Are Sport Trucks Fueling the Next Nostalgia Movement?
Here’s a sobering thought for you: 1990 was 30 years ago.
Please, take a minute to catch your breath. Yes, it’s been three decades since we ushered in the decade of Vanilla Ice, Oakley Blades, Lollapalooza, and “Pulp Fiction.” And as is the case with any passage of time, people tend to get a little nostalgic after seeing a quarter century or so pass in the rearview mirror. So, with all apologies to “American Graffiti,” we thought we’d ask, “where were you in ’92?”
It’s not just the early-’90s, though. Whether it’s alternative rock in heavy rotation on throwback radio stations, or “Friends” reruns on Hulu, it seems the ’90s are making a comeback. The decade where Generation X began maturing into adulthood is poised to have its nostalgia moment, and we can’t help but wonder what that might mean for the old car scene.
The origins of this article began with the Goodguys media team discussing the exploding popularity of the Chevy OBS Sport Truck platform – the generation of GM trucks built from 1988-98. A few years ago, you could still pick these trucks for a couple grand. Now, fueled by a surging interest from sport truck enthusiasts, prices for project trucks have more than doubled. There are forums, podcasts, social media platforms and more devoted to this growing interest, not to mention plenty of attention from the aftermarket.
It makes sense in a lot of ways. After all, if a 20-something-year-old guy was heavy into the sport truck scene in the ’90s, he’s probably in his late-40s or 50s today – prime time for a trip down nostalgia lane. And like the generations that rediscovered street rods in the ’70s and ’80s or muscle cars in the ’90s and 2000s, these sport truck guys have some extra capital to spend on their toys.
Why the OBS platform? We asked Chris Coddington, son of the late Boyd Coddington and president of Hot Rods by Boyd, for his perspective. “First and foremost, the ’88-’98 GM truck is one of my favorite truck models,” Coddington says. “When this body style came out, I was just entering high school, so they were a little out of my reach, but I saw my dad lower some of the first trucks to hit SoCal and do his Boyd Look on them. I knew one day I would have one.
“Now that I am older, I got my hands on a 1992 GMC Sierra with 35k original miles on it with the full sport truck treatment,” Coddington continues, “from custom paint to 15-inch Tri Fans and billet accessories in the interior. This was six years ago. I drove it around like that for some time but a couple years ago I decided to lower it some more and put bigger wheels on it.”
Mark Oja, former “Overhaulin’” host and current owner of California Speed and Custom, is another longtime fan of the OBS platform. “We like to say that these trucks never went away,” Oja says, while noting that the body style’s popularity has skyrocketed in the past year. He thinks many enthusiasts were initially attracted by the lower cost of entry, especially as the square body GM trucks (1973-87) got more expensive. Oja says the OBS trend has caught on more rapidly, noting that the price for some base vehicles has doubled since last year. “The increase has already gone up a lot faster than it did with square bodies,” Oja says.
While he agrees with Coddington that nostalgia is fueling some interest in ’90s trucks, Oja, who is in his mid-50s, says he sees a lot of interest from younger enthusiasts, too. He even attributes the OBS reference – which stands for “Old Body Style” – to younger fans. “The name doesn’t even make any sense to me,” Oja says. “It’s an ‘old body style’ to somebody who’s 25.”
There are plenty of factors that make the truck attractive to enthusiasts. “It’s a really clean design,” Oja says. “They’re easy to build and they’re fun.” Both replacement-style parts and custom parts are relatively inexpensive, and parts like mirrors and grilles are easy to swap between the different years. Even most of the trim was held on with adhesive, making it simple to remove. On top of that, the trucks are comfortable and reliable – you can still use one as a daily driver if you want.
Oja gets some credit for helping to popularize the platform. He built a ’90s-style throwback – a tribute to the ’90s Belltech poster truck with turquoise paint and magenta graphics – that captured a ton of attention at the 2019 SEMA Show. It caused almost as much of a stir as the original version did three decades ago. “That truck has created so much attention it’s unbelievable,” Oja says.
If you have 45 minutes to blow off and are a fan of OBS Sport Trucks, we highly suggest checking out the first three episodes of the “OBS Clash” video series from Auto Revolution presented by Belltech!
