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Dodge's "Forward Look" Pickup Trucks - the 1957 Sweptside

by Gene Yetter

Around 200 cars were on display at the 2008 Mopars of Brevard (County) annual swap meet and show car club in Melbourne Florida. One of those 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.

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The owner of the newly restored vehicle above is Curtis Dorman of Melbourne. His clean half-ton is powered by a 315 cid V8 with four-barrel carburetor and "three on the tree" transmission. Dorman purchased the vehicle in 2005 from an Ocala collector; he estimated that around $10,000 was spent on the restoration, including some rust repair, and painting 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.

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, appears in the reference book Chrysler Chronicle published by Publications International Ltd. (1998). The Chronicle calls it the "style leader of Dodge's Power Giants" truck line.

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Some have been less thrilled with the creative Sweptside styling. Bruce Thomas, a former Chrysler engineer and current historian, said that, during the 1999 Chrysler Museum opening gala, an automotive stylist took a look at the Sweptside and asked in disbelief if it was designed by Virgil Exner, creator of Forward Look cars of the Fifties. This later-generation designer was greatly relieved when told that Exner had not designed the Sweptside!

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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. He did say that production of the Sweptside was "definitely low-volume;" because it didn't follow an integrated design, it wasn't mass produced on the assembly line, but was put together with hand labor in a "special equipment" section. 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."

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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.

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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). 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."

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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 plain trucks. This was one of those "hurry-up" deals, and a decent one at that.

With the introduction of Chrysler Corp's "Forward Look" line-up, fins were in. Since the station wagon quarters were designed to be slapped onto the side of a vehicle, they were easy to modify for pickup use. They may not have been a great style success when viewed against the cars of the day, but 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.

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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 looked out of place with the finned back end (or vice-versa). The hooded headlights on the 1957 SweptSide D100 Dodge pickups were on all 1957 Dodge trucks, even the commercial cab-over-engines. Unfortunately, they fell victim to the rush to dual headlight rage and were gone by 1958.

I've never seen any W100 Sweptsides - that is, four wheel drive versions (it was W for four wheel drive and D for rear wheel drive). There was no difference between the D or W cab, or the Sweptsides for that matter, other than the chrome trim for the two-tone paint treatment.

Danbury Mint has sold a model of the 1957 Sweptside in red and white, the most popular color combination; Hallmark had a 1957 Sweptline Christmas ornament with a tree on the box a few years ago. 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."
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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 setup. There appear to be no factory records, but Kenny wrote that 180 were made in 1957; 975 in 1958; and 100 in 1959. That's not unreasonable, 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 two-door wagon fins onto a pickup, and dealers who saw the result asked the factory to copy the idea. This could be the stuff of legend, and it doesn't explain the hooded headlights!

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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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