It's never been difficult to find horses around pickup trucks. The two seem made for each other, like Michael Moore and heckling. Lately, though, finding horses around pickups has become downright effortless: All you have to do is lift the hood.
Take a whiff: There's a new scent wafting through the air. That's because, for a fast-growing breed of sport pickups, the payload isn't horse manure--it's horsepower. No doubt inspired by all the whoopin' and hollerin' they're attracting in NASCAR's bed-bashing Craftsman Truck Race Series, all three major American pickup makers--Ford, Chevy, and Dodge--are now producing adrenalized street versions of their most popular models. Are these trucks true to the rubber-smoking spirit of their Craftsman-decaled counterparts? To find out, we gathered two of them, the Dodge Ram 1500 SLT Hemi and the Chevrolet Silverado SS, for a head-to-head comparo. (Okay, hold your letters. Rather than invite a lame duck to the party, we intentionally left Ford's entry, the supercharged Harley-Davidson F-150, out of this competition; it's about to be retired in its current form, as is the '03 Lightning. Look for the Harley to reappear in '04 as a new Super Duty model--see sidebar.)
If you think gym-pumped pickups are a passing fad, think again. A relative newcomer to the full-size-pickup fray, Toyota, will soon enter a race truck of its own in the Craftsman Series (see photo box). More pickup muscle is headed to our streets, too. Within a few months, Dodge will release its 500-horsepower, Viper-engined Ram SRT-10, a pickup quite possibly fast enough to transform a bale of hay into a diamond. Sometime in the '05 model year, Ford is expected to launch a counterstrike with its similarly outrageous Lightning SVT.
The volume players, however, will remain entries like the Ram Hemi and the Silverado SS. So join us as we take to road and racetrack for a thorough shakedown of these two pickup-shaped hot rods.