By on November 19, 2009

the true trail blazer?

This Curbside Classic took the same trajectory as the Blazer. It started as a legitimate nod of acknowledgment to the S-10 Blazer as the trailblazer of the compact SUV market. But as I got further along, I realized just how badly GM bungled the huge opportunity for the baby Blazer in a segment that became a monster money machine for Jeep and Ford. With the mistakes being all so prototypical GM, I just had to re-write it as a Deadly Sin, even though it would have been easier to just leave it as it was. Which is exactly what GM’s Deadly Sin was: leave it as it was, forever. Well I’m not ready just yet to have someone document my Deadly Journalistic Sins, so here goes: Blazer, take Two.

Before any mud-slinging begins, lets define the new category that this Blazer blazed. Sure the Jeep CJ was always compact, as were the first generations of Scout and Bronco. But those were uncompromising 4×4 offroaders, first and foremost. The S-10 Blazer was the first of the compact and reasonably comfortable four-wheelers that were equally, if not more at home on the road than off it.

stuck in the pastThe only other competitors to the compact Blazer’s eponymous title are the Isuzu Trooper II and the Mitsubishi Montero (Pajero). They both appeared on our shores about the same time the Blazer started rolling off GM’s assembly lines. The Montero came only in the short wheelbase version then, and it was rather trucky; more like a Japanese update on the Jeep or Scout rather than defining a new category. And the Trooper II was, well, a longer wheelbase version of the Montero formula. I’ve got a soft spot for them both, and we’ll cover them on a future CC. But lacking a V6, a softish ride, the “cute” styling element, and probably most importantly, the vast Chevrolet dealer network, they both were relegated to outsider status, at least initially.

The baby Blazer appeared during my LA years. And what a godsend it must have been to the Chevy dealers in the decade Californians started shunning domestic passenger cars like coughing airline passengers. Well, make that mainly GM and Chrysler dealers, as Ford was still getting some sunshine state love for its Taurus, Mustang and T-Bird. Anyway, the Blazer was a hot item in its first couple of years, especially with the ski set. My Peugeot 404 wagon was looking a wee bit archaic amongst the shiny new white and red Blazers driven by blond ski bunnies at the Mammoth Mt. Main Lodge parking lot.

Like the ski bunnies, the Blazer had its superficial attractions. But dig a little deeper, and things weren’t at all so pretty. The GMT 330 platform that underpinned the Blazer and its S-10 pickup sibling was an uninspired piece of work, unlike the Jeep Cherokee (XJ) that followed the Blazer by a year. The Chevy’s dull handling, crude ride, and mediocre build quality was quickly outclassed by the Cherokee.

well maintained rubbermaidThe Blazer’s arrival in ’83 came on the heels of the very painful ’81 energy crisis. That was obviously the motivation in developing a little brother to the massive K-5 Blazer. But in that fleeting early-eighties zeal for fuel efficiencies, some dubious engines showed up under the S-10 Blazer’s hood. The standard mill was the 2.0 OHV four that also powered so many J-cars (Cavaliers, etc.). Managing a mere 83 hp, it might have been a passable choice for a stick-shift 2wd S-10 pickup, but the BOF Blazer was not the lightweight the unibody Cherokee was. Actually, in CA, an Isuzu-sourced 1.9 four (from the Trooper) was used for smog certification reasons. And if you really wanted to be thrifty, you could order the 2.2 liter diesel, also from Isuzu, which made all of 58 horsepower! Good times.

I remember hearing a couple of diesel-powered S-10 pickups, but not a Blazer. Would a 58 hp diesel Blazer be collectible? In reality, most of them came with the optional 2.8 V6, the longitudinal version of GM’s evergreen 60 degree V6. It sucked an awful lot of fuel to generate a measly 110 hp, but gas prices were dropping like a stone during the eighties, so who cared. Well, I did.

I finally succumbed to the SUV and monthly payment lure, and the dear old 404 wagon that cost me $100 gave way to a $16k ’85 Cherokee with that same Chevy 2.8. It was anything but brisk, and slurped gas at almost twice the rate of the Peugeot. But now we were officially Yuppies! Well, you had to be one to afford these trucklets, because they were anything but cheap. Decently optioned, with the basic amenities that are all standard today, transaction prices were stiff, like our Cherokee’s: adjusted for inflation, about $35k. And interest rates on loans were stratospheric. No wonder longer term car loans were invented in that era.

