Do you remember the wagon?
The period beginning around 1995 and ending in early 2008 will most likely be remembered for the new cliché of America’s summer vacation. The family outing, the short vacations, the trips to the beach, the mountains, or even the grandmother’s house, revolved deeply around the family van. Big enough to seat the whole family in a different measure of comfort, strong enough to denote safety, and aggressive enough in appearance to make a definitive statement about the driver, there was certainly a lot to love about the SUV. Of course, that was before the era of triple-digit oil barrel prices. Now the beast that the Sport Utility Vehicle seemed to have officially killed in 1996, the truck, is making a comeback.
The truck’s lineage goes back to a variant of the Ford Model T, but according to some truck fans, the first true truck was the 1923 Star made by Durant Motors Company. The station wagon really blossomed into the car of choice for large families, unsurprisingly, with the baby boom that followed WWII. The move of families from urban areas to the suburbs, along with the expansion of the highway system and the increase in average family size, made the truck practical. And even though the truck never had the same public interest as the sports car or even the station wagon, prior to the gas crisis of the 1970s, the truck accounted for nearly one in five cars on the road.
The gas crisis of the 1970s, like the gas crisis of today, put a brake on the practicality of the great American truck. The minivan, officially launched in 1984, helped propel the truck further into retirement and ironically, the widespread sport utility vehicle boom in 1995 meant that the 1996 Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon was the last true American truck on the market. . Everyone, it seemed, had traded low and wide with tall and off-road capable.
Or did they? Even though one replaces the other, the truck and the SUV have a lot in common. Until 1938, pickup trucks were officially classified as commercial trucks and were routinely built on the chassis of half-ton pickups. The breakdown of the modern SUV is the same. Those that are built on a ladder frame, which is more reminiscent of a classic truck due to the ability to distribute weight, are considered trucks by fuel economy standards. However, those built on a solid one-piece frame, often called crossovers, are generally classified as cars and, in many states, trucks. Yes, it looks like the truck never died, it just went through an aggressive makeover.
Of course, it’s easy enough to look at a crossover and say, “That doesn’t look like my dad’s truck,” and you’d be correct in saying that. Like many bell bottoms before them, the truck has returned in a new guise and has been updated for review in the modern world. Like most cars today, the overall look is more aggressive, fusing the handling of a car, roughly the look of a sport utility vehicle, and yes, the practicality of a station wagon. And the advances go beyond looks. Smaller crossovers and cheeky modern pickups like the Audi A4 Avant, Volvo V70, and Subaru Forester, have marked increases in fuel economy compared to the SUVs they are rapidly beginning to replace.
Yes, it was the fuel crisis of the 1970s that led to the decline of the truck and SUV that originally killed them. Yet it was the 2008 gas crisis that spawned the revival of the modern pickup, or whatever automakers call them. Keep that in mind as you pile the kids onto your Ford Flex, Chevy HHR, or Honda CR-V for a trip to Grandma’s.