100 Years of Chevy Trucks
The traditional suggested gift for a centennial anniversary is a 10-carat diamond, which could set your wallet back more than $2 million, give or take. And that could well be what Chevrolet spent for its anniversary party this past year.
As you might expect, we’ve driven plenty of Chevy trucks, but we spoke to a lot of owners, colleagues with similar exposure, and Chevy legends (known Chevy truck loyalists) about “the best” Chevy trucks, whether they ever owned one or not. We prefer the democratic approach, see.
And Captain Obvious answered, as virtually every owner we spoke to first named either his or her current truck or one that they regretfully no longer owned. Eventually, we’d get more out of them, but how did a day amongst the GM faithful fail to produce a single 454SS vote, nor mention of a K5 Blazer, SSR, or Avalanche? We did record one nomination for, “My old C60 tandem-axle dump, slow as a dog and 3 mpg, but it never failed me.”
So much for democracy. Herewith, in chronological order, Truck Trend’s take on Chevy’s better and more significant trucks no longer in production. Feel free to employ your own democracy and tell us where we went wrong—we’re reasonable, not autocrats.
There had to be a first one, and for Chevrolet, it was the Model T (for truck, duh). The 1/2-ton delivered a 224ci (3.7L) I-4 of 36 hp and considerable off-idle torque, mated to a rolling chassis on which customers put their own cab and bed or van body. A Model T 1-ton truck model was also available (Ford’s truck of the time was a Model TT). The Bow Tie badge was dark blue, more a work of art than anything else on the truck.
The International Series AC light delivery truck introduced the inline-six to trucking with the 194ci (3.2L) engine with cast-iron pistons rated about 46 hp and 125 lb-ft of torque. Because its fasteners looked like wood-stove fixtures, it got the nickname “Stovebolt.” The International Series was also the first pickup with an enclosed cab and the first that invited “color” to join the discussion.
Sporting sturdier bodywork, a new generation of inline-six giving 78 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque, and streamlined styling that might have been influenced by high-speed locomotives—and the first designed by the Art & Colour department and Harley Earl—a ’37 Chevy truck made a long-distance trip monitored by the AAA on which it recorded nearly 21 mpg. Eighty years later, Truck Trend editors still rarely get 21 mpg road-tripping in gasoline-powered pickups.
1947 Advance Design
Readily identified by the five-bar grille and headlamps in the fenders, the ’47 truck also had a cabin wide enough for three people, plus a radio and heater/defroster to keep them more comfortable. Whether 1/2-ton 3100 series, ¾-ton 3600, or 1-ton 3800, all came with the 216ci (3.5L) ThriftMaster inline-six good for 90 hp and 174 lb-ft. The last model year, ’54, got significant updates for an outgoing model, with parking lights, a one-piece windshield, a new grille and steering wheel, and the 235ci (3.9L) six (112 hp/200 lb-ft).
1955 3124 Cameo Carrier
In retrospect, little compares to the longevity of the GM small-block V-8 introduced this year—a year after Ford introduced its own V-8, but the small-block had a longer run and helped Chevy to top sales charts. This “Task Force” generation truck also got a wraparound windshield (even before cars), egg-crate grille, new headlight nacelles, concealed running boards, and the first Fleetside design. It came with a 123hp, 207–lb-ft, 235ci six and one option: two-tone ivory and red paint. Rich Scheer, director of exterior design for Chevy Trucks, called this, “The heyday of American automotive styling and ornamentation.”
1959 El Camino
Inspired by the Task Force line that preceded it and built on the fullsize Chevrolet sedan platform, the original El Camino had the biggest fins ever fitted to a pickup. This generation ran only two years before a three-year hiatus, after which it returned on the midsize Chevelle platform. It didn’t get retired until ’87, although our preference would be a ’70 SS with LS6. Despite our frequent pleas, GM never brought the ideal replacement, the Holden ute, here before it stopped building cars in Australia.
1967 C/K Series
Metallic paint! Officially the Action Line and unofficially the Glamour Line—especially in Cheyenne trim—these brought a simple yet sleek design and a wider variety of engines, as well as an available coil-sprung suspension all around. This generation also led to the ’70 K5 Blazer on a shortened 104-inch wheelbase, and we all know that worked out well.
1972 Chevy LUV
A rebadged Isuzu Faster brought into the U.S. as a cab and chassis to avoid steep tariffs and compete with Toyota and Datsun pickups, the Light Utility Vehicle was initially gasoline-powered with a 75hp 1.8L also found in the Chevy Chevette and Opel Kadett. By ’77, you could get a mini-motorhome built on the LUV cab-and-chassis, now with 80 hp, and it was later offered with a diesel, independent front suspension, four-wheel drive, and a stepside bed. The LUV ran until the S-10 debuted for the ’82 model year. Chevy wasn’t alone in its tariff-busting, cab-chassis tactic: Ford did the same with its Mazda-built Courier, as did Plymouth and its Mitsubishi-built Arrow.