Mileage wise, it was a minor miracle to break out of the mid teens with the 2.8. Reliability was another highly marginal affair. Seems like a huge number of them had main rear seals that self-destructed in short order. We managed to dodge that bullet, but not with the world’s most complicated and expensive carburetor. Too cheap to install fuel injection, Rochester’s answer to CA emissions was a Rube Goldbergian affair, with no adjustments allowed without committing a federal offense. The inevitable replacement was over $500 bucks ($1000 adjusted), just for the part. I used to buy nice used cars for less than that. Eighties-style new car ownership was a painful adjustment for me.

tail of the dogThe Blazer got some bigger engines after a few years, although both the Iron Duke 2.5 four and the 4.3 V6 were both notoriously unrefined in their manners. But the Blazer’s deadliest deficiency was the lack of two rear doors. Once the four-door Cherokee appeared, the Trooper and Montero quickly sprouted extra doors. Compact SUVs were becoming the station wagons of the era; who wanted to go back to the contortions of the long-gone two door wagons, especially with baby seats and seat belts?

But it took GM almost eight years to take a Sawzall in hand and carve out some damn rear doors. By then, the Cherokee had long stolen the show, at least until the new Ford Explorer appeared in 1991. And the Blazer’s design didn’t age nicely at all like the Cherokee, yet it wasn’t until 1995, after twelve years, that GM found fit to give it some new skin. By that time, it had long been relegated to a distant third.

GM really fumbled the ball with the Blazer. For over twenty years, no serious effort was ever undertaken to improve a vehicle that was the crudest in its class to start with. In its latter years, it was a pathetic joke compared to the continually refined Explorer.

The reskinned Blazer stumbled along on the same old tired platform, until it expired in 2006. But if you’re in Brazil, you can still relive the GM of the early eighties and buy a new old Blazer, even with a four cylinder engine (the only choice, actually). The first shall be last, in more ways than one.

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78 Comments on “Curbside Classic: GM’s Deadly Sin #5 – 1983 Chevy S-10 Blazer...”


  • avatar
    tonycd

    One other thing I’ve come to love about this vehicle: along with its sister ship the S-10 pickup, the headlights on this thing are dazzling — literally — to the person across or, particularly, in front of them. When one of these gets behind me, the hair on the back of my head starts to roast like an ant under a magnifying glass.
    Leave it to GM to make a car that’s a torment not only to its owners, but to innocent spectators as well.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    The only other competitors to the compact Blazer’s eponymous title are the Isuzu Trooper II and the Mitsubishi Montero (Pajero).
     
    Would the 4Runner have been considered to be too big?
     
    But the Blazer’s deadliest deficiency was the lack of two rear doors
     
    God, yes.  When I was of driving age, the two-door trucklet was the vehicle of choice for people my age.  Just about everyone born in the 1970s and 80s and living somewhere northern and rural probably lost their virginity in Bronco, Blazer or Explorer; I spent a lot of time refining my hate for these cars (for the record: the Toyota Van was my vehicle of choice).  I don’t like two-door/four+ seat in general, but a two-door with a tall step-in height is  worse: tall people could manage the step-in, but the squeeze-in was a problem, while the reverse was true for the short.
     
    I’m glad this body style died.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    psarhjinian: Would the 4Runner have been considered to be too big?
    It came out a year later than the others, hence not in the running for the title of trailblazer of the compact SUV segment. And the first gen 4Runner was a very quicko job by cobbling up their short bed PU. Crude, but tough as nails, though. Try finding one of those now; they were a favorite with the young hard-core offroaders, who long since bashed the last one to pieces. Maybe there’s one out there yet.

    • 0 avatar
      confused1096

      My best friend has a very well preserved ’85 or ’86. Great little truck for what it was, very well engineered. I’ll stick with my XJ though.

    • 0 avatar
      ciddyguy

      Sometime last year, Mom and I went to have dinner at our favorite Mexican joint in Tacoma when I spotted, literally an original red, 2 door 4Runner with removable rear top.

      The paint had light scratches from brushing up against bushes and had boxes built for some extra speakers but was mostly stock otherwise.

      Hadn’t seen one in a long while until then.

  • avatar
    whynotaztec

    I remember well buying a brand new s-15 Jimmy in 1985, two tone blue and white.  I really wanted the other one on the lot which was black and red, but it said GMC on the front and back and “blazer” on the sides!

    the only real problem was some starting and stalling issues after a few years, mostly in cold weather and after a short run of 2 miles or less.

    i thought they were great looking, and i did manage some 4 wheeling while only getting stuck once in deep mud.  but even back then i kept thinking, what’s the use of better off road tires if this thing is on the pavement 99% of the time?

    for a company that became obsessed with trucks, they let this thing go way too long.

