Every now and then I’ll think about some little, insignificant automotive detail every rational person has happily forgotten about and before I can take the appropriate fistful of pills to stop it, it’s all I can think about. This is one of those times, and the detail is the fact that for many years and for many trucks, a rear bumper was considered an option.
While this is effectively gone in America, I wouldn’t be surprised to find this is still something common in other parts of the world. In the U.S., I think the peak truck-bumper-as-optional years were in the 1970s and 1980s, and this was most common on Japanese pickups.
Now, I get cost saving is a big deal, and leaving off the rear bumper certainly would do that. The problem is that I can’t think of a vehicle that benefits more from a rear bumper than a pickup.
Pickups have, by their very nature, long rear bodywork, and are more likely to be backed into tight or precarious positions to facilitate loading or unloading, and all of these circumstances put the rear in danger of whacking into things.
And while there (usually) aren’t passengers back there and usually the speeds at which these maneuvers happen are low, whacking the tailgate of a truck against a low brick wall or a big rock or another car’s bumper can easily cause damage like crimping the sheet metal around the tailgate’s hinge, causing all kinds of headaches.
On top of that, lots of manufacturers liked to stick nice, fragile taillights back there, just to be sure any minor tap would at least force you to spend some money.
Look at trucks of this era and you see plenty with unprotected lights and hinges and easily-dented sheet metal—it’s not like the lower edge of the rear of a pickup is so tough, really. I mean, think about it—if you make a 2 MPH mistake backing up to a loading dock with pretty much any sort of bumper, it’s pretty much ignorable. Without a bumper, it’s potentially an ass-pain of broken lamps, kinked tailgates, and body damage.
Then there’s the rear bumper’s use as a step! I feel like almost every time I’ve loaded or unloaded a pickup, I’ve climbed up on that bumper at some point in the process.
Sure, without the bumper, the tailgate could fold all the way down, potentially, and some trucks do have little rubber tailgate stops that could sort of act as minimal rear bumper protection, in a pinch:
I suppose if a fold-flat tailgate is essential, for some reason, then there’s a bumper-less justification. But for everyone else, I just can’t see why you wouldn’t want some kind of rear protection on your pickup?
Am I missing something, here? I get the cost angle, and I’ll admit I kind of like the look of some of these bumperless trucks, but overall, I just don’t get why it was acceptable, given all the vulnerabilities it could expose a pickup to—especially for pickups that were actually used for work, which would expose them to many more opportunities to smash lights or bork tailgates.
I will admit I do kind of like the half-ass rubber blocks some companies—like Ford with their Mazda-built Couriers—used. They probably helped a little, at least.
If anyone can enlighten me, I’d love to just get this silly little meaningless mystery out of my head, already.