Five Chevy Pickups That Put “Muscle” In High-Performance Hauling

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When pickup trucks were first introduced, they were nothing more than Spartan, get-the-job-done vehicles that helped build this country. They didn’t have any carpeting, power steering, or air conditioning — they were simple vehicles to handle hard jobs. These days, trucks come in many shapes and sizes, ranging from compact pickups such as

These days, trucks come in many shapes and sizes, ranging from compact pickups, such as Chevrolet’s Colorado, to the full-sized Silverado. Trucks have become so mainstream, that they not only come in utilitarian form but have evolved into luxurious date-night vehicles with amenities that attract even those that don’t get their hand’s dirty.

chevy-truck-1955-1957 (1)

At one time, pickup trucks were just a utilitarian means of hauling stuff.

When it comes right down to it, truck owners ask their load-carrying modes of transportation to do everything a car would do. Have you ever seen a truck enthusiast not modify their truck? Most modifications made to pickups are the same modifications made to cars: engine upgrades, suspension, you name it — only the part numbers are different.


With a 235 cubic-inch Thriftmaster six-cylinder engine and a three-speed transmission, this older Chevy didn’t have much “muscle.”

Utility Meets Performance

Most truck enthusiasts are typically looking for a truck that has the towing capacity they need to pull the car trailer, boat, or whatever, but typically, a combination of parts more suited for the dragstrip is not normally a top priority. That being said, every once and while, engineers seem to get together and come up with a program that not only builds a great-looking truck, but builds one that packs enough performance to make car owners take a second look.

These “muscle trucks” as we’ll call them, are not something that hits the market with a new model every year, these are sometimes released under the radar, and not well-known to the public. But, is there a true definition of a muscle truck? Would this style of truck fall under the same parameters as the musclecar? We wondered what parameters the average enthusiast would place on a what could be called a muscle truck, so we asked our faithful Facebook followers.

After multiple requests for input, we were surprised at how short the list really was. One of our followers, Paul Williams said, “A muscle truck has to have a V8 in it. A V6 truck like the GMC Syclone and Typhoon just doesn’t sound right, even though it might be faster.”

When Chevrolet started adding the same big-block engine to its trucks as they did in cars, was this ample cause to refer to them as muscle trucks?

We thought that Paul made a great observation, but when he discounted the Syclone, we had to shake our heads. How could we not consider that turbocharged small hauler? Austin Morrill made the comment, “I’d say it needs to run with musclecars in the 1/4-mile.” Sounds logical. Sure, there are trucks out there like a Hennessey-prepped Silverado that can annihilate most musclecars on a closed course, but those are one-off vehicles built by the aftermarket. We wanted to focus on General Motors’-built trucks that came out of Detroit, so we will limit our list to production models. So here are the results of our non-scientific Facebook poll as chosen by our Facebook followers.

I’d say it needs to run with musclecars in the 1/4-mile. – Austin Morrill

Chevrolet LS6 El Camino, 1970 

Is there ever a time when a pickup truck, is not just a truck, and a musclecar can be more than a car? It’s possible if together they equal an El Camino. Chevrolet’s third-generation car/truck was based off of the A-body Chevelle, and as such, shared engines and other equipment. That means this “personal truck” had the option of being fitted with the ultra-high-performance LS6 454ci engine. So, in essence, the 1970 LS6-equipped El Camino could probably run rings around many conventional musclecars, even while carrying a payload.


The V8-powered El Camino Custom was the basis for RPO Z15, an LS5-powered ride. This $503.45 RPO package gave the driver a 360 horsepower 454ci big-block. RPO Z16 added another $263.30, but netted the the buyer a 450 horsepower LS6 V8.

Chevrolet C10, 1969–1972

The C-series pickup received a more modern look starting in 1967. This new Action Line of trucks delivered more comfort and convenience items that were previously relegated to trucks known as work horses.


When the ’60s and ’70s rolled around, trucks not only started to incorporate creature comforts like air conditioning, they also started getting more powerful engines.

