The sport truck trend was one that started long before the 1990s, and in fact it was during the late ’70s, with their “Lil’ Red Express” truck, that Dodge built one of our nation’s very first production, custom pickups. Featuring “18-wheeler” pipes and a Police Interceptor version of Chrysler’s 360, Dodge’s V8-powered, custom pickup set a performance truck standard years prior to GMC’s turbocharged Syclone.
Dodge's Lil' Red Express was a factory custom pickup that was introduced in 1978, and with its 18-wheeler style pipes, it was one of the automaker's most unique truck creations.
When it came to the best in truck performance during the early ’90s, however, it was the blown 4.3-liter V6 of the Syclone pickup that reigned supreme. By that part of the decade, GM monopolized on the performance truck market with two different platforms, GMC’s turbo-6 killer and the substantially heavier-duty “454 SS,” based on the 1500 series introduced by Chevy in 1990.
Though the pickup market was one that was dominated by the likes of Chevy and GMC, Ford proved that they were more than capable of keeping up with the 90s’ trend of sport-tuned trucks. Their answer to the rocket pickup market was the 1993-95 F-150 Lightning, developed by Ford’s own SVT sector with a modified version of the company’s 5.8-liter V8. Ford’s performance truck equivalent was similar to the Syclone in philosophy; it used one of the company’s lighter production motors to make power, instead of using the biggest-displacement engine on the shelves.
By the early '90s, GM dominated the sport truck scene with GMC's turbocharged Syclone and its SUV equivalent, the Typhoon. The General's big-block was not one of the decade's most powerful production engines, as Chevy's '454 SS' was only good for 15-second passes at the strip. Granted, the 1500-series truck was good for 240 horses, and Ford would soon follow suit with the F-150 Lightning.
The difference, however, between GM’s V6 and Ford’s aluminum-headed V8 was that Ford’s 5.8 mill was one that produced within about the same horsepower range as the Syclone, but with all motor, not relying on the “convenience” of forced induction to get its point across. One of Ford SVT’s engineering masterpieces, the early-90s Lightning V8 was tweaked with GT-40 heads, a custom-ground camshaft and exclusive, throttle body injection.
Coupled with enhanced suspension for better handling at higher speeds, SVT’s modifications to the F-150 Lightning made for a sport truck that cranked some 240 horses with 340 feet-pounds of twist. This was nearly equal to the Syclone’s 280 horsepower with 360 torque, and it was enough to equal Chevy’s 1500-based, 454 SS in straight line performance.
Ford, with the aid of their in-house SVT tuning department, further enhanced the F-150’s suspension, while making a perfect performance tune out of the automaker’s relatively light, 5.8-liter V8.
Though the topic of America’s sport truck scene often revolves around either Dodge’s SRT-10 Ram, Ford’s SVT Lightening or the GMC Syclone, other sport truck equivalents have adorned our nation’s landscape. It has often been, in fact, GMC who has initiated some of our automotive history’s cleanest, pickup truck creations.
Not only in the sense of initiating a performance truck market, GMC has also offered some of the wildest cosmetic packages that have been enjoyed by our nation’s truck sector. Some of the company’s most tricked-out truck creations actually didn’t come out of the early ’90s, but during the ‘70s, when GMC’s “Gentleman Jim” and “Beau James” models first appeared.
Both variations on the GMC, full-sized pickup series were not much more than cosmetic upgrades; the Gentleman Jim was a package that consisted mostly of a black-and-gold paint scheme, and the Beau James was a 3/4-ton that featured some suspension upgrades, including softer springs for an improved ride.
America’s trucks, in general, would probably not be taken seriously as performance platforms until 1991, when GMC’s Syclone was incorporated as a one-year, limited production run that put turbo V6 performance back on the map, a few years after the Grand National’s demise and almost immediately following the end of the turbo Trans Am.
Though GM set what could possibly be the standard for America’s performance truck scene, other automakers have followed suit over the years, including Chrysler’s SRT from 2004-06 with the SRT-10 Ram. Recently on Yahoo! Autos, Popular Mechanics‘ Ben Stewart described the impact of pickups on our nation’s automotive landscape, “Pickup trucks are America’s workhorses,” says Stewart.
Stewart further explains how some trucks make it into the canon of “cool,” despite their original intention as work vehicles, “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,” Stewart elaborates.
Trucks, at least as far as our nation’s landscape is concerned, are our country’s most vital, utility vehicles. They are motored vehicles that are built with a purpose, but as we’ve seen from America’s custom and performance resume, trucks are as much a part of our culture’s “cool” factor as the Camaros and Mustangs that have been their contemporaries!