old Chevy, where
any connection between the tiller and the front
wheels was strictly coincidental, the new trucks
all boast rack and pinion steering, impossibly stiff
hydroformed frames that make for an incredible driving
Years ago, buying
a truck entailed some seriously Solomon-like sacrifices.
Creature comforts were few, so a hard
working truck necessitated some considerable suffering.
We'd guess that the real
reason most cowboys look so grizzled and flinty
is a chronic pain condition from too much seat time in
old truck. Happily, that's not the case anymore
– today’s trucks come incredibly well equipped
with comfort and convenience features and represent much better value
for the dollar than cars.
In terms of quality,
there’s been a quantum leap too. Our last
1980 Chevrolet went to the scrap heap with a mere
48,000 miles on the clock. It’s mechanical
heart was still willing, but the body just rusted away
– shedding parts faster than Lindsay Lohan sheds
clothing at the Kids Choice Awards. By contrast,
our current fleet of trucks are all well over 120,000
hard miles, and they still run perfectly and look
What about the
latest truck offerings from Toyota, Nissan and Honda?
We say the jury’s still out on whether these
vehicles can rightly be considered “trucks”. These
vehicles are squarely marketed to suburban pickup
“fashionistas” and very few seem to do any real
work. When’s the last time you saw a Tundra
sporting a snowplow? When’s the last time
you saw a Ridgeline towing a 5th wheel car trailer?
How many Titans do you see working rough
on the jobsite? While we’re certain that these
are nice vehicles, owning one is a lot like
listening to Nickelback. You think its cool, but
it isn’t. However, all 3 of these vehicles
are American made, and their manufacturers do have
an enviable record of good corporate citizenship
in America, something that Ford and GM can’t honestly
say of late.
So, the answer
to the perplexing question of pickup truck popularity
seems obvious. Pickups still provide maximum
consumer choice, big league performance and value.
These are 3 attributes that Americans find
incredibly appealing, and it's probably why trucks
won’t relinquish their market lead anytime soon -
fuel price trends and European sensibilities
© Gyrhead & Sons Restoration Parts 2007. If you like this, share this articlewith your friends. We worked hard on it so please cite the source.