A visible change for 1969 was an update to the grille, fenders, and hood. Appearances aside, this year also saw the addition of serious power in the 396 cubic-inch big-block under the hood. In 1970, the engine was enlarged to 402 cubic-inches, an option that cost an additional $161.40 for the 242 horsepower (net) engine, and another $242.10 for the Turbo 400. Powerglide was not available behind the big-block. Automatic-equipped trucks came with a 3.07 rearend gearing, and manually-shifted trucks received a 3.54 rearend gear ratio.

73 C10

Editor’s Note: Although the 1973 C10 pickup was available with a larger 454 cubic-inch engine, the horsepower delivered by this big-block was the same as the smaller 402ci engine – 240 horsepower (net). Since peak horsepower was the same with both body styles, that left the body choice up to buyers. Some prefer the ’69 through ’72 style, while others prefer “square body” models.

Chevrolet Silverado SS, 2003–2006

When the Silverado SS was launched in early 2003, it was not just a dressed-up Silverado. It came standard with the 6.0-liter LS engine capable of making 345 horsepower. Chevrolet marketed this engine first as Vortec High Output, and later as VortecMax. The all-wheel drive hauler came with a 4.10 gear ratio. In 2005, a two-wheel drive version became available, however in 2006, the all-wheel drive was no longer offered.


The SS could cover the 1/4-mile in 14.8 seconds, and go from zero to 60 miles per hour in 6.3 seconds.

GMC Syclone, 1991

Built to be utilitarian, dependable, and the ultimate work horse, GMC has long been known for building trucks that are great at getting work done. In 1991, however, something changed, as the truck manufacturer unleashed a complete departure from its “norm,” — the Syclone. This compact truck was based off the already popular Sonoma pickup, but that is where the similarities end. Under the hood was a turbocharged 4.3-liter Vortec V6 engine, connected to full-time all-wheel drive.

1991-1993 GMC Syclone

The Syclone was known to take more than one unsuspecting 5.0-liter Mustang owner by surprise.

The engine was an LB4 Chevy Vortec V6, and delivered an impressive 280 horsepower. This was an unprecedented move, as now the compact Syclone was more powerful than Chevrolet’s Corvette. When tested by Car and Driver magazine, a Syclone actually beat a Ferrari 348ts in a 1/4-mile street race. In fact, this little parts hauler was capable of climbing from zero to 60 mph in just slightly more than five seconds, and it will cover the 1/4-mile in 14 seconds. Not only was it quick, but it could hug the curves as well. GMC built less than 3,000 Syclone trucks before ceasing production.


Chevrolet 454 SS, 1990–1993

When it comes to muscle trucks, no list is complete without including Chevrolet’s 454 SS. By the time the 454 SS was hitting the market, horsepower was taking a huge dip in numbers, and even though the engine displaced 454 cubic-inches, the 230 net horsepower meant that any real performance was going to require aftermarket upgrades. Chevrolet built the 454 SS on the standard, regular cab short-bed pickup. The suspension did feature some upgrades like Bilstein shock absorbers, a thicker front anti-sway bar, and a fast-ratio steering box from the factory to help with performance, and did allow for a better-handling truck. As big and heavy as it was, 1/4-mile times were in the high 15-second range.


During the first year of production, Chevy sold nearly 14,000 units to performance-seeking truck fans. Like Henry Ford did when he launched the Model T, you could get your 454 SS truck in any color, as long as it was black, however, it came equipped with a red interior. When the 1991 model was released, performance was improved with the help an additional 25 added ponies, a four-speed automatic transmission, and a 4.10 axle ratio. Unfortunately, sales continually declined, and the 454 SS was gone after 1993.

Smoke show

There are some readers that feel trucks are nothing more than a vehicle for hauling parts and towing a car trailer. But, this list of muscle trucks points out that, while they are heavy, and some use an ancient ladder bar-style suspension, the same points can be made about some of our favorite Chevrolet musclecars from the ’60s and ‘70s.

So, take another look at that parts hauling, trailer-toting pickup sitting in your driveway, and tell us it doesn’t have any muscle.

About the author

Randy Bolig

Randy Bolig has been working on cars and has been involved in the hobby ever since he bought his first car when he was only 14 years old. His passion for performance got him noticed by many locals, and he began helping them modify their vehicles.
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