Montana Car Culture "It's A Thing"

Montana Grant

Montanans are measured by their rides. Cowboys would impress with their horse flesh, saddle, and tack. Today’s Montana cowboys impress with their horsepower and looks.

Every Montanan has a unique flair for what is best when they travel. Some folks prefer simple and functional, while others are all about size and horsepower.

Whatever your personal taste is, Montanans have their own culture when it comes to their version of motoring.

Subaru owners are very common in Big Sky Country. These small AWD wagons and coupes are on every road. Their loyal owners swear by their reliability and frugal cost to buy, fix, and operate. They use these reliable vehicles for everything Montana. It is normal to find these tough cars off-roading, hauling firewood, covered in skis, or simply running chores. 

Big Trucks mean business in Montana. BIG Truckers love their large-tired, lifted, 4-wheel drive monsters. They tackle any and every off-road adventure they can find. Action traction is the word of the day, as they tear up mountain tracks and muddy roads. Whether hunting, fishing, or just busting up a trail, these Mother Truckers mean business. Their trucks may not be pretty, but they are tough and covered in mud.

Vintage cars and trucks are also popular in the Montana car culture. Livingston, and many other small towns, routinely have car shows where owners bring their renovated, or partially repaired, vehicles. The classic Pontiac 440 Lemans, Chevy Camaro, and other heavy metal rides are parked next to old farm trucks, sporty coupes, and 50s Specials. Some folks pay others to do the renovations, but a true Montanan prefers to do the work themselves. 

Some of the most favorite trucks belong to fishermen. Old Ford Fairlanes and vintage cars from yesteryear turn up covered in fish spots with added fin appendages and unique decorations. Headliners are covered in old trout flies and have torn vinyl and 8-track stereos. Fishing rods rather than skis are attached to the roof. These car owners celebrate their sport and prefer their time for fishing rather than maintenance.

Few Montana cars and trucks have crack-free windshields. The snow plows sprinkle small gravel instead of salt. These keep our vintage metal rides rust free, but the rocks tend to take out windshield glass routinely. Side dumper gravel trucks also make their mark. “Montana Stars” are dings in the windshield that eventually travel across the glass, forming new constellations. It is amazing how these dings occur when there is not another car in sight! Glass repair companies make a huge business in Big Sky Crack Country.

You never need to question a Montanans political perspective, personality, or hobbies. Decals, bumper stickers, and decorations will show off their opinions and ideas. Their favorite trout or gun shop, beer, sport, or religion will be proudly displayed. The cannabis leaves, flags, and other assorted crosses, antlers, and fish will give you plenty of hints to start a conversation. You can also see their perspective when looking at their custom-made headache racks, bumper racks, or large pair of metal Bull Balls hanging from their hitch.

Hunters are not afraid to show off their critters. The harvested elk, moose, antelope, and deer are routinely viewed in the back-truck beds of their camo covered or muddy action traction wheels. Gun racks display their preferred weapons. If there is any room, today’s horse, a 4-wheeler, will be parked in the back bed. Montana pin striping, caused from chew spit, can also be seen along the side of the truck. 

Clean and shiny trucks are rare in Montana. If you want a serious fishing or hunting guide, you will not find them driving a clean ride. Their boats are dirty, gear is well used, and their hats are faded and sweaty from the sun. This is the guide you want to hire. A well-seasoned and experienced guide that knows how to work and play hard.

If trucks and cars are shiny and clean, they are rentals or not from Montana. Huge clean RVs and rigs are for show and not for function. They may be too pretty to really address any of Montana’s off-road adventures. 

If cars and trucks are not road worthy, Montanans will decorate their lawns, lanes, and land with these old motor corpses. Old farm equipment will also be found parked to this metal history. Maybe some rich city boy will buy it up. Maybe the owner will get around to fixing it up one day when Montana has less snow or gets his/her elk early in the season, or just because. This lawn art is a good reminder of what needs fixing, and the stories from another time. It is also common to find old rides lining our rivers and creeks to hold the banks in place.

Montanans also name their rigs. There is usually a good story attached. Colors, girlfriends, history, scratches and dents play a role in naming these prized rides. The Purple Moose, Whitetail, Buck Skin, Old Dick, Ethel, or Rough and Ready are common names. 

Waving at others is common for true Montanans. Not everyone waves back. If you wave to out-of-staters, tourists, or huge motor home drivers, you are wasting your time. They live in their own universe. Trucks, farmers, drivers in cowboy hats, Cowgirls, trout mobiles, hunting rigs, and real Montanans will always return your wave. These same Montanans and folks of the land will also stop and help when there is trouble. Their Montana mountain skills will often save the day and help the big city dudes and rookies on or off the road.

Share the roads safely and take pride in your ride. No matter what ride you drive in Montana, stay alert and safe. Lots of critters are sharing the roads too. Weather can make the roads slick in a second. Rockslides and treefalls are common. Take your time and enjoy the view. There is no hurry. Getting there in one piece is more important than getting there in pieces. 

Get yer motors running, head out on the highway!   

This was made by

Montana Grant

Montana Grant is a retired Educator, Consultant, Naturalist, Guide, and freelance writer, he spends much of his time sharing and teaching about the great outdoors. For more Montana Grant, visit his blog at

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