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Dodge’s “Forward Look” Pickup Trucks - the 1957 Sweptside

In Melbourne, Florida, on Saturday, Jan. 26 2008, the Mopars of Brevard (Brevard County) car club held its 9th annual swap meet and car show, and an estimated 200 classic and modern cars were on display at the site, Wickham Park. One of those vehicles was an eye-catching red and white 1957 Dodge Sweptside pickup, a D100 series half-ton truck model famous for its hooded headlights and its tailfins in the style of sister Dodge station wagons of the late Fifties.

dodge sweptside W100 truck

The owner of the newly restored vehicle is Curtis Dorman of Melbourne. His super-clean half-ton is powered by a 315 cid V8 with four-barrel carburetor and “three on the tree” transmission. Dorman purchased the vehicle about three years ago from an Ocala, FL, collector. He estimates about $10K was spent on the restoration. Some rust repair was required, and painting was done at a Melbourne shop specializing in restorations, Buckman's Auto Care. The original engine came with the truck, not in it. It was cleaned up and rebuilt before it was returned to the engine compartment.

Dorman’s half-ton is a ringer for a model on display at the Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills, Mich. Still another example of this truck, with the same red and white color scheme, also appears in an unofficial Chrysler Corp. reference, Chrysler Chronicle, published by Publications International Ltd. (1998). The Chronicle calls it the “style leader of Dodge’s Power Giants” truck line.

1957 wheels

Some design purists have apparently been less thrilled with the creative Sweptside styling. Bruce Thomas, a former Chrysler engineer and presently historian at the Chrysler Museum, recently cited an incident in 1999 during a gala party to open the museum. An automotive stylist whom Thomas wouldn’t name took a look at the Sweptside and asked in disbelief if it was designed by Virgil Exner, creator of Forward Look Chrysler models of the Fifties. This later-generation designer was greatly relieved when told that Exner had not designed the Sweptside, which he apparently considered not worth Exner’s attention!

W100 pickup

Production figures for the Sweptside are unknown. Thomas said relevant truck records were discarded in the Seventies when the company was considering getting out of the truck business. But he confirmed that production of the Sweptside was “definitely low-volume,” because the model didn’t follow an integrated design and wasn’t mass produced on the assembly line. Instead the Sweptside was put together with hand labor at the Dodge truck plant in a "special equipment" section. There was no standard model: it started out as a base half-ton to which Sweptside body features and any options requested by the buyer could be added.

George McKovich added, “I have restored several and have owned at least 15 Sweptsides, and the beds are exactly the same as the stock models, except for four additional holes on the sides to add additional bolts for holding the tailfins onto the bed.”

Sweptside fins

The flowing fins of the Sweptside do seem like a strange match-up with the truck cab and cargo box. Nevertheless this vehicle is a charmer.

original truck engine

Allpar’s Dodge pickup history notes: “Hemi engines were introduced across the truck line in the 1950s, starting with the 133 horsepower 241 (220 lb-ft torque) and moving up to the 172 horsepower 331 (294 lb-ft). Even the flat head six gained power, moving up to 120 horses by 1957. In 1957, a new 315 cid V8 was available with 204 horsepower; and numerous improvements included a hood that opened completely, power steering and brakes, tubeless tires, a push-button three-speed automatic, and a 12 volt electrical system for greater reliability.”

dodge pickup cab

John Hagen added:

The trucks were introduced to combat the current fancy pickups introduced by Ford and Chevy. Chevrolet had brought out the Cameo Carrier and Ford introduced its Ranchero in 1957, leaving Dodge with just trucks. This was one of those "hurry-up" deals and a decent one at that.

With the introduction of Chrysler Corp's "Forward Look" model line up, fins were in. Since the station wagon quarters were designed to be slapped on the side of a vehicle, they were easy to modify for pickup use. While they may not have been a great style success when viewed against the autos of the day, as a truck it was pretty well done. Certainly more stylish than the Cameo Carrier and a real truck, unlike the half-cab station wagon from Ford. But it was a limited production unit, hand built from a production pickup, and was not sold in any great quantities.

1957 dodge w100 sweptside pickup

Production continued in 1958 and 1959 but sales dropped as time went on. And no wonder. With the change to the dual headlights with no "brows", the front just looked out of place with the finned back end (or vice-versa). I think my styling likes are in line with the rest of the world and while I liked the 1957, I did not like the 58 at all.

Regarding the hooded headlights on the 1957 SweptSide D100 Dodge pickups: they were standard on all 1957 Dodge trucks, even the COE's. Unfortunately, they fell victim to the rush to dual headlight rage and were gone by 1958.

I noticed the usage of W100 as the modal designation. While there may have been some W100 Sweptsides', I've never seen any. The "W" indicates a four wheel drive model while "D" is for the 4X2's. Actually there was no difference between the D or W cab itself, or the Sweptsides for that matter other than the chrome trim for the two-tone paint treatment.

Danbury Mint has had a model of the 1957 for some time now. It is red and white, the most popular color combination on the 1957 Sweptline (although they may have changed that recently). Hallmark had a 1957 Sweptline Christmas ornament with a tree on the box out a few years ago, which I also purchased. It is close to 1/43 in scale. During the Christmas season, I put the Hallmark truck in the bed of the Danbury model. It fits if the Danbury’s tailgate is down and looks “cute.”

kenny's truck

Kenneth Stowe (owner of a beautifully restored six-cylinder manual-transmission 1959 Sweptside) wrote that the front end of the 1959 was the basic D100/W100 truck configuration. There appear to be no factory records, but Kenny wrote that 180 were made in 1957; 975 in 1958; and 100 in 1959. Not unreasonable to imagine, considering the impromptu-sounding work that went into rolling them out of the Special Equipment Section of the truck plant. He also wrote that a subcontractor first put 2-door wagon fins to a pickup and dealers who saw the result asked the factory to copy the idea. But is probably the stuff of legend and it doesn't explain the hooded headlights!

1959 sweptside pickup

Kenny believes there are fewer than 75 remaining from 1957, under 60 from 1958, and fewer than 30 from 1959. The last Sweptside came out of the factory in January 1959.

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