A Brief History Of The Muscle Truck

When the new-generation F-150 debuted for 2004, Ford showed a 3rd generation Lightning concept with it. It featured serious power and some really neat technology, but sadly never went into production. The 3rd Gen Lightning Concept’s engine was still a 5.4L Triton Modular V8, but this time with the block cast in aluminum, and twin-cam 4-valve heads replacing the single-cam 2 valve heads on the last Lightning, making a nice even 500bhp. It still used a supercharger mated to an air-to-water intercooler, but with a cool piece of technology that SVT called the SuperCooler. How it worked was, a small resevoir of coolant had a loop from the A/C system running through it that kept it cool -- like 30° F cool. When the driver put the gas pedal all the way down, a valve would open, dumping this really cold coolant into the intercooler, effectively lowering the intake air temps a huge amount for a short burst (30-45 seconds), which Ford says was good for an extra 50 horsepower or so at wide-open throttle. When not floored, the system was running, chilling the coolant with the A/C system, ready for that next power burst when the pedal hit the carpet. Why hasn’t anyone put a system like this into production yet? The Lightning concept also featured a Tremec TR-6060 6-speed manual, which would’ve been a first in the Lightning line. Unfortunately, the 3rd generation Lightning came around just as gas prices were rocketing upwards, and Ford ended up canceling the project.

That’s a shame, because they would have had a great rival from their across-town friends at Dodge in 2005. Someone in Mopar’s SRT department lost their mind, and decided that a 5.7L Hemi V8 was just not enough for the Ram pickup. I can imagine how this went. “Y’know, a 350 horsepower V8 in a quarter-ton pickup is pretty weak. We could put in the 6.1L Hemi V8, but that’s only an extra 75 horsepower. Although… y’know what might fit? The Viper Engine.”

Yes, and thus the Ram SRT-10 was born. It looked like a mild-mannered (ok, pimped out) Ram on the outside, but under the hood beats the heart of Dodge’s Viper halo car -- a gargantuan 8.3L pushrod V10, making 510bhp and 525lb-ft of torque. The all-aluminum V10 was mated to a Tremec T-56 6-speed manual transmission with a Hurst shifter in regular cab models, and a 48RE heavy-duty 4 speed automatic in the quad-cab models. SRT-10 Rams were rear-wheel drive only, and they were pretty easy to tell apart from their pedestrian counterparts. Giant 22″ chrome split five-spoke wheels wrapped in 305/40/ZR22 tires(!) covered 15″ rotors and red-painted 4-piston calipers up front, and 14″ rotors in the rear. The SRT-10 had an aggressive Viper-inspired body kit, and a spoiler on the rear of the bed of questionable utility.

The regular-cab was the faster of the two, what with it being about 500lbs lighter and sporting a manual transmission with two more gears. The 5,130lb regular cab model would accelerate to 60 in a scarcely believable (and severely traction-limited) 4.9 seconds and run a 13.6 second quarter mile at 109mph, and the heavier (5,618lb) Quad-cab would still do 60 in 5.6 seconds as well as 14.2@104mph in the quarter. The Ram SRT-10 also held the pointless distinction of being the fastest pickup truck in the world when it averaged a top speed of 154.587mph over two directions in 2004.

The Ram SRT-10 was the ultimate execution of the muscle-truck idea. It was totally, utterly, joyfully pointless. Sure, it could sort-of keep up with a C5 Corvette in a straight line, but track days were not recommended. It could only tow 5,000lbs, which doesn’t seem like a lot for a truck with a 505ci engine. It cost $45,000 new, which could have bought you a Corvette back then. It was a real OPEC-pleaser -- EPA mileage of 9 city/15 highway for the regular cab, and 9/12 for the automatic crew cab (93 octane only!) meant it could pass everything but a gas pump. A Lamborghini Murcielago got better fuel mileage in the real world. The Hurst shifter vibrated like a… umm, something that vibrates, and the He-Man clutch would give you a Popeye Left Thigh in a week. Also, if you’re not careful, it would flip on it’s roof while your friend was video taping you doing an ill-advised burnout.

