Classic pickups finally get some respect

I once had a client who was 79 years old when I first met him. He was a great client and even better friend. For the next 17 years, until his passing at age 96, we shared a close relationship, which revolved around antique and classic cars, art and many other common interests.

I had the honour of both maintaining his collection of 20 or so cars and buying and selling cars within his collection as new gems came to light and older acquisitions started to bore him a little.

One of his idiosyncrasies was that he could not for the life of him understand my attraction to antique and classic trucks. To him, trucks were quite simply what the gardener or other tradesmen used. As such, they held no more appeal to him than a wheelbarrow or lawnmower. In fact, until I absolutely forced him, horrified, into riding in one of my brand-new loaded Dodge 3500s, he had never been in a pickup. After a day of antiquing, he had to actually admit that the truck, with its wood trim, leather seats and fancy entertainment centre, was the equal of many luxury cars he had owned.

It still did not change his mind about classic trucks and I could never talk him into acquiring one, not even a really rare and desirable 1936 Studebaker Coupe Express Pickup I had come across. This Studebaker was without a doubt the most beautiful and stylish pickup truck ever created. It had flowing Art Deco lines and smoothed and rounded box contours. It was quite simply a masterpiece. It was also an incredibly good investment, one that, had he bought it, would have appreciated several hundred per cent from the asking price at the time to what it would be worth today.

Not too many years ago, buying an old pickup — even a nicely restored one — was the cheapest way of getting into the classic car hobby. But no matter how nice a truck it was, it did not have the cachet of a 1957 Chev or a ’50s Ford Crown Victoria.

Over the years, I have owned several classic pickups. There is not one of them that I don’t miss or would never buy again. My favourite was a one-ton 1941 Fargo, a rare civilian truck, one of just six released in 1941 for farm use. The rest of that year’s production was for the military.

Despite its humble destination and the fact that the Second World War was raging, that truck still bore the highly detailed planet Earth hood ornament and all the flashy stainless Deco trim on its hood, radiator shell and prominent fenders.

Another great truck I owned was a 1948 Ford F-1. This one was also special because it had the very rare Ford six-cylinder flathead engine. These motors were installed in some pickups headed out to the U.S. grain belt. The reason was that, in the days after the war when things were still a bit tight, pickups often had to serve multiple roles from getting the family to the church on Sunday to ploughing the fields during the week. The six-cylinder had more grunt and was better at multi-tasking than the Ford flathead eights of the day.

There are others that I miss and I wish I still had owned for two reasons. The first is that I just loved looking at them and playing with them. The second is that pickup truck values have spiralled in value.

Today, it is not uncommon to see well-restored pickups sell for in excess of $50,000. A 1949 Mercury pickup, a Canadian-only marque, sold recently at the Toronto collector car auction for $73,000 — an unheard-of sum for any truck up to a few years ago. In the United States, rare pickups such as the Studebaker I once tried to have my friend purchase for his collection can sell for more than $100,000. I think the first $250,000 classic truck is waiting just over the hill if, in fact, that price has not already been achieved somewhere.

The new popularity of collector trucks is probably nurtured by the common acceptance of SUVs and trucks as primary vehicles and even luxury rides such as the Cadillac and Lincoln pickups.

Trucks now hold a major part of the collector hobby and are near and dear to the hearts of many, but, to others, no matter how fancy or rare, they will always just be mundane devices to get lawnmowers to the lawn.

Undated photo of 1941 Fargo truck.
Photograph by: David Grainger, For National Post