  • avatar
    Rick

    Good lord that Brazilian Blazer is ugly as sin.
    I had a 96 2-door Jimmy – that was a pretty fun truck, but when my lease was up, I basically hopped out with the car still rolling when I turned it in and ran as fast as I could because it was in such bad shape.

  • avatar
    Durishin

    I had one of these – for a year!  God!  What an unabashed POS!  My 1974 Volvo 145 and 1980 Bunny Cabriolet were both faster, more comfortable and significantly better engineered and put together.
    You would stomp on the throttle of the thing, the tranny downshift, the engine spin…and you’d go slower!  Honestly, my Volvo 145 with the 97hp B20 4-banger was faster up a hill!
    Haven’t owned a domestic car that wasn’t the perk of some rep job or another since then!

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    Biggest POS I have ever ridden in.  Except possibly early ’80s V6 camaro.

  • avatar
    dswilly

    mediocre build quality- That’s being generous.  I never understood why GM struggled to make a decent V6 engine for so long.  I had a ’85 Trooper II, tough truck, drove it to Alaska and back 3 times finally gave out (suspension) at 315k on original everything.
    4Runner  – The ’85′s had the legendary front straight axle that is desirable for rock crawlers so most get hacked up.  I have a ’82 SR5 4×4 truck version – rides like a mini dump truck.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      GM did have a good V6, way back in 1959. Unfortunately, the next V6 after that was a hack-job on the BO(no P) aluminum V8, establishing a pattern of half-assery that was only maybe impeded with the development of the current DOHC V6 family (and even then some would consider those to be undercheeked).

    • 0 avatar
      Ion

      The Buick V6 was a good GM V6.  It wasn’t really used that much outside of Pontiac,Buick, and Oldsmobile though

    • 0 avatar
      DweezilSFV

      ION: it was used by Jeep [The Dauntless V6] and Buick bought the tooling back from AMC so they could put it in their mid 70s models after the 1st gas crisis.

      Derivatives of the Buick V6 have been used for decades in all sorts of GM products, up to the 21st Century and the 3800 was touted as one of Ward’s 10 best engines.

  • avatar
    MSerapis

    Paul I had to laugh when I read that you had a 404! We had a 404 diesel wagon, wow talk about underpowered! But I would take that over an S10 any day!

  • avatar
    jaydez

    I recall around 2005 reading that the S-10 Blazer was the deadliest vehicle ever sold in the US.  I can’t find the article though.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      It’s not the car, it’s the owners.  This, and the two-door Explorer, are disproportionately owned by young, unmarried men with a propensity for risk-taking.  That they’re kind of tippy and have the crash safety of an empty beer can is just icing on the cake.

  • avatar
    dastanley

    although both the Iron Duke 2.5 four and the 4.3 V6 were both notoriously unrefined in their manners.

    No kidding!  About 20 years ago, my then girlfriend drove an ’89 Chevy S-10 pickup with the 2.5 iron duke / 5-speed stick.  This POS epitomized everything wrong with GM of the late 80s, including that ridiculously rough crude iron duke.  You’d think that engine came straight out of a farm tractor.  And don’t get me started on the interior falling apart, the paint peeling after one year, the radio that sounded like it was worth 39 cents – and that’s when it worked, the throttle that would stick open, the fuel gauge that needed 4 or 5 sending units over a 3 year period, and the annoying “upshift light” that told us dumb drivers when to shift gears (and if you shifted when the light told you to, the engine was constantly lugged).  That S-10 was a cruel joke thrust upon unsuspecting suckers that served their time in hell owning and maintaining those freakin things.  Good effing riddance dammit!

    • 0 avatar
      davey49

      The 2.5  was at least relatively reliable. More reliable than the 2.8 by far
       

    • 0 avatar
      fincar1

      I helped my daughter’s boyfriend buy an 89 4-cylinder 5-speed truck. Nice, shiny looking. Took the pos back when he couldn’t make the payments, and had to put a radiator and water pump in it to sell it. My mechanic said “These things have good motors but all the parts they put on them are crap.”

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Good lord that Brazilian Blazer is ugly as sin.
     
    That’s interesting, because when I saw that picture, what went through my head was “Gee, this thing could be any age”.  It’s not often that GM styling can last more than a few years (good work is a “period piece”, bad work is “tacky”).
     
