P.J. O’Rourke Revisits the Back Porch with an Engine, the Pickup Truck ""

By | December 26, 2017

P.J. O'Rourke Revisits the Back Porch with an Engine, the Pickup Truck

From the December 2017 issue

Thirty-five years ago, occasional C/D contributor P.J. O’Rourke penned an essay titled “High-Speed Performance Characteristics of Pickup Trucks.” O’Rourke, inspired by an early-’80s surge in pickup-truck popularity, closely examined the phenomenon and wrote: “A pickup truck is basically a back porch with an engine attached. Both a pickup and a back porch are good places to drink beer because you can take a leak from either one standing up.” In the intervening decades, pickups have become even more popular. So we asked O’Rourke to check in on the state of the once humble pickup truck. Here’s what he sent in:

Pickup trucks have died and gone to heaven. The unwashed and battered farm, ranch, and loading-dock fetch-and-carry is a celestial being now.

The prices certainly are sky-high. A 2018 Ford Super Duty F-450 Limited Crew Cab dualie runs $87,100. In 1955, when Car and Driver was founded (as Sports Cars Illustrated), the most you would pay for a Ford pickup truck—a stake-bed F-350— was $1824 (which is equivalent to $16,660 in today’s dollars).

Dealers are in paradise, too. The three most popular vehicles in America are the Ford F-­series, Chevrolet Silverado, and Ram pickups. Together, they outsell the fourth-place Toyota Camry, an actual car, by almost five to one.

Today’s pickups have interiors that make the inside of a Bentley look like a $35 motel room. They have four doors. They are commodious enough for your yoga class, even if the namaste makers want to turn the climate control up to global-warming panic and practice Bikram inside the truck.


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But there’s nothing effete about these pickups. Their styling is aggressive enough to make Peterbilts hide behind interstate weigh stations. So is their size. Move your family into the three-car garage; you’ll need the McMansion for the truck. And you’ll need airline-passenger boarding stairs to reach the pickup’s doorsill.

Angels from on high, pickups are Dominions, Virtues, and Powers. Power especially—the Ford F-150 Raptor has 450 horsepower. Pickup trucks replaced farm horses beginning with the 1917 Model T roadster pickup. Imagine going to town in an unsprung “Democrat wagon” pulled by 450 horses.

But so nimble and quick is the modern pickup that NASCAR has a Truck Series. Too bad it wasn’t founded until 1995. How wonderful it would have been to see the pickups of yore on a racetrack with feed and grain and bales of hay blowing over their tailgates and spectators covered in timothy and alfalfa.

Just one part of the pickup didn’t go to heaven. The cargo bed went to hell. It’s an afterthought these days, a tea tray on a Cowboy Cadillac trunklid.

You can’t put a pair of happy black Labs back there, ears flapping in the wind. There’s barely room for a Shih Tzu. And Shih Tzus are lousy at retrieving ducks.

How do you haul a busted refrigerator to the dump? Where’s the loam for the yard your dogs dug up go? How do you carry a load of gravel for the driveway you wouldn’t drive on in your Super Duty F-450 Limited for fear of stone chips?

Come back to life, pickup trucks. You used to have an earthly purpose.

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