May 9, 2021

Alice-in-chains

Automotive forever

Best Dodge Ford and GM High-Performance Muscle Trucks

High performance. Pure, unadulterated horsepower and torque. They’re what every gearhead wants from his or her vehicle, and many enthusiasts go to great lengths modifying their rides to the proverbial nth degree in order to achieve the most performance possible.

Of course, in most cases the buck doesn’t stop at just raw-dog power. A stylish appearance is almost equally as important as whatever mechanical madness is making a car or truck go.

The term “muscle car” dates back to the 1960s and ’70s, when U.S. automakers built big-displacement engines, mated them with four-speed manual transmissions, and then dropped (in some instances, stuffed) them into midsize and fullsize coupes and sedans, added ancillary performance hardware, and made them available through dealerships nationwide.

Ford’s Mustang and Torino, Pontiac Grand Prix, GTO and Firebird, Chevrolet’s Super Sport series of Impalas, Novas, Chevelles, and Camaros, Plymouth Road Runner and Satellite, Dodge Dart, Charger, and many more are hot rods that were coveted then and revered today.

Something that isn’t talked about much is the fact that during that same period, manufacturers also gave trucks the same muscle treatment. Yes, although factory-built, high-performance pickups are a lot more niche than cars are, they actually came into existence many years before 1993, when Ford’s F-150 Lightning hit showrooms (younger enthusiasts believe this hopped-up half-ton started the movement).

We think American muscle trucks definitely are worthy of discussing saluting in the same vein that cars are, and here is our take on 10 rigs that we feel deserve to be called iconic.

1970 to 1972 Ford Ranchero GT



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Ford’s half-car/half-pickup gets a 450-hp 429 Cobra Jet shoehorned into its engine bay. Whoa! There’s nothing much more to say.

2004 to 2006 Dodge Ram SRT-10



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A Dodge Viper in pickup skin. Sadly, this muscle rig was only for three years. Offered as a regular cab (with a six-speed manual transmission available) or quad cab, the SRT-10 was powered by a 500-hp 8.2L V-10 engine and could hustle through the quarter mile in 13.7 seconds.

1990 to 1993 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 454 SS



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Yes, Chevy actually brought late-model, sports truck heat to the scene before Ford. A cool half-ton shortbed rig was fitted with a big-block 454ci engine that put out 385 lb-ft of tire-frying torque. Available in “any color as long as it was black,” this rig was a menacing street stormer that could haul the groceries. Literally.

1970 Chevrolet El Camino 454 SS



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Another big-block-powered Chevy pickup and the predecessor to the aforementioned Silverado, this rig combined a light-duty truck with the now-legendary ’70 Chevelle SS, highlighted by the venerable LS6 454-cubic-inch engine (another 450-hp monster). We don’t doubt the corporate objective was to give Ford’s Ranchero GT a run for its money. Based on fan following alone, we think it did.

1993 to 1995 Ford SVT F-150 Lightning



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As we noted earlier, and, contrary to popular thought, the American muscle truck movement didn’t start with the first-generation Lightning. But this rig is iconic, nonetheless. Regular cab, short bed, and 5.8L V-8 power put Lightning on par with its bowtie competitor, which actually bowed out the same year the new Ford debuted.

1987 to 1996 Dodge Ram Shelby Dakota



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Although associating the name, Carroll Shelby, with any brand other than Ford might seem sacrilegious to hard-core performance junkies, there was a time during the late 1980s and early ’90s when the iconic builder broke ranks and aligned with Chrysler. During the period, and in addition to the cars he designed, Shelby put his magic touch on the Dakota, a compact pickup that received a 175-hp, 5.2L V-8 engine, as well as a special paint scheme, stripes, wheels, and roll bar.

1991 to 1992 GMC Syclone



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An all-wheel-drive pocket rocket. This rig was founded on the Chevy S10 platform and loaded with a 280-hp turbocharged 4.3L V-6 engine and the four-speed automatic transmission from Corvette of that period. In the “weird statistics about GMC’s Syclone” department, the production run for 1992 was only three vehicles. Imagine having one of those now?

1999 to 2004 Ford SVT F-150 Lightning



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After a three-year break, Ford brought back its SVT Lightning with an all-new look and a supercharged 360-hp (1999 to 2000, 380 hp from 2001 to 2004) 5.4L V-8 engine under the hood. Second-generation Lightning stood alone at the top of the factory-built, high-performance truck ladder for several years.

1978 to 1979 Dodge D-100 Lil’ Red Truck (Express)



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Don’t be fooled by the photo. The Lil’ Red Truck only had a two-year production run. And in that time, only the ’78 models are legitimate numbers-matching pickups. Unique identification tags are located at the top of the driver’s side firewall, and, if equipped with chrome steps, on the support bracket below the left step. But that’s not what makes the regular-cab, shortbed LRT cool and totally deserving of inclusion in this rundown of American muscle trucks. By installing the 225-hp police version of a 360-cubic-inch V-8 engine in a truck, which, unlike cars, was not subjected to meeting strict, performance-robbing emissions regulations (mandatory catalytic converters), Dodge created a streetborne monster. The big-rig dual stacks, graphics, and popping red paint made this one of the baddest rigs on the block during that time.

1964 to 1966 Dodge D-100 Custom Sports Special



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We’re closing things out with the OG. A lot of people don’t know anything about Dodge’s early foray into the world of American muscle trucks. For three years, the radical alter ego of this special edition rig could be had by simply ticking the checkbox for the $1,235 High-Performance package on an order sheet. And what did that option include? To start, a 360-hp, 426-cubic-inch Street Wedge V-8 engine. No, it wasn’t a Hemi, but it definitely was an animal in a 3,874-pound truck. Add to that a 727 LoadFlite three-speed automatic transmission, a 6,000-rpm tach, bucket seats and console, and racing stripes, and this rig definitely was the big dog on the boulevard that unfortunately was somewhat anonymous.