    It says a lot about the Blazer that they looked kind pathetic and beaten from new, but continued to look pathetic and beaten for a quarter-century.

  • avatar
    pauldun170

    In my youth we used to all pile in to a friends 4 banger 2dr Blazer. The acceleration was theoretical. I seem to recall that not everyone cared about having 4 doors. they just needed something that could run in the snow or off road, haul stuff in the back without worrying about people grabbing it (pickups) and occasionally carry a couple of folks in the back.
    Who the hell needs 4drs when you rarely carry passengers?
    Personally, I prefered the 2dr cherokee  i6, 5spd combo or the good ole Bronco II with a 2.9 (arteries unclogged) and the 5spd.
    AWESOME trucks before it became “SUV”‘s mommy mobiles.

  • avatar
    Martin Albright

    I think what happened with the S10 series was this:  They were introduced in a rush in the early 1980′s to cash in on the desire for high-MPG vehicles.  Unfortunately, by the time they hit the market, gas prices were already dropping.  As a result, GM let them wither on the vine to concentrate on bigger, more profitable full sized SUVs. 

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    The family beater is a ’93 Blazer, four-door, with the 4.3. I think it’s kind of fun, though it sure feels American. I don’t now if it’s a Blazer trait, a Chevy trait, or a trait common to all american cars, but it feels very wallowy, it’s all over the road, the sheer weight and momentum makes slowing down an interesting affair, and you are really never sure if you are going to survive the trip. I never dare drive it over 65, because it feels like it wanders so much all over the lane, I’m afraid I will end up in the opposing lane by accident, just if I scratch my leg or something. I think the frame is slightly bent, because it has a small lean to the front right. And there’s a scraping sound from the lift-up rear window, as if some screw was loose somewhere, and constantly scraping the glass. As a beater, it is ok, all in all, quite an interesting experience, and always great fun.

  • avatar
    nikita

    Ingvar,
    Short wheelbase, kind of high CG and heavier engine than for which it was originally designed all contribute to the feeling of instability.
    I had a 1500 series 2wd pickup with the TBI 4.3 and it was great. The engine was a little crude (90 degree V-6) but efficient (up to 23 mpg hwy real world, close to my V-6 Camry) with plenty of low-end torque.  The locomotive long 131 inch wb meant it was very stable on the highway,  just a little reluctant to turn corners.

  • avatar
    John Holt

    Paul – I reckon your CC photo example was actually an ’86 or newer judging by the IP and the engine ID below the driver’s headlamp.  ’83-85 had the nearly-board-flat IP with round gauges, and the V6 was identified by a very simple badge on the front fenders.
    Wow… can’t believe what a stretch it now is to remember when these were cool.  Or, not.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    “As a result, GM let them wither on the vine to concentrate on bigger, more profitable full sized SUVs. ”

    Exactly!  The 2.8 V6 was a mutt but the torquey 4.3 was an excellent towing motor for a compact truck and would easily handle 2 ton loads. That engine is still used by Volvo and MerCruiser marine today. I had one in my 1990 boat boat. Unrefined??? Mine revved nicely all the way up to its 4800 RPM redline and would sit there quite happily if you needed it too. 
      

  • avatar
    Neb

    Was the Chevy Astro based on the same platform? I think that might be another good example of a product that by the end was almost hilariously obsolete.

    • 0 avatar
      paul_y

      I’m pretty certain it is the same platform; a lot of parts are interchangeable.
       
      Then again, I think the S10 shared front suspension bits with the G-body, so I suppose all bets are off.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      I rented an Astro in 2001 to take my daughter and everything she owned to college.  More amazing than the fact that GM was still making these things was how much I enjoyed driving it.  Definitely more truckish than other minivans, but not bad for what it was, and for how much stuff it could haul.  Of course, I used to spend a lot of time driving cargo vans, so it felt like a Mini Cooper in comparison.

  • avatar
    NN

    I had a 93 4 door 4.3 that I drove cross country, into Mexico and back and sold at 160k (tranny slipping).  Then I bought a 98 ZR2 2-door 5 speed (At the time I was unmarried, high risk taking male, as has been mentioned).  I still have that truck as my “beater” and it has 150k and actually runs great.
    From my experience with both; I agree that the refinement in general is way behind the Explorers and Jeeps, the assembly quality atrocious and the handling ponderous (and maybe dangerous).  GM certainly squandered an early lead.  However, to their credit, in 10 years of combined driving only once have I been stranded on a breakdown in either (fuel pump in a desert parking lot in Mexico).  And I get 21-22mpg to this day in the ZR2.  The 4.3 might be agricultural, but it’s tough, full of torque and mine still starts and revs like it’s brand new.  The 5 speed ZR2 is actually kind of fun to drive on rural roads, and of course, off road.
    In the end, I can’t explain my affection for my Blazers…but despite their many rough edges, they still have some charm to them.  Maybe it is because they’re so “American”, in the same way that a piece of shit older British, French, or Italian car still has a cultural charm to it.  Truth be told, I often prefer to drive my beater Blazer than my nice, boring, smooth, white Mazda sedan.
     
