Beautiful Practicality: 5 Unforgettable Pickups of the 1950s
World War II was still fresh in the minds of most Americans when these pickups were built. Each combines rugged good looks with solid mechanics and great design, showing that American know-how was alive and well during the decade of Elvis. We proudly present our five favorites here. 1958 Chevy Cameo Carrier
“Cars are for play, trucks are for work.” This pretty much sums up the attitude of America’s automakers towards pickups, at least prior to the Cameo’s release in 1955. This mid-decade model was an attempt to change that approach. The Cameo featured styling elements formerly reserved for other types of vehicles. These included a panoramic wraparound windshield, stylish wheel openings, and a revamped interior with car-like dashboard. The truck also had an egg crate grille and wraparound front bumper, giving it a strong resemblance to GM car models of the day.
The Cameo was no wimp work-wise. Its 265 ci V8 delivered 137 horsepower. It also had wider tracks and longer leaf springs than earlier models. The Cameo was early proof that a truck could get the job done and look good while doing it.
PHOTOS: See More of the 1958 Chevrolet 1/2 Cameo Carrier Pickup
1951 Chevy 3100
Chevy’s 3100 series ran from 1948 through 1953. Hailed as “advance-design” models, they transformed pickups from plain, utilitarian rides into something a farm boy would be proud to use on a date. The cabs were larger than ever before, while new bench seats allowed spacious seating for three adults. Windshields and windows grew in size as well, and the steering wheel was larger and easier to turn than in pre-war years.
Owners also enjoyed such amenities as interior door locks, fresh air inlets, and a sizable glove box. While truck designers of today would never think of leaving out such features, for the time they were cutting-edge. For the first time, pickup drivers would be able to enjoy the comfort and style once reserved for passenger cars.
PHOTOS: See More of the 1951 Chevrolet 3100 Pickup
1954 Ford F-100
Competition among pickup brands was keen in the 1950s, with Ford and GM striving to out-do each other. The guys from Dearborn struck a major blow for their side in 1953, when they introduced a new line of sleek, aggressive looking F-100 models.
The ’53-’56 F-100s were more truck-like in appearance than later models, but they still had a lot to offer when it came to style, with their smooth lines and rounded profile. The cab featured a driving position with enhanced comfort and controls that were easier to reach. 1954 saw the introduction of a new overhead valve V8 that turned out 130 hp. Many hot rodders have transformed these trucks into so-called “sleeper” rods, with wickedly powerful engines concealed by the truck’s understated design.
PHOTOS: See More of the 1954 Ford F-100 Custom Pickup
1958 Studebaker Transtar Deluxe
While Studebaker was on the ropes during much of the 1950s, the Transtar is proof that it was still landing some pretty decent blows at the time. The basic styling is late 1940s, though the company introduced some updates in ’54 and ’55. The ’58 featured a fiberglass grille, designed to give a fresh new look to the truck’s otherwise dated (some might say “classic”) appearance. Still, the Transtar’s tested design and solid mechanics prove that the Indiana-based company knew how to build reliable, handsome pickups that could hold their own.
PHOTOS: See More of the 1958 Studebaker Transtar Deluxe
1954 Jeep 4WD One Ton
So far in this article we’ve looked at trucks that softened the edge between pickups and passenger vehicles. However, it’s worth a moment of our time to look at one vehicle that stayed true to its rough-and-ready roots.
Willy’s-Overland Motors unveiled its Jeep truck line in 1947. The power and Spartan design of these rides made it clear that they were about one thing only: going anywhere while hauling anything. If they got dirty or dinged up a little along the way, then that was simply part of their appeal.
The 1954 model year saw the introduction of a 226 ci “Hurricane” I6 engine that gave the truck added power. Transmission was a three-speed Borg-Warner manual. Amenities were minimal, in keeping with Jeeps’ philosophy. Still, as a truck that stayed true to its tough-as-nails roots, the 4WD one ton Jeep deserves its place among the best of the decade.
PHOTOS: See More of the 1954 Jeep 4WD One Ton
Photo Credit: RM Auctions