Home » Not Quite The Right Color: 1968 Chevy C20 vs 1980 VW Pickup

Not Quite The Right Color: 1968 Chevy C20 vs 1980 VW Pickup

Sbsd 5 15 2024
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Welcome back! For today’s installment, in honor of my epic cross-country adventure in my Forest Service Green pickup (which you should be able to read about soon), we’re looking at two trucks that are almost, but not quite, painted in that same magical color.

But first, let’s see how yesterday’s two-door V8 battle went. I thought this one might be closer; I expected the idea of a cheap Mercedes to scare off more of you. But apparently, a scruffy and slightly overpriced Mustang is even more frightening, and the red drop-top Benz took a decisive win.

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I think I agree. Fire-engine-red is one of my least favorite car colors, but I do like the style of the R129, and for that price, it’s worth a gamble on the condition. At worst, you’re out some money and have a story to tell.

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Now then: It is a fact, not an opinion but a scientifically-proven fact, that the best possible paint color for a truck is U.S. Forest Service Green. Other colors are acceptable, of course, but they are, to varying degrees, inferior to the One True Hue. But old Forest Service trucks don’t just fall from trees (unless a park ranger did something very foolish indeed), and not everyone can be as lucky as I was to stumble onto one for cheap. What can you do, then, if Federal Standard 595, Color Chip 14260 is out of reach? Well, I suppose you look for the closest possible substitute.

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Owners of old Forest Service trucks do acknowledge each other, by the way. Sometimes it’s a wave, sometimes just a smile or a nod; we don’t have pop-up lights to wink like Miata owners do, nor do we have time for any foolishness involving rubber duckies like Jeep owners. Just a quick recognition of our shared appreciation for the Best Green Ever.

All right. Let’s look at today’s contestants.

1968 Chevrolet C20 flatbed – $2,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 250 cubic inch overhead valve inline 6, four-speed manual, RWD

Location: Boulder Creek, CA

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Odometer reading: 84,000 miles

Operational status: “Runs and drives good”

The seller of this old flatbed Chevy describes it as a “ranch truck,” apparently to explain away the rust and dents. The fact that this is necessary shows how the perception of old pickups has changed in recent years, from tools of various trades to fashion statements for various social media photo shoots. Even my own truck has been used as a backdrop for a shoot; when it was street-parked in Portland, I looked out the window one day to see a young ingenue leaning casually against the bed, while a wannabe Mapplethorpe snapped away. I just laughed and shook my head.

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The reality of these old trucks is always less romantic than the Instagram ideal: They’re coarse, noisy, rough-riding, and usually dirty. But they’re also fantastic companions if you approach them on their own terms. This sounds like a good one; it runs and drives well, and it has current registration.

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It’s powered by a good honest inline six, the smallest engine available in ’68, but it’s enough to move hay bales around. It’s backed by a four-speed manual, probably either an SM420 or SM465, with a “granny” first gear either way. The seller says the transmission is “a little noisy,” but in my experience, that’s typical of these. If it goes into all the gears all right, and stays in them, it’s probably fine.

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Stake-side flatbeds are less practical for some things than a regular pickup bed, but if you want, and you can find one, it’s easy enough to lose the flatbed and put a regular bed back on it. On a truck this old, you don’t even need to worry about the fuel filler neck; the fuel tank is inside the cab, behind the seat – not ideal for safety, I suppose, but if you want safety, you don’t buy a fifty-six-year-old truck.

1980 Volkswagen (Rabbit) Pickup – $3,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.6-liter overhead cam diesel inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD

Location: Portland, OR

Odometer reading: 175,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives, but needs some work

This little truck has a lot of names. I believe it was officially just called the Volkswagen Pickup here in America, but was usually referred to as the Rabbit Pickup, since the front half is the same as the little hatchback. In other parts of the world, it was called the Volkswagen Caddy – but this is an American creation. It started here and then spread to other markets. US-market Rabbit Pickups were built in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, neatly circumventing the 25% tariff on imported trucks known as the “Chicken Tax” (which, ironically, was kind of Volkswagen’s fault to begin with).

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Because it’s based on a front-wheel-drive hatchback, this truck is unibody, rather than having a separate frame with a cab and bed bolted on. That doesn’t stop it from being a true half-ton truck, with a load capacity of 1,100 pounds. Don’t expect to move that weight all that quickly; this truck has a 1.6-liter diesel, boasting all of 52 horsepower. Its fuel economy is great, though.

