Petersen Auto Museum in LA celebrates pickup trucks with new exhibit

"Pickups: The Art of Utility" is an exhibition

"Pickups: The Art of Utility" is an exhibition at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles that is meant to be something of a historical tour through the last 100 years of the special category of vehicles. (Credit: Cars.com)

Let's face it: Pickup trucks are often taken for granted and relegated to second-class citizen status. So when we heard there was a Southern California museum dedicating an entire exhibit to the often-maligned workhorse, we thought we'd stop by and have a look.

It's not every day pickup trucks are deemed worthy of being the focus of a museum exhibit, but the curators at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles thought this special category of vehicles had been ignored long enough.

Here's what chief curator Leslie Kendall said about the exhibit: "Whether custom showstoppers, off-road adventure vehicles or bone stock cargo transporters, pickups have been an integral part of the automotive landscape for more than a century. The pickup truck means many different things to different people, which is part of what we want to explore in this exhibition."

"Pickups: The Art of Utility" is meant to be something of a historical tour through the last 100 years. It begins with a 1909 International Harvester Auto-Wagon and marches up to today with more than 20 different vehicles on display. Some of the highlights include a 1934 Hudson Terraplane, a 1953 Dodge Power Wagon Swivel Frame, a 1958 Jeep Forward Control, a 1980 Dodge Lil' Red Express and a concept 2002 Isuzu Axiom XSR.

The exhibit runs through April 6, 2014, at 6060 Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. For more information, call 323-930-2277 or visit the museum's website at www.petersen.org.

Here's a look at a few of the exhibit's featured pickups.

1909 International Harvester Auto-Wagon

Intentionally built to look like a horse-drawn buggy, the International Harvester featured solid rubber tires and large wheels to allow for high clearance on the rutted, unpaved country roads of the day. Normally fitted with two or three rows of seats, the International was one of many "high-wheeler" passenger cars popular among rural motorists during the early 20th century. With its rear seat removed (with just two wing nuts), the car became a load-carrying utility vehicle, making it a pioneer in the "pickup" truck market because of its passenger car underpinnings. The 1909 Auto-Wagon was powered by a horizontally opposed, air-cooled engine located under the front seat.

1934 Hudson Terraplane

Built between 1932 and 1938, the Terraplane began as a model in the Hudson lineup before becoming a marque in its own right in 1934, the year in which it was significantly restyled. The newly streamlined half-ton pickup shared many styling features with the remainder of the Terraplane model line, making it one of the sleekest pickup trucks of the era and increasing its marketability to style-conscious motorists who may have otherwise resisted buying a utility vehicle. One of an extremely small number of survivors, this pickup was painstakingly restored to as-new condition by the current owner.

1953 Dodge Power Wagon Swivel Frame

The Willock Swivel Frame was created by the owner of the Willock Truck Equipment Co., a manufacturer of specialty equipment for on- and off-road trucks. Willock's invention separated the front and rear halves of the chassis, allowing the two sections to move independently and minimizing the likelihood that the frame and cab would crack or break during heavy use or when navigating extremely uneven road surfaces. Priced at $350, the Swivel Frame was designed for medium- and heavy-duty trucks, but was also appreciated by buyers of lighter-duty one-ton trucks who lived in areas with rugged terrain.

1968 Volkswagen Single Cab

The Volkswagen pickup was completely restyled for the 1968 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 bedsides that could be hinged down for access to the load area. A lockable compartment under the forward half of the bed provided storage for smaller items. 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.

1978 Dodge Li'l Red Express

The high-performance Li'l Red Express was introduced in 1978, a year of increasingly stringent safety, emissions and fuel economy standards from which most trucks were exempted. Fitted with vertical exhaust stacks that resembled those on its enormous 18-wheeler counterparts, the Dodge was powered by a 360-cubic-inch-displacement small-block V-8 equipped with a Holley induction system and LoadFlite transmission. Tested by Car and Driver magazine, the Li'l Red Express was the quickest vehicle in the zero-to-100 sprint of all vehicles sold in the U.S. in 1978. Dodge planned to limit production to 2,000 units in 1978, but its popularity stretched the final count to 2,188. Production ended in 1979 after production reached 5,118. 

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