These pricey new vehicles leave us questioning their parentage. Are they only fancy cars trying to masquerade as trucks? Would anyone of us dare risk scratching their shiny paint while searching for calves in the blackberry brambles?

Pickup truck historians will call this the Age of Wretched Excess. Those of us who learned to drive in vintage chassis-rattling pickups with cardboard duct-taped to the floorboard now stand agape at what we see on America's backroads.

Uncle Samp, with memories of mighty struggles with a Model A converted into a truck still fresh in his mind, would never believe what's coming down the road today. There's no better symbol of this whole parade than the brand new 2002 Cadillac Escalade EXT. That's right, a Cadillac truck. Based on the Suburban chassis, the four-door, two-seat Caddy will hum along at 300 to 350 hp, with a pushrod V-8 engine. General Motors says it may make as many as 100,000 Escalades yearly.

Racing right along with it is the Lincoln Blackwood, another four-door behemoth, with a 4×8 bed covered in dark Wenge wood imported from central Africa, with aluminum slats to keep nasty cargo loads from marring the beautiful stuff. Geared to a more exclusive market, and, presumably, constrained by the availability of Wenge wood and other gee-gaws, Lincoln will only build 10,000 a year.

There's already a waiting list. Just recently, Lincoln put 50 special 2002 Neiman Marcus Edition Blackwoods on sale in Irvine, Calif., and they sold out in less than eight hours, though the truck wasn't even there. Buyers, who ordered by phone, will take delivery in the fall. These Neiman Marcus Blackwoods, priced at $58,800, feature a 7-inch Panasonic LCD Wide Screen DVD/Video-CD/CD player with a game center hook-up and two wireless headphones. There's also a cooler/warmer large enough to hold goodies for two, Lincoln says, though that might depend on just how much those two could eat and drink.

Not content for the Blackwood to be its only entry in the luxurious-beyond-belief pickup truck race, Ford is also now selling the F-650 Super CrewZer. This thing is a traffic stopper, basically a four-door semi-truck with a 105 × 95 × 12-inch bed box. It has a curb weight of 13,500 pounds and is powered by a 7.2L Caterpillar 3126B inline-six 300 hp turbo-diesel engine. With a 194-inch wheelbase, it has an Allison MD 3066 six-speed automatic transmission and two overdrives.

Seemingly built for pulling fifth-wheelers, Ford calls the Super CrewZer the ultimate towing machine. Nobody is going to have problems getting the bass boat to the lake with this big rig. For those who might get bored on the ride, there's an overhead entertainment system with a 6.4-inch screen, Nintendo, a TV antenna, universal remote control, and two wired headphones. All for just a little more than $81,000.

Now, I'll never knock a little comfort. My buddy Mark's dad used to ride his farms in what he called his “field Caddy,” and that's just what it was. He'd bump furrows and plunge through ditches in a Cadillac just a couple of years removed from the dealer's showroom, but only because he'd replaced it with a newer model. We thought that was cool. Mark sometimes borrowed the field Caddy for social occasions, ratcheting us considerably further up the high school hotshot scale than my old Ford Falcon could take us.

But no one ever mistook the field Caddy for a truck. These pricey new vehicles leave us questioning their parentage. Are they fancy cars masquerading as trucks? Would we dare risk scratching their shiny paint while searching for calves in the blackberry brambles? Will the grocery store parking lot be as close to the field as these so-called trucks get?

For those who'd like even a little more flair with their pickups, additional excess is on the way. Mercedes-Benz is testing a new pickup. We have no reports on how it responds to a good mud-stomping slam-bang ride across a just-harvested cotton field.

Stay tuned. Luxury and truck are two words that were never uttered together, until now. We'll see what words get uttered if these new models make it to the backcountry.


e-mail: charles_johnson@intertec.com