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Looking Back: The Wild & Colorful World of '80s & '90s Concept Trucks

As popular as modifying and customizing pickup trucks is today, the idea of a sporty or adventurous truck has been around for decades. And if you go back to the 1980s and 1990s you’ll find an incredible amount of cool, unusual and just plain funky pickup concepts that Detroit automakers experimented with.

Below we’ve rounded up nine notable concept trucks that GM, Ford and Chrysler experimented with—some which made it to production and others that may have been too strange for their own good.

1990 Ford Explorer Surf Concept

From the graphics to the wheel design, it really doesn't get more "early '90s" than the Ford Explorer Surf Concept. Based on the then-new Explorer, this little beach runner was clearly inspired by other small 4x4s like the Suzuki Samurai and Isuzu Amigo.

 

 

Ford Surf Concept 4x4

1993 Ford F-Series Hydro Concept

Ford came back to the beach/surf theme once again with the Hydro Concept from 1993. Based on the F-150 Stepside, it did away with the both the doors and the top and looks like the result of somebody watching a bit too much Baywatch.

1993 Ford F-Series Hydro Concept

1990 Ford F-150 Street Concept

This was another concept based on the F-150 pickup, but rather than having the over the top '90s look, the F-150 Street Concept from 1990 has more of a 1970s-inspired look with its side pipes, chopped top and wide wheels.

1990 Ford F-150 Street Concept

1993 Ford Ranger Jukebox Concept

Back in the heyday of the custom minitruck scene, customized open-top pickups were quite common, and Ford tapped into that with its 1993 Ranger Jukebox Concept. Not only did have a lowered, "speedster" look it also had a dancing, hydraulic-powered bed and a massive stereo system.

1993 Ford Ranger Jukebox Concept

1994 Ford Power Stroke Concept

Mix together a sport truck with a bit of chromed big rig influence and a whole lot of 1990s funkiness and you get the 1994 Ford Power Stroke Concept, which helped usher in the era of Ford's then-new PowerStroke diesel powerplant. 

1994 Ford Power Stroke Concept

1989 GMC Syclone Concept

A couple of years before the radical, turbocharged AWD GMC Syclone reached production, GMC explored the idea with '89 Syclone Concept. Along with its color-matched wheels and pastel graphics, it had a turbocharged 3.8L V6 borrowed from the Buick Grand National. 

1989 GMC Syclone Concept

1990 Dodge LRT Concept

In 1990 Dodge showed off this Dakota-based concept called the Little Red Truck (LRT). It borrowed it's name from a special edition pickup from the late 1970s and sported a convertible top, a tilting bed complete with an ATV—and most importantly a Viper-inspired front end that also previewed the styling of Dodge trucks to come.

1990 Dodge LRT Concept

1997 Dodge Ram T-Rex Concept

Later on in the '90s, Dodge built this wild Ram concept for the SEMA Show. It had tandem rear axles and an 8.0L V10 that made nearly 500hp. Consider it a spiritual ancestor to the recently introduced 2021 Ram TRX.

1997 Dodge Ram T-Rex Concept

1997 Dodge Dakota Sidewinder Concept

Last but not least, we get to another V10-powered concept truck that Dodge built in 1997. The Sidewinder was based on the Dakota, and sported a convertible top, a wide, hot rod-inspired stance and body and the aforementioned 640hp V10 under the hood. If you think it reminds you of a '90s version of the Chevy SSR, you aren't the only one...

1997 Dodge Sidewinder Concept

While some of these concepts have aged better than others, there's no doubt the '80s and '90s brought us some of the most memorable trucks of all time. 

  • Here's the time Chevy almost built a 480hp Silverado SS with Corvette parts.
  • How about a pickup that was basically a concept made real? The Chevy SSR.
  • And one more forgotten concept from GM's truck program, the 2001 K5.
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