What Is a Fleetside Pickup?by Rob Wagner
The Chevrolet Fleetside pickup truck has a slabsided cargo box in which the width of the box extends over the rear wheels, allowing the box more cargo space. In contrast, a stepside pickup features a more narrow cargo box in which the rear wheels are outside the box and covered by the fenders. Although Chevrolet dubbed these trucks as Fleetsides, the name has since become a generic term for all pickups with the same styling.
For more than a half century, the stepside pickup was the only choice for truck buyers. The stepside literally meant a person could use a step between the rear wheelwell and cab to load or offload cargo. In 1955, Chevrolet introduced the Cameo Carrier truck that changed styling forever.
The Cameo Carrier
Up until the introduction of the Cameo, trucks were considered workhorses. But the Cameo transformed the pickup from laborer to a second family car with streamlined body styling and moderate passenger car appointments in the cab. General Motors also introduced the GMC Suburban Carrier, the Chevrolet Carrier's twin.
The Cameo and Suburban, designed by GM chief designer Chuck Jordan, pioneered the Fleetside pickup truck styling with a cargo box designed as a perfect rectangle with straight lines extending from the front fenders to the tailgate. The wheelwells were hidden in the bed of the wider box.
The Fleetside accomplished two goals: It was a low-cost design element to modernize the pickup and it provided more cargo space. Dodge followed in 1957 with the "Sweptside," which featured its signature two-tone paint schemes, and Ford with the "Styleside" the same year.
Suddenly, the stepside was relegated to stepchild status in the automotive industry. Fleetsides became immensely popular as designers added quad headlamps, additional chrome accents and fanciful names such as "Apache" from Chevrolet to attract buyers hungry for the dual purpose laborer/family vehicle.
More important, the Fleetside contributed to the lifespan of the truck. Typically, a passenger car may have a five-year life span while the pickup truck may endure up to 15 years before its put to pasture. Other than interior amenities and periodic face-lifts, truck styling remains relatively static, allowing Fleetsides a lifespan of more than 20 years.
Fleetside pickups outnumber stepsides as much as 20 to one on the road today, due to their practicality. Since pickup cargo boxes are easy to replace, many pickup owners switch boxes as a matter of style preferences. In recent years, a hybrid of sorts between the Fleetside and stepside has emerged as the "Sportsside box" with slightly flared sporty rear fenders and a "half-step" for access to the bed.
Rob Wagner is a journalist with over 35 years experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines. His experience ranges from legal affairs reporting to covering the Middle East. He served stints as a newspaper and magazine editor in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Wagner attended California State University, Los Angeles, and has a degree in journalism.