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Affordable Collectibles: Trucks of the ’70s

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Hard to believe for some, but pickup trucks built in the ’70s are becoming collectible. One of the coolest – yet most overlooked – categories of the era, light-duty trucks, are some of the most affordable classics around. And remember: we’re talking about the Seventies, so when you start really looking, get ready to stumble across some of the weirdest special editions and greatest model names not seen before or after those years.

Chances are, you’ll probably find the trucks still in regular use and not only are most replacement parts readily available, but a few of the repop houses are making new body parts that were once only sourced in junkyards. Speaking of junkyards, the genius of collecting some of the full-size Big Three models is that the body styles ran unchanged for nearly the whole decade, which makes parts interchangeable up and down the years. So here are our favorite Gen X trucks, based on affordability, accessibility and workability. Find your favorite, and drive that monster every day.

1. Ford F350 Super Camper Special

Sixth-generation Fords were virtually the same platform from ’73 to ’79, with a staggering list of options and special editions. In the early ’70s, the camping craze produced some factory weirdos, and the Super Camper Special was one of them. Based on a 1-ton narrow-frame cab-and-chassis platform, these were badged as Super Camper Special from ’73 to ’77, then just Camper Special in ’78 and ’79. The rearend was moved toward the tailgate to stabilize a slide-in camper, keeping the overall length the same, but a 140-inch wheelbase meant a 37-point turn in suburban utopias. And because of that, the spare was moved to the bed side behind a giant panel.

2. Chevrolet Longhorn

Remember that camping craze we mentioned? Well, Chevrolet’s answer was the Longhorn. Only made until ’72, the Longhorn was available in what looked like stock 3/4- and 1-ton packages, but the frame and bed were actually lengthened by six inches, giving it a 133-inch wheelbase. For whatever reason, GM’s approach to a stable slide-in camper rig was to literally tack on those extra 6 inches to the front of the bed. So when you find one these days, you’ll no doubt be able to see the spot welds and the vertical seam on the bed sides. Add to that a wooden bed floor and some neat character to an already-bitchin’ truck, and you’ve got a rare, 8-1/2-foot bed pickup.

3. International Harvester Travelall

(Note: We swapped in an image of a 1975 Travelall after commenters pointed out that the original image was from the 1960s design. Thanks, fellas.)

International Harvester, as you might gather from the name, had its roots in farmin’ and tractorin’. So when the brand got into passenger vehicles, “Harvester” was dropped by the time International introduced its fourth-generation Suburban-killer, the Travelall. An exercise in right angles, this Travelall featured the aerodynamics of a bookshelf and was pushed by more engine options than most others in the category: an AMC straight-six or buyer’s choice of the International 304-, 345-, V-8s, or the AMC-sourced V8. An even weirder – nay, cooler – version of the Travelall was the Wagon Master; a Travelall with a bed, designed to pull a camper as the brand’s own answer to the camping phenomenon its competition was cashing in on. Find any one of these trucks and you’ll own an instant classic.

4. Subaru BRAT

When it introduced the Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter to gas crunch-weary Americans in 1978, Subaru probably didn’t realize it had an instant classic on its hands. Among the already odd import mini-truck invasion of the Malaise Era, the BRAT was a weirdo: spare under the hood with the 1.6-liter horizontally opposed four-banger, four-wheel drive, T-Top option, front nerf bar, hidden bed step and the greatest thing to ever grace the bed of a truck: a pair of rear-facing jumpseats with grab handles and carpeting (a tactic by Subaru to avoid the American “chicken tax”). These things are rare today, but if you can find one – especially a first-gen model – scarf it up, fix the rust and coax out as many of those 73 horses as it has left in it. You won’t regret one damn minute of it.

5. Dodge Warlock

By the late ’70s, it seemed like the Big Three design studios were filled with beanbag chairs and some purple haze. And out of that came things like the Dodge Warlock, a factory custom pickup influenced by the boogie van craze that was sedate by the standards of the era, even with such a menacing name. Originally available only in red, dark green and black, the Warlock is most easily identified by its gold pinstriping inside and out, custom wheels and factory-custom bucket seat interior. Later models, including the 1979 Warlock II pictured above, were available in a slightly expanded palette. We mention the Warlock as a collectible because it’s often overshadowed by its older cousin that went to Vegas and never came home – the Lil’ Red Express Truck. The Warlock has the same great bones and, we’d offer, a helluva better name. Your girl might end up divorced from Lil’ Red, but she’ll catch her breath when she remembers her Warlock, son.

