A Look Back at the Truckcar

Lots of people love pickup trucks but don't always have the need for a full-size truck. Way back in the '50s, manufacturers developed a solution with the car-based truck, commonly called the truckcar, or coupe utility. Whatever you call 'em, the idea is the same. Take a car chassis and drivetrain, and drop a small pickup bed out back. While they're the automotive equivalent of the mullet (business up front, party in the back), the classic truckcar has earned a place in the hearts of many.

Full-size legends

Ford Ranchero

The Ford Ranchero

While truck-ish cars have existed almost since the beginning of the car, Ford really kicked things off with the introduction of the 1957 Ranchero. Built on the full-size Ford sedan and coupe chassis, the Ranchero obviously differed from other cars with its body-integrated pickup bed. At a little over 5 feet long, the Ranchero bed offered light work potential in an easy-to-drive, car-like package.

The '60s saw the Ranchero transition to the compact Falcon chassis, then the larger Torino, where giant engines like the 460 V8 were common. Cargo ratings hovered just over 1,000 pounds throughout the changes, making the Ranchero a true “half-ton truck." While it sold well, light trucks were exempt from emissions and mileage requirements, so 1979 was the Ranchero's last year, as it was replaced by the Ford Ranger compact truck.

The El Camino

The El Camino, Source | Allen Watkin

GM noticed early surging sales of the Ranchero and quickly developed its own competitor. The '59 El Camino was based off the full-size Chevy sedan/wagon chassis but offered a variety of engines, from a weak inline six, to the fuel-injected 283 Ramjet. The second generation switched to the smaller Chevelle platform, and the El Camino mirrored the muscle car's options and equipment, including the 396 V8.

The '70s weren't a great time for most car manufacturers, but the El Camino survived better than most. With a big-block 454 V8, manual trans, and rear-wheel drive under a lightweight rear, the El Camino was a groovy burnout machine that also delivered a respectable 5,000-pound tow rating when properly optioned.

Compact and odd

Subaru BRAT

The Subaru BRAT, Source | ilikewaffles

Around the time the Ranchero was disappearing in favor of light trucks, Subaru developed this odd little competitor. The BRAT differed from the American car-trucks with its 1.6-liter inline four cylinder making all of 67 horsepower, and driving all four wheels. While the bed was small, the weirdness continued there, with the option of two rear-facing jump seats. Alongside Van Halen's best years, the BRAT was only available from 1978 to 1985.

Dodge Rampage

The Dodge Rampage, Source | John Lloyd

Apparently the coupe utility market was hot in the early '80s, as Dodge felt the need to jump in with the Rampage. Despite the popularity of the K chassis, this little guy was built off the L platform (think Dodge Omni) and featured a 2.2-liter inline four powering the front wheels. That's peak 1980s right there: a FWD truck with a tape player. It was even available in "Garnet Pearl Metallic," which is '80s-speak for neon pink. Rad.

Want one brand new?

Holden Ute

The Holden Ute, Source | FotoSleuth

Australia has a unique place in automotive history, as it never forgot how to build a muscle car, even during the 1970s and '80s. The Aussie version of the El Camino is the Holden Ute. Like standard versions of the truckcar, the Ute features a modern chassis, suspension, and interior, with all the useful bed space you would likely need. If a standard V6 isn't enough power, step up to the SS version, which features a 400+ horsepower 6.2-liter V8 and 6-speed manual transmission. With a 3,500-pound tow rating, it can haul your race car to the track, and then rip off a high 12-second quarter mile. Work and play in one great-looking package.

Volkswagen Saveiro

The Volkswagen Saveiro, Source | Wikipedia

While the 1980s mostly put an end to the rear-wheel drive truckcar, the Ute has held out until 2017. Now the closest comparable vehicles are small front-wheel drive truckcars like the VW Saveiro. This subcompact coupe utility drives the front wheels with a choice of four-cylinder engines, which is plenty of power when your truck is three-feet shorter than a Toyota Tacoma. Cheap and economical, the Saveiro meets the needs of many owners. Want one? You'll have to move outside the US, as Volkswagen has no plans to sell them here.

While the truckcar doesn't look to be returning to the USA anytime soon, we do have a lot of options if you don't mind buying used. From a fun muscle project to a useful truck alternative, the truckcar style has a lot to offer.

Which is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below.

Last updated June 12, 2017

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