By: James Mays
Dodge dealers right across the country were in the dumps in 1957. While Ford and Lincoln-Mercury offered the snazzy new Ranchero pickup on its showroom floors and Chevrolet-Oldsmobile dealers were fielding the attractive Cameo Carrier, Dodge and DeSoto dealers had nothing with pizzazz in the pickup line to tempt customers.
To make matters worse there was no product in the MoPar pipeline to make dealers feel better. They wanted a competitive product and they began to put the heat on the head office for an upscale pickup.
Fortunately Dodge Truck had a secret weapon in its Special Equipment Group. The SEG was a small but very perceptive band of specialists. They existed solely to meet customers' special needs. Tire sizes could be changed or a diesel engine might replace a gasoline powerplant. SEG's duty was to make sure that no truck sale was lost to the competition.
Joe Barr managed the SEG team in the mid-'Fifties. He knew that
Dodge needed to compete in the pretty boy pickup market and that the product would have to cost virtually nothing in the way of tooling. He requisitioned a pair of rear fenders and a back bumper from a two-door Dodge Suburban wagon and mated them to a standard half-ton D100 Custom cab. A two-tone paint scheme, plenty of chrome, full wheel covers and smart white walls made the transformation complete.
When SEG showed off the resulting hybrid to selected dealers, they were ready to order. "Build it," they begged Dodge brass. "We can sell this beauty." And so the Sweptsides came into being. The first of the finned pickups rolled out of the SEG facility late in the 1957 sales season.
The MoPar work horses were pretty sharp lookers. Not sleek like Ford's car-bodied Ranchero but when optioned with a hemi V-8, power steering and Loadflite pushbutton automatic transmission, a Dodge Sweptside pickup was as effortless to drive as any modern car.
Chrysler styling chief Virgil Exner wisely applied the corporation's sleek "Forward Look" to its trucks as well as passenger cars. Marketing coined the term Autodynamics to tie the division's car and truck lines together in the minds of consumers. This pitch was designed to convince Dodge truck buyers to sign on the dotted line for a Dodge automobile as well.
The redesigned '58 Sweptside got four headlights as dictated by styling trends. The attractive pickup had a full production year and was billed as "the handsomest truck on the road today." In January of '59, just months into its third season, the plug was pulled on the finned hauler. Sweptside was replaced by a new Dodge pickup truck called Sweptline.
Ben's 1958 Dodge Sweptside sports the 315 CID wide-block V-8 engine with the pushbutton transmission. Since the shifter has no "Park" position, he keeps his handbrake in good working order. He did all the mechanical work and the body work himself, farming out only the interior. In fact, the upholstery is the only non original part of the vehicle, though the hockey stick design on the door panels is stock. The truck bed is now made of oak and once rusty box sides now gleam. - CTS