Pickup trucks are woven into the very fabric of this nation’s identity: no place on Earth fetishizes payload and towing capacity as much as we do. If marketers are to be believed, they’re sort of like the 21st century equivalent of a cowboy’s steed; you’re a straight-talking man’s man who needs a truck that works as hard as you do. That rugged sense of individualism dovetails neatly with the uniquely western desire to stand out from the pack. Put plainly, we distinguish ourselves via the things we buy. From a purely rational perspective, it’s hard to justify throwing down a couple of thousand dollars just for some extra lights and stickers, but humans aren’t perfectly rational creatures. We’ll gladly spend more on an objectively inferior product just to have something that tells the outside world something about us.
That’s not to say that all the trucks on this list are vanity items. Some of these limited-production pickups are rigorously engineered and differ substantially from their more common brethren. However, all of these entries have one thing in common: they’re just plain cool. Of course, “cool” is an entirely subjective term; you’ll notice that this list is heavy on seventies-vintage special edition pickups, not just because personalizing your truck was big back then, but also because I happen to like bright color schemes, pinstriping, and boatloads of chrome. Others, of course, might feel differently.
The first-gen Ford Raptor was a game-changer for the high-performance truck genre, shifting the focus away from low-riding sports pickups like the Dodge Ram SRT10 and paving the way for legions of pre-runner-inspired Baja specials. A dune-bashing pickup with a 411 hp V8 and fender flares the size of Alaska is already a solid 11/10 on the outrageousness scale, so how much room is left for a bit of extra foam-at-the-corners-of-your-mouth insanity? Well, if you’re Shelby American, quite a bit. Fitted with a 2.9 liter Whipple supercharger and a Borla exhaust system, the Raptor’s 6.2 liter V8 now cranks out a whopping 575 hp. Demand was high enough for Shelby American to increase its planned production run from 100 to 500 units.
FORD F-150 SVT LIGHTNING
The SVT Lightning wasn’t the first go-fast pickup, nor was it the fastest. However, it left an indelible mark on enthusiasts’ collective consciousness, and is arguably the archetypical example of the breed. While the first iteration, introduced in 1993, was no slouch, blessed as it was with a 5.8 liter Windsor and a laundry list of handling improvements, it wasn’t nearly as committed as Ford’s second attempt.
Based on the 10th-generation F-150, the Lightning’s engine bay played host to what was then one of the most potent powerplants to have ever been installed in a factory-built pickup.
Co-developed with Roush, the Eaton-supercharged 5.4 liter V8 delivered 340 hp and 440 lb-ft of torque to the rears through a heavy-duty four-speed auto cribbed from the F-350. Thanks to staggered-setup Bilstein gas shocks, SVT coil springs, an LSD-equipped rear end, and 295-width Goodyear Eagle F1 rubber, the truck’s handling capabilities were an equally large step up from those of its predecessor.
FORD F-150 TREMOR
Despite having been developed without the aid of Ford’s Special Vehicles Team, the limited-edition Tremor, of which only 2,230 were built, seems to be a worthy homage to the dearly-departed Lightning. Fitted with Ford’s potent, though thoroughly misnamed EcoBoost powerplant (There isn’t anything “Eco” about these engines, as the Car and Driver can attest with a combined testing average of 15 mpg) in 3.5 liter flavor, the Tremor can leap to 60 MPH in 6.0 seconds, not bad for a vehicle that weighs over 5,000 lbs. Enormous Pirelli Scorpion tires, rubber-banded around smoked 20” aluminum wheels, let this enormous rig handle with something approaching finesse.
DODGE RAM POWER WAGON
Power Wagon is a legendary moniker in the annals of Dodge truck history, first seeing use in 1946 and attached to the world’s first four-wheel-drive civilian truck. While the current Power Wagon isn’t nearly as revolutionary as its ancestor, it’s far from a mere wheels-n-stickers trim line.
In fact, it’s meant to tap into the somewhat under-explored tow-rig/rock crawler pickup niche, mating a 10,030 towing capacity to Rubicon-taming off-road chops.
The process of transforming a Ram 2500 into a Power Wagon revolves around the running gear: along with a 2.0” suspension lift and beefed-up axle shafts, Dodge also fits a two-speed transfer case, electronically locking differentials, an electronically disconnecting front anti-roll bar, Bilstein monotube dampers and 33” Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires.
