Welcome back to Chick’s Corner, ladies and gentlemen. I went off last week on the subject on whiteout versus blackout tires in the off-road community, and it seems to me that I didn’t ruffle anyone’s feathers bad enough to warrant hate mail or questions about my sexuality. So I have that going for me, which is nice.
This week, I’m going to address a concern that I’ve had for quite some time: what happened to the two coolest things to ever hit the truck scene – roll bars, flareside (also known as stepside) beds, and four-wheel steering? I mean, let’s push aside the big innovations in 4×4-ing like portal axles and hill descent control, for example. Those are plenty impressive on their own, don’t get me wrong; but nowadays, the “cool” factor is (with the exception of the Ford Raptor) missing in the pickup market across every brand in the land.
To find the time when trucks had that flair, that spice which made them the preferred mode of transportation of heroes and villains, we have to go back … to the future. Just kidding, we’re going back to 1980s to revisit the movie Back to the Future (BTTF) franchise.
You could say that BTTF’s automotive icon was that stainless steel junker turned time-traveling badass, the DeLorean DMC-12. In my opinion, the true four-wheeled beauty of that series was the 1985 Toyota pickup, done up in black paint and sporting one of the biggest aspects of truck “mojo” ever devised: the roll bar. I had a similar Matchbox model in a red Dodge Dakota, which I adored a great deal. What could be more appealing than a roll bar with a set of halogen KC HiLiTES?
Flareside beds, that’s what. Well, maybe not more appealing, but certainly up there in terms of “cool” factor. Being able to mosey up to a truck equipped with steps, plant a foot in them, and lift thyself into the bed was a pretty great idea.
Oh-so-useful, but also oh-so-good-looking. That’s how I view flareside beds, folks, and I’ll go to the grave carrying that sentiment. I don’t know how folks can look at any Chevy or Ford truck made between the 1970s and early 1990s and go, “Holy crap, that’s disgusting.”
It wasn’t so long ago that stepside was the way to go. From 1957 and before, in fact, that’s the only way a farmer or cowpoke could have his truck ordered. From then on, the Big Three swapped back and forth for the next five decades, taking them away and bringing them back as popularity waxed and waned.
The final coffin came in the late 2000s, as Ford watched the dwindling numbers and waved bye-bye to bulging backsides on its lineup. Personally, I think we have none other than Toyota and its grotesque-looking Tundra to blame.
Last but not least, there’s four-wheel steering. Now, I’ve been discussing the virtues of looks-based features of pickups up to this point, but this is one big function-based feature that came and went without a whole lot of fanfare – in my view, undeservedly so.
Back when General Motors and Delphi were still buddy-buddy, the latter developed what became known as Quadrasteer which, as the name implies, allowed a driver to make turns using all four wheels as opposed to just the front two. It was hardly the first of its kind, since examples as early as the 1910s showed how useful the system could be, as in the case of tractors.
From 2002 to 2005, Chevrolet and GMC had Quadrasteer as an option in the Silverado, Sierra, Yukon, and Suburban, and touted the system as a better way to tow and haul cargo, as well as tighten the turning radius of these full-size machines; something Ford, Toyota, Nissan, and Dodge Ram never offered before or since. For those four short years, American trucks were unique and flavorful once more.
It all went away too soon, and undoubtedly because Quadrasteer was a $6,000 dollar add-on to the cost of between $30,000-45,000 MSRP. The option became less and less expensive as time went on, but was ultimately phased out due to, yep, low demand.
As I see it, trucks have lost their way in recent years, as creature comforts and safety gimmicks replace simple aesthetics and useful technology. Is it too much to hope for a revival of these and other “cool” touches in off-road vehicles? We’ll have to wait and see.
What features would you like to see return to trucks and SUVs? What features would you like to see fade away and never come back? Let us know in the comments below.