Pickup trucks, as we know them today, aren't the one-trick workhorses they once were. Back when they were solely marketed for purpose-driven farming and building duties, that's really the only life they were segregated to. With many off-the-lot luxury options available these days on brand new truck models like heated seats, integrated WIFI, intuitive GPS programs, and cushiony suspension systems, the era of the working class pickup is rapidly fading away. Even if you do own a 20-plus-year-old truck, chances are it has been, or is in the process of being upgraded to suit modern day function and style.

Leslie Kendall, chief curator at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, California, has taken note of this trend, and has compiled a fleet of trucks both big and small to represent the beginnings of consumer-grade pickups in an exhibit titled Pickups: The Art of Utility. “Whether custom showstoppers, off-road adventure vehicles, or bone stock cargo transporters, pickups have been an integral part of automotive landscape for more than a century”, says Kendall. “The pickup truck means different things to different people, which is part of what we explore in this exhibition.”

The exhibit will run until April 6, 2014.

Pickups: The Art of Utility
Petersen Automotive Museum
Los Angeles, CA
Dates Ends: April 6, 2014
petersen.org

1959 Datsun 220 Pickup

Introduced to America at the Los Angeles Import Car Show in December 1958, this Datsun minitruck was one of only 10 imported to test public reaction in the influential California market. The following year, Nissan began marketing a small truck nationwide with a larger, more powerful engine that made them better suited for American driving conditions. Small imported trucks like Datsun soon became a practical alternative to American made pickups because they were maneuverable, fun to drive, and offered better fuel economy. This is the only fully restored example known to exist.

1968 Volkswagen Single Cab

The VW pickup was completely restyled for the '68 model- year, doing away with the split windshield and "V"-front motif of its predecessor. Unlike virtually every other pickup on the American market, the VW was equipped with a rear-mounted engine and bedside that could be hinged down for access to the load area. Following the trend established by Volkswagen, every major domestic manufacturer eventually offered a pickup with a cab-forward design, most of which required that the front-mounted engine be placed inconveniently between passengers in the cabin.

1938 American Bantam Pickup

In 1937, the American Bantam Car Company of Butler, Pennsylvania took over construction of compact pickups and panel vans formerly manufactured by the American Austin Company. While the Bantam shared many of the basic elements that made its Austin-branded predecessor so distinctive, improvements to the design included a sturdier frame, more powerful 20hp, four-cylinder engine, and more streamlined body styling. The truck remained virtually unchanged during its brief production run, which ended in 1941 due to slow sales.

1942 Crosley Pickup

In 1939 industrialist Powel Crosley formed his own automotive company to build economical two-cylinder vehicles for personal transportation. His first commercial vehicle, a panel van, debuted in 1940 while a pickup was released on year later. Priced at a mere $500, the trucks were equipped with fuel sipping 35ci, 12hp engines that made them a practical alternative to delivery bikes and full-size trucks for small businesses. The current owner discovered the ultra-rare Crosley in the state of Washington and completed a total restoration in 2012.