Chevy got back into the Muscle Truck game in rather half-hearted fashion with the Silverado SS in 2003. It looked like tough stuff on the outside -- aerodynamic front bumper, chrome 20″ 5-spoke wheels, big chrome SS badges -- but under the hood was the LQ9 6.0 Vortec V8, ported directly from the second generation Cadillac Escalade, with 345 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque. At the time, the biggest engine available in the 1500 quarter-ton was the 5.3L 295bhp Vortec (although a 300bhp 6.0L Vortec was available in the 2500), but with the Escalade being based on the GMT-800 1500 chassis, it wasn’t exactly a drastic engineering effort needed. Early Silverado SS models had electronic AWD, but switched to rear-drive only later on. While it was a nice overall package (higher towing capacity, better acceleration) by 2004 it was well off the pace of the about-to-depart F-150 Lightning and the beastly Ram SRT-10 with it’s 510 horsepower monster V10 engine. I still think they should’ve shoehorned in the Vortec 8100 Big Block V8 from the heavy-duty line. Or a tweaked 6.6 Duramax turbodiesel V8. Or a twin-turbocharged Atlas 4200 I6 with all-wheel-drive, electronic transfer case, and some Syclone badges. Sigh.

There was a Silverado SS “Intimidator” edition, named after the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. (This might be the only time you’ll see a NASCAR reference on CarThrottle.) It featured tacky NASCAR graphics, but also reworked suspension -- lower ride height, two stage rear leaf springs, a thicker front anti-roll bar, and stiffer front dampers. It retained the normal SS’s 6.0L Vortec High Output V8, though, so it wasn’t any faster.

By this point, the optional engines in regular-production quarter-ton pickups are so powerful that special-edition Muscle Trucks are becoming less necessary for the buyer who wants a fast truck. When the new-style Toyota Tundra debuted in 2007, it’s top engine put the crazy muscle trucks of only 10 years ago to shame. A 5.7L all-aluminum 32v V8 with variable valve timing on the intake and exhaust cams, the iForce V8 put out 381 horsepower and 401 lb-ft of torque. When put through a standard six-speed automatic transmission, a normal 5.7L Tundra could hit sixty miles an hour in 6.3 seconds and run a 14.7 second quarter mile -- which is faster than a 90′s Mustang GT, if you’re counting. The 5.6L V8 Nissan Titan could also pull off a similar feat, and new Silverado 1500′s are available with a 403-horsepower 6.0L V8. But if you want a Muscle Truck, you’ve still got options.

For one thing, there’s the dune-jumping Ford F-150 SVT Raptor. With a 6.2L 411 horsepower V8, it certainly has muscle. With it’s trick custom Fox Racing triple-bypass shocks, wide-ass aluminum control arms, 7″ wider track, hill descent control, and a remote locking rear differential, it’s one hard truck to stop. It’s certainly not a Lightning, but ramping off snow berms at 80mph makes more sense that 13 second quarter mile times anyway. It doesn’t exactly fit the definition and spirit of this article, but it’s a seriously cool truck as well. Plus, Hennessey will gladly sell you a VelociRaptor 600 kit with twin turbochargers for the big V8, if you want to ramp snow berms at 100mph instead!

And while Toyota doesn’t sell any explicit muscle trucks off the showroom floor, they’re happy to point you to the parts department, where TRD will gladly help you assemble your own Corvette-baiting Tundra. Bring your 5.7L Tundra along with $5,875 and money for 8-10 hours of labor at the Toyota dealer, and they’ll bolt on a TRD supercharger based on the Eaton TVS twin four-lobe supercharger used on the Corvette ZR-1 and Cadillac CTS-V. Breathing 8.5psi of boost through an air-to-water intercooler, new intake manifold, bigger injectors and fuel pump, a retuned PCM, and a sports exhaust system, a TRD Supercharged Tundra makes a terrifying 504 horsepower and 550 lb-ft of torque. Edmunds Inside Line tested TRD’s demo truck (which was also equipped with giant 22″ wheels and huge brakes) and it layed down a 5.1 second 0-60 time, as well as a 13.3 second quarter mile at 104mph -- so yes, you can show that 350Z your huge tail lights. Also, it will apparently do a burnout big enough to have the EPA knocking on your door in about 5 minutes.

Sadly, these days it seems like the Muscle Truck is a breed that’s dying out for the last time. The price of gas keeps going up and up, environmental consciousness is in and conspicuous consumption is out, and a 500 horsepower truck that gets 13mpg starts to make less sense -- when a WRX is just as fast, gets twice the mileage, and is half the price. Still, let’s raise our glasses to the Muscle Truck: it may make less sense than drag racing a Prius, but these testosterone injected load haulers made the world a funkier, funner place while they were around.