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A lot of these old early water-cooled Volkswagens have an air of the Ship of Theseus about them, and this one sounds like no exception. It looks like the transmission at least has been swapped out from a 4-speed to a 5, and incompletely; the shift linkage is incorrect (it sounds like fifth gear is inaccessible) and the speedometer is wildly off (which means the final drive ratio and the speedometer drive gear don’t match).

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It does run and drive, and has had some recent work. Everything needed to make it roadworthy is functional; it sounds like it just needs an owner willing to put in a little work. The interior is scruffy, and the exterior has its share of surface rust, but it looks pretty clean and solid underneath.

Old trucks aren’t for everyone. There’s a lot you have to give up: comfort, performance, and safety, to begin with. But you can fix them with a pair of Vise-Grips and a roll of electrical tape, and not worry about trivial matters like washing it or getting collision insurance. It’s liberating. It’s probably best if you have something else for date nights, though. If you do have the old beat-up truck disposition, will it be the Chevy flatbed, or the little diesel VW?

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Timothy Swanson
Timothy Swanson
8 days ago

I’m trying to think of a single way the VW is superior, and other than MPG, nothing.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
10 days ago

I truly love both of these awesome trucks…this one I voted for the Rabbit pickup since I want one and have always thought they were neat. I also want another regular Rabbit GTI I like I used to have

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
10 days ago

I’m torn, I like A1 VWs and old American pickups but the VW seems messed about and the Chevy is 3/4 ton with a 6 so it’s slow and hard riding. OTOH I can clean up the Chevy and sell it easily.

Loudog
Loudog
10 days ago

I learned to drive on the Rabbit version of that VW — Oh hell no. 0-60 eventually, and the engine was better at turning diesel into noise rather than motion. Chevy all day.

Dodsworth
Dodsworth
10 days ago

I live in a rural state. I could sell that Chevy in a heartbeat.

Baja_Engineer
Baja_Engineer
10 days ago

If the Chevy had a proper bed it would be my pick. But finding a decent bed for that Chevy would likely cost me more than what I would end up paying for the Caddy and Diesel is cool and thrifty so I’m picking the Caddy today.

Old Chevy trucks are cool, so is the Caddy. short bed Chevy would add bonus points but this ain’t it

Library of Context
Library of Context
10 days ago

So the term ‘ranch truck’ versus ‘farm truck’ – is this just a regionalism, or do these terms indicate a significantly different type of work in your mind?

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
10 days ago
Reply to  Mark Tucker

Yeah, to me they’re basically the same thing anyway!- just read that article before and thought it was interesting. I love both of these trucks anyhow.
Glad your move is going well so far! (despite the hiccups) Yeah, I love that Forest Service Green

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
10 days ago

I read about this is an article a while ago and thought it was interesting so thought I’d share the link and a couple paragraphs from it-
basically it’s intertwined and all relative but this is at least the TX view of it
https://www.texasmonthly.com/being-texan/texanist-difference-between-ranch-and-farm/

“Because the dictionary definitions of “ranch” and “farm” are both so semantically squishy, and because there exists no firm naming convention when it comes to the labeling of particular ranching and farming operations, is it any wonder that the Texas hinterlands are peppered with cattle ranches, dairy farms, exotic ranches, cotton farms, goat ranches, sheep farms, emu ranches, ant farms, solar and wind farms, and lots and lots of dude ranches? It is not.
When it comes to farms, the Texanist mostly just follows the trusty old rule of thumb: you know one when you seed one. You see, Mr. Hroch, despite what Merriam-Webster would have you think, the Texanist is of the firm mind that farms are, for the most part, places where farmers grow crops and maybe raise some livestock too. Ranches are, for the most part, where ranchers focus on raising livestock.”

Jimal
Jimal
10 days ago

I’ve owned both an old Chevy truck (’65 K10) and an old Diesel Rabbit Pickup (’82) so I have the tools to work on both. Both are cramped and slow. All things being equal, it would cost me more than the difference in price between these two vehicles to recreate a proper pickup bed on the Chevrolet, then I have an under-powered 3/4 ton longbed Chevrolet pickup.

As long as the carpet hasn’t been glued into to form the structure of a rusty floor, I’ll take the Rabbit and the patina.

XLEJim700
XLEJim700
10 days ago

Common sense > pretense.

Those old three-quarter tons are not pleasant to wheel around, but it’s what you want to get something done.

Workingman’s Bow Tie

Last edited 10 days ago by XLEJim700
Skeezix
Skeezix
10 days ago

Normally I’d be all in on an early diesel-VW, but that thing is a bit too ratty for the price. Beefcake Chevy all day!

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
10 days ago

I’ll drive the Chevy to the Levee.

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