1973 “Square Body”
The third-generation C/K Series wore the longest-running bodywork in Chevy truck history, through ’87 for single-rear-wheel pickups and ’91 for dually crews, Suburban, and Blazer. GM dubbed the trucks Rounded Line because of the daylight openings, rear lights, and body corners.
The first pickups with a passenger-side mirror standard, Square Bodies were launched on TV, offered the first crew-cab dually configuration (Big Dooley), the venerable 454 saw its first pickup use outside the El Camino, and there were a handful of ’76-’77 Blazer Chalets (and GMC Jimmy Casa Grandes) built with an integral pop-up camper built by Chinook in Washington.
1988 C/K Series
Although many trucks before it were said to be styled by aerodynamics, this is the first Chevy pickup that really looked like it. It was also the first fullsize, four-wheel drive Chevy pickup with an independent front suspension, and it was the first fullsize pickup from any manufacturer with a third door for the extended-cab model. The dash and switchgear were unlike any pickup before (and much of it gave us fits, especially the disc gas gauge), it marked the end of the “universal” pickup with non-standard framerails and headlights, and if your company made roll pans or lowering kits, this truck might have made you wealthy.
One year after the Dodge Shelby Dakota, a year before the GMC Syclone, and three years ahead of the Ford SVT Lightning, Chevy applied the early muscle-car approach of putting a big engine in a small package with the 454SS. Into a regular cab shortbed went a 230hp, 385–lb-ft big-block, TH400 three-speed transmission, engine oil and ATF coolers, fatter front antiroll bar, Bilstein shocks, quicker steering, 275/65R15 tires, big decals, unique seats, and a center console. It wasn’t easy to launch (60 in less than 8 seconds), but it was one of the fastest street-legal rides you could buy, especially for less than $19,000. The following year got a bump in power to 255/405, thanks to dual exhausts; a four-speed automatic and 4.10:1 gears made it quicker (sub-7), but no simpler, to launch.
1994 S-10 ZR2
Chevy’s first off-road–biased compact pickup, the ZR2 offered more width and ground clearance compared to the regular S-10 than the current Colorado ZR2 and its plebian sibling. The ZR2 package was nearly 4 inches wider and 3 inches taller, and it included larger axles and bearings, Bilstein dampers, skidplates, a Panhard rod for the leaf-sprung rear (like a Wrangler of the day), and 31-inch tires. In testing, it readily climbed sand dunes, and the temperature gauge climbed equally fast.
Part pickup, part SUV, and dipped in plenty of plastic cladding, the Avalanche was like a Suburban with the rearmost seat and roof removed, plus a “midgate” between the box and cab you could remove for long loads or sleeping in the back. A special North Face edition didn’t last long, but the Avalanche lived through two generations until ’13; only the first generation offered a ¾-ton version with 340hp 8.1L (496ci) big-block power.
Not a truck, but available on Silverados and Suburban 2500s, Quadrasteer was a four-wheel steering system developed by Delphi. It turned the rear wheels 15 degrees opposite the front at slow speeds, decreasing U-turn diameter up to 20 percent. At higher speeds, the rear wheels turned in the same direction as the fronts to improve straight-line stability. Towing was superb but difficult to illustrate in advertising and was an expensive option because it required other additions like wider rear fenders and clearance lamps, and because the rear axle was basically a Dana 60, you couldn’t get it with a big-block.
Bearing a striking resemblance to an updated Advance Design ’50’s pickup, the SSR was designed by Karmann, built on a modified TrailBlazer GMT368 chassis by ASC, and equipped with a retractable folding hardtop for al fresco driving. Alas, the original Super Sport Roadster wasn’t as quick as a Nissan Titan and barely outran the 454SS, thanks to an anemic 5.3L V-8, so for ’05 and ’06, Chevy replaced it with a Corvette-sourced 6.0L LS2 V-8 and available six-speed manual.
Jointly designed by GM’s North American and Brazil operations and Isuzu, this replaced the S-10 and was the future basis for the Hummer H3. Unique in domestic pickups was the I-5 gasoline engine derived from the 4.2L “Atlas” inline-six that gave max horsepower at 5,600 rpm but peak torque at 2,800. Although the inline-four version was offered, the Colorado never got the straight-six, instead in ’09 receiving a 300hp 5.3L V-8.
2008 Suburban HD
A favorite of recreational towers, the ’08 Suburban 2500 had no decals or badges, but virtually every mechanical component differed from the 1/2-ton. It came with an iron-block 6.0L (352 hp, 383 lb-ft), 6L80E transmission, full-floating 14-bolt leaf-sprung rearend, 16-inch forged alloys, 39-gallon fuel tank, 40:1 crawl ratio when fitted with four-wheel drive, and a tow rating in excess of 9,000 pounds. Curiously, a Toyota Sequoia had the same GCWR, but vehicle and axle limits meant it couldn’t realistically cart the crew and the boat the Sub could.
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