Just like any era and trend, wheels are the first thing most enthusiasts change when personalizing an OBS truck. While many go for modern styles, Coddington says Hot Rods by Boyd has also been getting retro orders, too. “I have been getting a lot of requests to build the old designs in larger sizes,” Coddington says. “We can build anything from original 15-inch wheels to 24-inch diameter.
“In 1992 you were Billy Bad Ass if you have a set of 17-inch Gatorbacks on your truck,” Coddington continues. “Now there are tons of tire combinations to accommodate any build from a retro tribute running 15- or 17-inch billets, all the way up to a full custom laid-out truck running 22s and 24s.”
Bigger brakes are a common upgrade for this series of trucks, which is often a deciding factor when it comes to wheel and tire choices. Oja notes that the six-piston Baer brakes with 14-inch calipers he used on his Belltech tribute truck led him to use larger wheels – in this case, 19- and 20-inch versions from Budnik.
More Than Wheels
It’s not just retro wheel designs and ’90s-era trucks returning, it’s other design elements of the era, too. That includes some of the bold visuals that became hallmarks of the decade.
“I’m starting to hear some rumblings about bringing back custom paint,” says artist Steve Stanford, who helped popularize the bold custom paint styles that dominated the ’80s and ’90s. After watching vinyl coverings and wraps take over, Stanford says he welcomes the possible return of bold custom paint. “Let’s bring back some cadies and pearls!” he says.
Stanford says part of the appeal of that era was how different it all felt at the time. “Let’s try something new, something fresh,” was the mindset, he says, noting that he and other designers were taking cues from popular culture. “I was looking at what was happening in rock and roll, and MTV, and fashion magazines.”
While Stanford looks back fondly on much of the era, he notes that some trends got a little out of hand. Some vehicle owners and builders took design flourishes like splash graphics, dry brushing, or bold stiping colors and made them the primary focus rather than tasteful accents. “They saw the frosting and not the cake,” Stanford says.
“I hope to learn from the mistakes we made back then,” Stanford continues, “because it was all experimental – trying things that hadn’t been done. I always said do it in moderation – a little of that goes a long way.”
Will the ’90s revival extend beyond the sport truck scene? That’s hard to say. Stanford notes one thing he’s seeing: “The popularity of Gen III Camaros all of a sudden. The prices are going up on those things,” he says.
Coddington agrees. “I see third-gen Camaros becoming popular again,” Coddington says. “Once again, another car I really wanted as a kid. Funny fact is my first car was a 1984 V6 Camaro. And it was gold of all colors.”
Oja echoes the sentiment on third-gen Camaros, particularly IROC models. “The IROC has just gone crazy” in terms of price, he says. As it turns out, Oja is working on a Stanford-designed OBS truck that incorporates IROC Camaro design cues.
Several people we talked to also mentioned ’90s-era Impalas and Caprice wagons. Remember when those exploded in the mid-’90s? They seemed to cross boundaries, too – the sport truck guys liked them, and hot rod guys dug ’em, as well. Even Goodguys had a lowered yellow Caprice wagon for a while.
As for earlier hot rods, it’s hard to say whether the ’90s revival will spill over. Looking back at the decade, there was not a singular dominant style. The early-’90s saw a lot of smoothie rods, pastel colors, and tweed interiors, but by the latter part of the decade we saw the rise of more traditional styles making a comeback.
“If there’s going to be a rumbling with the early iron, it’s probably going to be with the fat-fendered stuff,” Stanford says, noting that the larger cars of the late-’30s and ’40s always took better to bold colors and graphic treatments.
That said, Stanford doesn’t see the ’90s revival expanding much beyond the truck scene. He says he feels the old car hobby is almost at a stage where there are no singular trends.
“This isn’t like the old days where there’s a strong pull in one direction,” Stanford says. “There’s so many disciplines now to pick from, which I think is great. It’s not as hype bound as it used to be. Every generation’s having their say.”
Such variety and versatility make big events like Goodguys all the more interesting. “Everywhere you look, you see something new and different,” Stanford says. “It’s a grab bag. There’s not any one style, and that’s a good thing. We’re living in the best of times, as far as I’m concerned.”
Photos: Courtesy Mark Oja, Chris Coddington, and Goodguys arcives