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Remember When Heavy Duty Trucks Were Subtle?

Pickup trucks, in general, have gotten pretty crazy over the years in terms of hyperbolic styling, extremely luxurious interiors matched with equally extreme price tags, and by just getting bigger with every generation. I’ve noticed this trend is especially strong with heavy-duty pickups — the bigger, more capable brothers of the higher-volume, light-duty full-size pickups.

I recently noticed a Ford F-250 in traffic, and I was taken back by how humble it looked. It wasn’t a recent Super Duty model, it was one from the late 1990s that predates the Super Duty line of HD Ford trucks. This was back when the Ford F-250 looked an awful lot like the F-150, but with different, heavier-duty wheels the only indication that it was packing a bigger engine under the hood capable of heavier lifting. The only reason I noticed it was an F-250 rather than an F-150 was by the badging. It made me realize I had forgotten that HD pickup trucks used to look … normal.

When the Super Duty line began production for the 1999 model year, it set apart the HD Ford trucks from the F-150. This new line of trucks introduced a new look to the HD trucks, which made them appear bigger, tougher and stronger than the F-150 — while packing the mechanical girth to back up their muscular aesthetic.

GM and Ram had generally managed to resist making this same move setting the HD trucks further apart from their 1500 trucks with the visual differences being rather subtle. However, the 2019 model year is ushering in all-new HD versions of the Silverado, the Sierra and the Ram 1500, and they all follow Ford’s lead of making HD trucks look distinctly different — and a bit more ridiculous — than the new generation of light-duty trucks.

HD trucks got by just fine when they didn’t tower over their light-duty counterparts with massive, gaping hoods, and their names stamped on them in comically large fonts. There’s a certain charm to older HD trucks that look like what they are: pieces of equipment that are made to get a job done. I get that people want their trucks to look tough, but I think modern-day HD trucks have gone overboard by trying to top each other in pure ruggedness.

I think of HD trucks as being work trucks — moreso than their mainstream light-duty brethren. And for the better part of a century, their styling usually reflected that. But obviously, the era of the low-key, no-nonsense work truck has rapidly been coming to an end. Every new HD pickup truck will make sure you know how tough its driver is, with its enormous sizing and in-your-face styling — and I don’t see that trend reversing any time soon.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. The author doesn’t understand the difference between “light duty” and “light truck”. Anything that weighs less than 8500 pounds is a “light truck”. So your F450 might be “heavy duty”, but it’s a “light truck.”

  2. Some of the change is cosmetic, but today’s hd trucks are much more capable than before. The 2006 F-250 could tow up to 8600 pounds, but the 2019 can tow up to 18500. You don’t want to tow almost 20,000 pounds with a 3000 pound truck. 

  3. I guess if you’re paying a premium for the HD version of a truck, you want it to look the part.  Just the way the automotive trend is going.

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Eric Brandt
Eric Brandt is an author specializing in Oversteer content, new car reviews, and finding the best car, truck, and SUV deals each month. Born and raised in Wisconsin, Eric can often be found exploring the north woods on his 1983 Honda Gold Wing when the weather allows it. Father of four, husband of one, and unapologetic minivan enthusiast. Eric mastered driving stick by having a 3-cylinder Chevy... Read More
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