CHEVROLET SILVERADO INTIMIDATOR SS
Meant to honor the late, great Dale Earnhardt, the 2006 Intimidator SS was essentially a roided-out version of the regular Chevrolet Silverado SS. The list of upgrades focuses on boosting the pickup’s agility, courtesy of a lower ride height, two-stage multi-leaf springs, Tenneco shocks, a stiffer front stabilizer bar, harder front jounce bumpers and a 3.73 locking rear diff. The engine was left unchanged, which isn’t really a problem when you’ve got 345 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque to mess around with. The interior, meanwhile, is festooned with Dale Earnhardt Legacy logos. Production was capped at just 1,333 units, so if you’re looking to cause a splash at the next tailgate party, it doesn’t get much better than this.
CHEVROLET BIG 10
Nothing makes as good a story as corporate greed. GM built the Big 10 in order to circumvent smog rules for ½ ton pickups. The engineering process was devilishly simple: take one Chevrolet C10 pickup and add justenough structural reinforcement to bring its curb weight over the 6,000 lb mark, making it a ¾ truck as per the EPA’s classification system. Back in 1975, ¾ ton trucks didn’t have to be fitted with a catalytic converter, a boon for buyers who weren’t impressed with the then-primitive, power-sapping devices.
CHEVROLET 454 SS
The 454 SS was the hot-rodded pickup that spurred Ford onto building the SVT Lightning. In spite of that, the Bow Tie’s contribution to the world of high-speed cargo hauling has gone on to be mostly forgotten.
The recipe was strikingly similar to that of a sixties muscle car: starting with the lightest configuration of the C1500 pickup, Chevrolet’s engineers managed to shove a 7.4 liter (that’s 454 ci, hence the name) V8 into the engine bay.
1991 models cranked out a hugely impressive 255 hp and 405 lb-ft of torque, enough to fling the 454 to 60 in under 8.0 seconds. Only 17,000 models were built but demand is still low, so if you’re looking for a hipster-chic way to pay homage to the golden age of muscle trucks, now’s your chance.
CHEVROLET YENKO/SC SILVERADO
For the uninitiated, Yenko Chevrolet was a Pennsylvania-based dealership that made a name for itself back in the sixties with a wide selection of customized muscle cars with ludicrous power outputs. The Yenko/SC, limited to just 25 units, does nothing to stain that outlaw heritage. Under the relatively subtle exterior lies a monstrous 6.8 liter V8 that cranks out 800 hp and 750 lb-ft of torque, along with six-piston Brembo brakes and a custom-built stainless steel exhaust system. All of this muscle-bound exclusivity doesn’t come cheap, however. Along with the near $46,000 donor truck, the company asks for an additional $46,995 for the full suite of performance upgrades (along with a three-year/36,000 mile warranty), meaning the actual sticker price hovers dangerously close to the $100,000 mark.
DODGE SHELBY CALIFORNIA RAMPAGE
The Rampage in itself was a bit of a unicorn: a car-based subcompact utility vehicle with aspirations of sportiness. Honestly, it’s like Dodge’s product planners were playing a game of Mad Libs that went wildly off the rails. That bizarre mission statement only went further awry after Shelby Automotive got their mitts on it.
Sold exclusively through a select few Dodge dealerships in California, only 218 creatively-named California Shelby Rampages were ever built.
Featuring an aerodynamic front clip pillaged from the oft-forgotten Shelby Charger, a ground-scraping aero-kit, drilled sports pedals, a sports exhaust system, and plenty of pin-striping, the SC Rampage certainly looked and sounded the part.
DODGE RAM SRT10
From a distance, the Ram SRT10 didn’t have a reason to exist. Pickup trucks are defined by their fitness for purpose, and in that regard, the SRT10 was severely lacking: the bevy of performance hardware that allowed it to accelerate like a sports car made it far less useful than its utilitarian brethren. The SRT’s towing capacity of 7,500 lbs was roughly 1,600 lbs short of what a bog-standard Ram 1500 of the same vintage could pull. That logic-driven mindset, however, isn’t really compatible with the technicolor insanity that defines this rig. No one needed to build a pickup truck with a 500 hp 8.3-liter V10 engine, Dodge just wanted to. No one needed to make this 5,100 lb elephant generate 0.86 g of grip on the skidpad, Dodge just wanted to. No, no one needed the fastest production pickup in the world, Dodge just built it.