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  • Convertible Pickups You Might Have Forgotten Existed

Convertible Pickups You Might Have Forgotten Existed

The Jeep Gladiator is the newest, but it wasn’t the first.

Mar 25, 2020
When the 2020 Jeep Gladiator hit the market after years of begging and pleading from potential customers, the company was quick to point out that it was the only open-air pickup on the market. We, along with Jeep's marketers, finished that sentence with an implied caveat: currently. That's because the Gladiator is only the latest in a long line of convertible pickups, stretching back to when the body style was a brand-new novelty.

1896 Daimler Motor-Lastwagen

Some of these early convertible pickups might be considered cheating since most motor vehicles of the era were of an open-roof design. Nevertheless, one of the first (Daimler claims it was the first) pickups was the Motor-Lastwagen. The first version of this truck was a barely warmed-over cart with a 1.06-liter two-cylinder engine with all of 4 hp, but later models received a front-mounted, 2.2-liter mill and unique styling that set them apart from the horse carts they would eventually replace.
As is typical of anything good and German, we have beer to thank for the pickup truck's eventual popularity. Beer companies were some of the first adopters of the internal combustion engine-powered pickup; according to Daimler, 43 percent of all trucks in the German Reich were operated by breweries.
Photo 5/17   |   Convertible Pickups 1925 Ford Model T Runabout Pickup
Photo 6/17   |   Convertible Pickups 1926 Ford Model T Runabout Pickup

1925-1927 Ford Model T Runabout

1925 marked the first time Ford built its own consumer-friendly pickup based on the Model T. Before that, consumers either purchased and modified their own Model Ts or were forced to step into the heavier and slower Model TT. But starting in 1925, Ford offered the Model T Runabout with a pickup bed. Pairing the two-seat Runabout body style with an open stake bed, the factory-built Model T truck was sold for about two years before being replaced by the Model A. In that relatively short time, more than 135,000 examples found homes, making it very popular, due in part to its low starting price of $281 (fully loaded with an electric starter and demountable wheel rims, it was a still-reasonable $366).
Photo 7/17   |   Convertible Pickups 1969 Ford Bronco Lineup
Photo 8/17   |   Convertible Pickups 1966 Ford Bronco Utility Sports

1966-1972 Ford Bronco

When the 1966 Ford Bronco was first introduced, it was available in a variety of body styles, including a somewhat rare "Sports Utility" pickup. A steel bulkhead and removable hardtop separate the front row of seats from the small bed, which features about 32 cubic feet of storage and measures less than 4 feet long.
We've featured Broncos like these in Truck Trend before, and we've always found them to be charming variations on the small SUV theme.
Photo 9/17   |   Convertible Pickups Jeep Cj 8 Scrambler

1981-1986 Jeep Scrambler CJ-8

Like the Ford Bronco, the Jeep Scrambler CJ-8, introduced for 1981, was a truckified version of an off-road SUV. However, the CJ-8 had a 10-inch-longer wheelbase and measured 22 inches longer overall than the CJ-7 upon which it was based. That gave the trucklet a longer 5-foot bed, though its narrow overall width meant it was still rather small. Nevertheless, the Scrambler was an easier way to haul topsoil, wood chips, or bales of hay than a CJ-7, and that roof was removable for off-road, al fresco fun, much like its successor, the Gladiator.
Photo 10/17   |   Convertible Pickups 1989 Dodge Dakota Convertible

1989-1991 Dodge Dakota Convertible

Chrysler, riding a wave of success from the K-Car and its hot-selling minivans, went a little nutty in the 1990s. One example is the Dodge Dakota Sport convertible. First marketed for the 1989 model year, the droptop Dakota was actually built by the American Sunroof Corporation, better known as ASC. ASC had a history of creating funky versions of normal cars, and the Dakota was just one more notch in the custom bedpost. Exclusively built on the Sport trim level, finished Dakotas were shipped to ASC, which would lop off the steel roof, add a roll bar with seatbelt and convertible mounting points, and finish the job with a folding vinyl roof. It was available until the 1991 model year, though total sales were fewer than 4,000.
Unlike the 1989 Shelby Dakota and later Dodge midsize pickups, the convertible was not available with a V-8, only a 3.9L V-6. Making 125 hp and 195 lb-ft, the Dakota convertible wasn't much of a performer. However, it sure was fun to drive, nevertheless.

1992-1998 AM General Hummer/1999-2006 Hummer H1

The AM General Hummer was a civilian version of the HMMWV (Humvee) military vehicle, available in three body styles: a four-door wagon, two-door pickup, and four-door soft-top. That latter machine also featured a small, open cargo bed in the back, making it (if only technically) a four-door, convertible pickup, just like our Gladiator inspiration. In 1999, a marketing deal with General Motors saw the truck renamed the Hummer H1, and in the beast's final year of production, GM gave it a Duramax 6.6-liter turbodiesel V-8 and an Allison automatic transmission, dramatically improving both reliability and performance. The 2006 Hummer H1 Alpha, as models so equipped are known, is the one to get, and prices remain very high for these trucks.
Photo 14/17   |   Convertible Pickups 2003 Chevrolet Hhr 02

2003-2006 Chevrolet SSR

The Chevrolet SSR was built to capitalize on the retro craze started in the U.S. by the Plymouth Prowler, Volkswagen New Beetle, and Chrysler PT Cruiser, among others. The SSR came standard with a hard tonneau cover and was available with a "cargo compartment trim package" that applied fancy carpeting and aluminum-look trim to the bed. In reality, the 4-foot cargo box was more of a huge trunk than a bed, with several inches of potential length given up to the slick retractable hard top, which stands up like books on a shelf behind the passenger compartment.
Photo 15/17   |   Convertible Pickups 2003 Chevrolet Hhr 03
Photo 16/17   |   Convertible Pickups 2003 Chevrolet Hhr 01
The first two model years only offered a disappointing 5.3-liter V-8 and four-speed manual gearbox, meaning the SSR's hot rod looks were skin-deep only. However, 2005 and 2006 brought a standard 6.0L V-8 and optional six-speed manual transmission, lopping lots of time off the roadster's quarter-mile E.T.s and adding some "fun-to-drive" to the "fun-to-look-at." Handling was respectable, too. But ultimately, an imposing sport truck with a high sticker price and all-but-useless cargo box proved unpopular with buyers.
Photo 17/17   |   Convertible Pickups 1983 Subaru Brat Cutaway

Honorable Mention: 1983-1987 Subaru BRAT

The Subaru BRAT (Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter) is a cult classic for good reason. Weird styling, optional (and undoubtedly unsafe) bed-mounted jump seats, and a two-speed transfer case gave the BRAT an identity crisis. Was it a truck? A family wagon in drag? A surprising off-roader? All of the above? However it was marketed, one word rings true: fun. The BRAT is a lot of fun. And it's all the more so when equipped with the optional dual T-top panels that came on the scene six years after its introduction. While not technically a convertible, the T-top Subaru BRAT is too awesome to omit from this list.

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