July 2, 2010
1958 Dodge Sweptside pickup. Click image to enlarge
Article and photo by Bill Vance
Pickup trucks began to get some glamour in the 1950s. These vehicles that started life as converted cars had gradually evolved into purpose-built commercial vehicles. With rare exceptions, such as the 1946-47 Hudson, they always had a purely utilitarian bent. Their role in life, after all, was to be a mechanical workhorse for farmers, ranchers, contactors, etc.
By the 1950s, auto manufacturers began to realize that trucks were being used more and more as passenger vehicles, and consequently decided that buyers would appreciate a little more style. Chevrolet was the first to really address this market with its 1955 Cameo Carrier pickup, a good year to launch the idea because Chevrolet had switched over to an all new pickup design partway through the year. The new truck featured many car-like touches such as an eggcrate grille, hooded headlamps and wraparound windshield. It could also be had with Chevy’s sensational new overhead valve V8 engine.
Using this good foundation Chevrolet produced the Cameo Carrier based on the regular deluxe cab pickup which had the wraparound rear window. The Carrier’s most significant feature was a cargo box with sculpted fibreglass mouldings attached to its sides to bring the box out flush with the cab. This eliminated separate rear fenders and carried the line of the cab right through to the tailgate. The tailgate also got a fibreglass panel and was flanked by carlike taillamps.
The 1955 Chevrolet Cameo Carrier (there was a corporate sister GMC model), was a very attractive pickup for which Ford and Dodge simply didn’t have an answer. Although the Cameo Carrier was priced significantly above the regular pickup, which limited sales, Ford and Dodge still felt left out.
Ford’s reply was the 1957 Styleside pickup in which the box extended out to cab width. Unlike Chevrolet, Ford scored an industry coup with the Styleside by making its wide box standard equipment, although buyers could still order the traditional Flareside model with rear fenders. Ford then scored a double coup over Chevrolet and Dodge by launching its stylish trend-setting car-based 1957 Ranchero pickup.
Although the Chrysler Corporation’s pockets weren’t as deep as those of Ford or General Motors, it still wanted to be in the game. To do this it had to take a different tack. After much thought it was decided the solution was to remove the rear fenders from a deluxe long wheelbase, half-ton pickup and replace them with the rear fenders, including tailfins, from a Dodge two-door Suburban station wagon. The regular tailgate was shortened to fit between the extended fenders and the Suburban’s chrome plated bumper was kept. Vertically stacked taillamps completed the conversion and the combination came together beautifully.
The Dodge Sweptside pickup had been created, and when it got stylish two-tone paint treatment, whitewall tires, chromed wheel covers and front bumper, the Sweptside was a handsome hauler. It was introduced in the spring of 1957.
Under the hood the standard engine was Dodge’s venerable 3.8-litre (230 cu in.) 120-horsepower, side-valve six that dated back to the 1930s. A much more exciting option was the 5.1-litre (314 cu. in.) 204 -horsepower Dodge “Power Dome” overhead valve hemi V8.
The Sweptside could be had with three manual transmissions: a standard three-speed; three-speed-with-overdrive; or four-speed. In addition, a three-speed automatic was available with Chrysler’s dash-mounted push-button control. Power assisted steering and brakes were also optional.
Since the Sweptside was a low volume specialty vehicle it was not built on the regular Dodge pickup assembly line. Rather, it was assembled in Dodge’s special equipment shop.
Dodge restyled its pickups for 1958, including the Sweptside, with a new grille, new bumper, quad headlamps and a full width hood that could be raised upright 90 degrees for easier engine servicing.
The Sweptside was carried over into 1959 with a revised grille, some other trim alterations and mechanical changes that included suspended pedals and a hydraulic clutch. But the Sweptside’s days were numbered when Dodge introduced its regular 1959 Sweptline pickup, its real Ford fighter.
Like the Sweptside, the Sweptline had a cab-width box which not only provided more cargo volume but gave a much more stylish appearance than Dodge’s regular fendered “Utiline” pickups. The Sweptline in effect replaced the Sweptside, with the result that the Sweptside was discontinued in January, 1959.
The Sweptside had been a glamorous if brief pickup truck exercise for Dodge, something it needed to boost customer interest in the face of flagging sales. Like the Cameo Carrier it was always priced significantly above regular models so it never enjoyed high sales. It did, however, leave a wonderful legacy, and Dodge Sweptsides are now popular collectibles among light truck enthusiasts.