Today’s “compact” pickups are much larger than their ‘70s-era counterparts. The trucks listed by U.S. World News Report as the Best Compact Pickup Trucks for 2020 & 2021 are each at least 17 feet long, which is almost a foot and a half longer than classic compact pickups.
Pickup culture in North America was dramatically changed in the 1960s when Japanese manufacturers Datsun and Toyota introduced the compact pickup truck. These smaller, cheaper truck options quickly gained popularity, and by the beginning of the 1970s, the compact pickup craze was in full swing.
Let’s travel back in time and check out some pickups that were actually compact.
1982 Dodge Rampage
Our first stop back in time brings us to the Dodge Rampage, which was a pickup based on the Chrysler Corporation’s front-wheel-drive L-body platform.
The Rampage was the first front-wheel-drive pickup offered by an American automaker. It was built with a longer wheelbase than its 4-door relatives, and could haul up to 1000 pounds. Chrysler’s 84-hp, 2.2-liter 4-banger delivered the power, which was channeled through a 4-speed manual (with options for a 3-speed automatic or 5-speed manual).
The Rampage survived until 1984, but was resurrected in 1986 when Dodge introduced the California Shelby Rampage. The reincarnated Rampage boasted a 99-hp version of the 2.2-liter motor that sent power through a 4-speed manual, and rumbled through performance exhaust.
1980 VW Pickup
Next up is Volkswagen’s pickup effort. VW showed up late to the compact pickup party, introducing a Rabbit-based pickup in 1980. Under the VW Pickup’s hood sat the Rabbit’s 78-hp 1.6-liter 4-cylinder. The 1.5-liter diesel (also cribbed from the Rabbit) offered only 48 hp. Both power plants mated to a 4-speed manual transmission. The independent front suspension carried over from the Rabbit, but thankfully the Pickup had a more robust setup in the rear. Though it was initially popular, plunging demand led to the Pickup’s demise by 1983.
1979 Dodge D-50
1979 brings the Dodge D-50 and Plymouth Arrow pickups. Despite the domestic names, these trucks were really rebadged Mitsubishi Fortes with 6.5-foot beds and maximum payloads of 1400 pounds. The base models got a 93-hp 2.0-liter and a 4-speed manual, while the sport models had a more powerful 105-hp, 2.6-liter 4-pot paired with a 5-speed. (A 3-speed automatic was optional.) The Plymouth Arrow survived until 1982, while the Ram 50 was built through 1986 until it was replaced by an all-new model.
1978 Subaru Bi-Drive
Now we’re at the oddest compact pickup option: the 1978 Subaru Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter, or BRAT. This front-wheel-drive truck weirdly featured the two rear-facing seats in its pickup bed, which Subaru bolted in to avoid the 25% tariff on imported pickup trucks.
The BRAT‘s mechanical underpinnings were borrowed from Subaru’s Leone station wagon: a 67-hp 1.6-liter flat-4 mated either to a 4-speed manual or to a 3-speed automatic transmission. The BRAT featured a part-time 4-wheel drive, but hauled only 350 pounds. Subaru imported BRATS stateside through 1987, and they remained in production overseas through 1994.
1972 Chevy Light Utility Vehicle (LUV)
Jumping back a bit further brings us to the LUV. After observing the growing success of small Japanese pickups, Chevrolet created its own in 1972. The Chevrolet Light Utility Vehicle was a rebadging of the Isuzu Faster with a 75-hp, 1.8-liter, overhead-cam 4-cylinder and a 4-speed manual transmission. The LUV boasted a 1400-pound payload with its 6-foot bed and an independent front suspension and a solid rear axle. 1976 brought an automatic transmission arrived for 1976, and a longer bed and 4-wheel drive were implemented in 1979. In 1982, however, Chevy replaced the LUV with the midsize S-10.
Ford also jumped on the compact pickup bandwagon in 1972 with the Courier. This compact pickup featured a 1.8-liter overhead-cam engine that generated 74 hp and shifted via a 4-speed manual. The Courier boasted a 74.5-inch bed and a 1400-pound payload.
Next is Toyota’s first pickup in the American market. Though the Hilux first hit Japanese streets in March of 1968, it took more than a year for it to be introduced in America. The Hilux was powered by an 84-hp, 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine and a 4-speed column-mounted manual. It featured a double-wishbone/coil-spring front suspension, a rigid-axle/leaf-spring rear setup, and a six-foot cargo bed. Payload capacity was rated at 2200 pounds.
1959 Datsun 1000
Our final stop features the Datsun 1000, the first compact Japanese pickup in America, which was manufactured by Nissan under the Datsun name. The truck’s 1.0-liter 4-banger was influenced by the British-made Austins and generated 37 hp, enough to haul 500 pounds. In 19060, Nissan upgraded the 1000 with a 48-hp 1.2-liter engine and renamed it the 1200.
Unfortunately, much like the pickup itself, sales were slow, with only 10 sales the inaugural year. Even with slight updates, the 1200 didn’t fare much better. This model had weak brakes and an engine with batteries so small that they had difficulty starting during frigid Midwest mornings. Despite its weak points, however, the 1959 Datsun 1000 established a market segment that would reach its peak two decades later.
Protecting Your Car in 2020
If you’re the lucky owner of a classic compact pickup—one that actually adheres to the definition of compact—then you know any standard “off-the-shelf” auto insurance just won’t cut it.
At Classic Auto Insurance, we’ll help you protect your piece of history with customized classic car insurance coverage.
No two cars are alike, just like no two engines are really alike, which is why our insurance coverage plans are tailored to meet the needs of your specific vehicle. Our plans are as individual as your favorite car, so you can enjoy your classic compact pickup with the right insurance and then pass on the legacy you’ve worked so hard to build.
Collector and Classic Car Insurance for Less
Car club members know the importance of specialty policies like ours at Classic Auto Insurance, which protects your valuable investment for years to come. Do you know a car club membership could get you a 10% discount at Classic Auto? Let us customize a policy to fit your needs. We offer affordable, Agreed Value coverage for a variety of collector, classic and custom vehicles. Our friendly, knowledgeable staff can answer your questions and give you a quote on the spot. Get an instant quote online or call 888-901-1338 and see how we can help safeguard your dream car.