When the ’70s began, the American muscle car era was winding down due to emission standards, high insurance rates, and fuel costs. While pickup trucks had always been popular in America, the reasons for the muscle car decline actually increased the popularity of trucks. The early emission standards applied to passenger cars only, and trucks were exempt. Also, insurance companies did not look at trucks as performance vehicles, so rates were low. By the time gas prices peaked in the late ’70s, pickup trucks were pretty much the only option if you wanted power.
So as passenger car performance declined in the ’70s, pickup trucks became the new performance vehicles. In fact, in some years, the most powerful production vehicles on the market were pickup trucks. As a result, some of them became as desirable for their power and performance as they did for their carrying and towing capacity.
What follows are the 13 most powerful pickup trucks from the ’70s.
13 1973 Ford F-250
The Ford F-250 was the mid-range offering in the F-series pickup truck line in 1973. The standard engine was an inline 6-cylinder, however, a massive 460 cubic inch 4-barrel V8 with 245 horsepower was available. This was also the first year that this engine was available for the F-series pickups. This was more power than a 1973 Dodge Charger or Chevrolet Corvette.
12 1974 AMC Jeep J10
American Motors purchased Jeep in 1970 and the 1971 model year was the first time Jeeps would use AMC vice Buick engines. The 1974 Jeep J10 pickup had an optional American Motors 401 cubic inch V8 with 225 horsepower available. These were known as tough and powerful engines in a relatively light vehicle. The Corvette only had 195 horsepower that year, making the J10 pretty powerful by comparison.
11 1979 Dodge ‘Lil Red Express
First introduced in 1978, the Dodge ‘Lil Express is one of the most unique trucks the company ever produced. It had a high performance 360 cubic inch engine, four-barrel engine, producing 295 horsepower. It also had a high performance transmission, suspension, and rear gearing. It was extremely popular and, according to Car And Driver, the fastest American vehicle that year in the 0-100 mph category.
10 1970 Chevrolet C10
There were still plenty of car performance options in 1970, so pickup trucks are often overlooked. The Chevrolet C10 came with a base inline six-cylinder engine, however, a 402 cubic-inch big block V8 capable of 375 horsepower was an option. It was basically a bored out 396, and still called that, due to the engine’s popularity among power enthusiasts. There were also numerous manual and automatic transmission options available.
9 1970 Ford Ranchero
The Ford Ranchero shared a lot of design features with the Torino, including an optional 429 cubic inch Super Cobrajet V8 with 375 horsepower and loads of torque. It also came with a shaker hood and a high performance manual transmission and suspension. Only 153 of the 429 Rancheros were sold, making them highly desirable today at auction. The year 1970 was also the first time the Ranchero received its own interior badging.
8 1970 Dodge D100
The year 1970 was when Dodge started offering their “lifestyle pickups” marketed towards those that wanted a more personalized vehicle. The D100 was also available with “Dude” trim that included a 440 Magnum cubic-inch V8 with 255 horsepower and plenty of torque. Not that many were sold, and the Dude trim option was discontinued after the 1971 model year.
7 1971 Chevrolet C20 Longhorn
The Longhorn variant of the Chevrolet C20 is distinguished by a longer wheelbase and truck bed. It came with a base 6-cylinder engine, but a powerful 402 cubic inch 4-barrel V8 with 300 horsepower was available in the 1971 model. A manual column shifter was standard, however, it also was available with 4-speed manual or automatic transmission options.
6 1971 GMC C2500 Sierra Grande
In 1971, the Sierra Grande was an option for the GMC 2500 series pickup trucks. The top engine option was a big block 396 cubic inch V8 that had been bored out to 402 cubic inches. The 1971 model year is distinguishable as the 396 emblem was changed to 400 on the vehicle. The big block produced 300 horsepower and lots of low end torque.
5 1974 Dodge D-Series
In 1974, Dodge brought back the 440 Magnum V8 as an option for their D-series pickup truck line. It was detuned from earlier versions of the 440, but still had 255 horsepower, which was a lot of power, when you consider that the Mustang that year had 105 horsepower. These trucks were also built with a lot of galvanized steel, so they’re resistant to rust, and very durable compared to their ’70s counterparts.
4 1971 International 1500D
From 1969-1975, International produced a line of pickup trucks with a number of engine options available. At the top of the line was the V392 V8 capable of producing 235 horsepower. Transmission options included a 5-speed manual or a Borg-Warner automatic. By 1973, American Motors was producing many of the International pickup truck engines until they discontinued the line to concentrate on heavy machinery production.
3 1970 Ford F-150
The popular Ford F-150 pickup truck was going strong in 1970 and had a number of engine options available. For those that wanted a lot of power, a 390 cubic inch V8 was available with 255 horsepower and 376 lb-ft of torque. The top trim option was the Ranger XLT that included a nameplate that is still used today.
2 1970 Chevy El Camino SS
The 1970 El Camino SS was probably the most powerful pickup truck in the 1970s. If a 396 cubic inch engine with 375 horsepower was not enough, you could get the LS6 454. This engine produced a whopping 450 horsepower and 500 lb-ft of torque and was the most powerful engine Chevrolet ever produced. The El Camino SS shared pretty much all the performance features of the Chevelle SS.
1 1978 Dodge Midnite Express
The Dodge Midnite Express was a dealer installed package in 1978 only, and available in the states where emission standards precluded sales of other Dodge trucks such as the ‘Lil Red Express. It came with a 440 cubic inch V8 capable of 255 horsepower. All of the models were black with gold pin striping and exhaust stacks and were marketed to appeal to a younger audience.
Next: 10 Pickup Trucks From the ’90s That Aged Well (And 5 That Are Worthless)
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