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Sometimes products become new but not necessarily improved. That holds true for truck engines. Though the current crop of pickup truck engines is technologically advanced, they’re at the end of the line. They’re the last of the internal combustion engines, replaced by electric motors. With that in mind, let’s look at the iconic truck engines that have ruled for the past 60-plus years.

1955 to 1998 Chevy small-block V8

1955 Chevy trucks engine advertisement
1955 Chevy trucks engine advertisement | General Motors

This one is a no-brainer. Efficient, easy to modify, lightweight, powerful for its size, and dependable, the Chevy small-block V8 is everything we want and need in a truck engine, even today. Of course, being carbureted and based on early-1950s technology, the newer iterations are even better. Initially available as a 265 ci engine, it increased to 350 ci with 255 hp by 1969. It would go on to see 400 ci. And it was used in what was basically its 1955 self until the 2000s.

1959 to 1987 Chrysler Slant-6 

Dodge Chrysler Slant-Six engine
Chrysler Slant-Six engine | Stellantis

Not known to be excessively fast (I know, I drive one today), the Chrysler Slant-Six debuted with 170 ci in 1959. In its 225 ci version, it was indestructible. Though famous for its use in Dodge trucks, it landed in plenty of industrial applications just for that reason. It borrowed cylinder bore dimensions and four main bearings from the infamous Chrysler Hemi engine.

For truck engines, you need reliability and lots of torque. No other engine on the planet covered those two better than the Slant-Six. It also powered plenty of Dodge and Plymouth passenger cars. You could put a brick onto the accelerator pedal and wing the engine up for as long as you cared to, and it would just keep running.

1991 and up Ford modular motor

1991 Ford F-150 pickup truck
1991 Ford F-150 | Ford Motor Company

When Ford wanted to up its game, one way was to replace its legendary small-block V8 with the modular motor in 1991. It is still available in today’s F-150 trucks. Pickup owners have noted a few issues associated with the mod motor. It’s dimensionally large, but its size isn’t a problem when packed into a cavernous truck engine bay. 

1989 to 1998 Dodge Cummins B 5.9-liter inline-6

Cummins B-Series diesel
Cummins B-Series diesel engine | Cummins

Cummins engines were basically large truck engines. But by the mid-1980s, Ford and Chevrolet dominated truck sales, and Dodge had to do something. That something was the 5.9-liter diesel. With 400 lb-ft of torque, it was the most potent engine Cummins could pull off the shelf that fit into a pickup. That smoked Ford and Chevy, giving Dodge the best payload and towing capacity of the three.

It took some re-engineering to beef up Dodge’s existing truck, but it was cheaper than tooling up an entirely new one, which didn’t happen until 1993.

2001 to 2006 Duramax 6.6-liter V8

2011 Duramax Diesel 6.6-liter turbo V8
2011 Duramax Diesel 6.6-liter turbo V8 | General Motors

First available in GMC and Chevy trucks in 1991, the LB7 6.6-liter V8 was much more sophisticated than Ford’s or Ram’s diesel engines. With 300 hp and 520 lb-ft of torque, General Motors’ Duramax 6.6-liter V8 leaps ahead of the others. It launched the horsepower-and-torque race in the diesel truck segment. The most desirable would be the 2006 LBZ. By 2007, tighter diesel emissions standards began, turning attention from power to pollution. 

1972 to 1978 Dodge 7.2-liter V8

By 1972, the notorious 426 Hemi engine was gone, but it was never offered in any Mopar trucks anyway. But the slightly more conventional 440 ci V8 was, and it was nothing to sneeze at. Rated at 225 hp, it was found in work trucks and performance trucks too. It found its way into Dodge Warlock pickups in 1978. And it was another V8 that was heavily supported by the aftermarket, so those horsepower numbers were only a start.

The 440 was the big engine for everything from lightened Dodge Dart drag cars to the giant Chrysler Imperial. But a 440 in a pickup just seemed like the best truck you could buy from Dodge back then. 

2011 to 2015 Ford 6.7-liter PowerStroke V8

2011 Ford F-250 Super Duty 2011 Ford Super Duty Ford Motor Company
2011 Ford F-250 Super Duty | Ford Motor Company

Initially, Ford got its diesel engines from International Harvester. But they were heavy and somewhat crude. The Blue Oval wanted more, so it designed its own Scorpion PowerStroke diesel engine. With reverse-flow heads, a turbocompressor, and 390 hp, it compounded into 738 lb-ft of torque, smog controls, and all. And if that doesn’t impress you, try 440 hp and 860 lb-ft starting in 2015.


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