6. Chevy LUV

When Chevrolet rebadged the Japanese-market Isuzu Faster as its Light Utility Vehicle in 1972, it was reacting to what it saw hitting the California coast and moving across the country faster than the little Faster ever could on its own. It didn’t take long before the LUV was being snapped up at dealerships as quickly and as cheaply as they could be stamped out in Japan. While barges like the Caprice were reaching maximum girth and minimum horsepower ratings, the market for a wee gas-sipper of a pickup that could carry half a ton was growing simultaneously. The LUV was cheap, dependable, easy to work on and had a good run of model years. Look for a rare-ish Mikado edition trim package in the early ’70s and even a four-wheel-drive version by ’79. Not much to these little guys, but they had good looks, simple maintenance manuals and they made a million of ’em. So, you should be able to find your one LUV without too much trouble or negotiating.

7. Datsun 620

Datsun has built pickup trucks since the mid-1950s, but when that mini-truck craze hit the States in the early ’70s, it was personified in the 620. The Datsun name disappeared in 1985 and was replaced by its parent company’s name, Nissan. But before that happened, the 620 – also known as the 1600 – became more of a killer little commuter or everyday vehicle than just relegated to work truck duty. Americans loved the little guy for its crazy levels of dependability and durability and it got such great gas mileage that it could pass the gas station rationing lines of the early ‘70s with a few neighbors and the family dog in the bed, albeit fairly slowly. These trucks have great design for a pure Japanese import of that era and they were available in an extended “King Cab” version, crew cab, a few different body accent stripes, a four-speed, a five-speed, an automatic and even a diesel option. Find one, buy it and love on it.

8. Jeep pickup

Jeep’s been building civilian trucks since right after WWII. But by the time the ’70s rolled around, the most hardcore name in trucks – the Gladiator – was replaced with just the letter J. Not only that, but AMC now owned Jeep, so that J was backed up with a tepid six that made just over 100 hp. While it’s definitely one of the coolest-looking trucks of the ’70s, it was making barely 30 more horsepower than the Datsun or the LUV. Thanks, AMC. Anyway, these things were named Gladiator for ’70-’71, J2000 and J4000 till 1973 and then J10 and J20 through the end of the ’70s, just so you know when you’re looking for one. As the decade slogged along, the J got a few different engines, but we especially dig AMC’s 401 V-8 – lots more power than the other mills, so keep looking out for one of those. Of course, you should also look for Jeep’s Quadra-Trac four-wheel-drive setup – then you’ve got the perfect vintage zombie-killer.

9. Ford Bronco Freewheelin’ Package

Ah, the Freewheelin’ Package: Ford’s crescendo of ’70s beanbag chair-induced styling hit the unsuspecting body panels of Ford trucks and vans with as much of a haze-induced color wheel as Henry’s ghost would ever allow. Easily identified from across the van-in by an acid sunset of red-to-yellow stripes down the sides, a Freewheeling Edition F-Series, Bronco, E-Series van or Courier mini-truck also came with some combination of factory custom wheels, blacked-out bumpers, roll bar and special-edition interior color trim. You can still find these things, as rare as they are, and the giant body decals are being repopped. Seems like Ford made more of the F-Series trucks in Freewheelin’ mode, but remember: they’re still trucks and when you find one, don’t be surprised if the original optional wheels and roll bar might be missing.

10. Ford Ranchero 6th-gen

By the ’70s, the wee Ranchero had finally gotten through puberty and bulked-up to Torino size. Just in time to get a perm and start wearing Honcho cologne and bell-bottoms, too. Even though these car/truck amalgamations sit somewhere between the two, it’s almost poetic that the end of the decade of identity experimentation was also the end of the Ranchero. Fitting, right? The great thing about these haulers was that they could be ordered in the same performance trim as the Torino of the day (depending upon the model year): a 429, a Cobra Jet, a four-speed, body graphics, scooped hood, those great Magnum 500 wheels. Altogether, this variety made the Ranchero one of the coolest things Ford made in the Seventies.