     
     

  • avatar
    cRacK hEaD aLLeY

    That ugly-as-sin Brazilian Blazer sells, in Brazil, for around 45,000 USD. That’s for the base model , 4 banger,  4×2, five speed manual box.
    If you go for the loaded one – there are three trim levels – the one with 4×4 and diesel engine (a MWM 4-banger, 2.8 turbodiesel)  that everyone wants… it’s only 76,000 USD. I kid you not.
    GM Sold 94,245 of these things from 95-’07.
    If you ever go to Brazil, you will see that they are a status symbol and it is common for a rich family to have one Blazer and a Corolla or Civic, all driven by a chauffeur. And all bullet-proofed. The Blazers are usually for the weekend trips to the beach/mountain homes while the Corollas and Civics are for ‘social events’. You have to keep in mind that a new Corolla / Civic sells for around 43K USD new.
    Most Blazers sold in Brazil receive an additional 25K worth of shielding  as soon as they leave the dealer lot.  Rarely anyone will drive one that’s not “blindada”  to what they refer to ‘level 3′.
    The first time I saw a bullet-proof Blazer I thought that was pretty funny considering in the US things would probably be the other-way around (people OUTSIDE being afraid of folks driving one of these things), but that’s when I noticing even Peugeot 206′s had 3.5″ shielded glass all around…
    The reason (I was told) folks buy these things over the Japanese and Korean alternatives is due to GM’s extensive dealer/parts network… and the fact that every mechanic knows it pretty well.
     
     

  • avatar
    Runfromcheney

    Good article Paul. I, too have always noticed the irony in how GM was obsessed with SUVs, but completely fumbled the opportunity to pioneer the compact SUV. Though then again, the entire Roger Smith era was simply screw-up after screw-up.
     
    However, the model you have here in the article is not a 1983; judging by the steering wheel and “Chevrolet” script on the back of the tailgate, this is a 1988 or 89 model.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      More proof that even with SUVs, General Motors simply never put their heart into anything that wasn’t large.  Too bad because my brother’s full size K Blazer was really a good truck.  Yeah there was a pretty good amount of “cheese” in the interior (loved that delay wiper stalk that sounded like crap and had all the delay in 20% of its rotation) but the mechanicals really held up well for over 250K miles.
      Not sure I understand all the hate on the 2.8 V6.  It was outclassed by the weight of the truck, but it was a good, durable design once the typical customer-provided beta testing was complete.  That engine was enlarged to become the 3.1 IIRC which we have in one of our family’s car.  Not a bad power plant, really.  Cheap and simple is ok for price sensitive vehicles.  BTW, I don’t blame the 3.1′s design for the intake gasket…they rarely leaked until Dex Death arrived on the scene.
      Lastly, are you the same “Runfromcheney” that posted on the Davidsfarm “hater site
      ?

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      I’m actually reply to golden2husky, but it looks like replies can only nest one layer deep on the new site, or did I just never notice that before?
       
      Anyway, I agree about the 2.8 V6.  In my parents’ Citation (yeah, I know) it delivered mpg in the mid 20s, which isn’t bad for a 6 even these days.  But the Blazer was definitely too much vehicle for it.
       
      Geez, that’s my second post in this article defending GM, and I’ve never bought one of their products.  What can I say, I grew up with GM vehicles, I guess I’m sentimental.

  • avatar
    TonUpBoi

    Never had the Blazer but I still have the S-10, a 1996.  145k on the clock and I’m not sure which is going to live longer, it or me.  My first Chevy in 20 years, and gave me enough respect for the marque that I was going to consider another one.  Unfortunately, there’s a double matter of bailout and Colorado.  Gives me an honst 24mpg commuting to work, will do 26 on the interstate w/cruise control.
     
    I’ve started looking for a lower mileage 2004.

  • avatar
    Via Nocturna

    I don’t think I’ve ever managed to grasp the point of a 2-door SUV.

    • 0 avatar
      paul_y

      I briefly owned a 1st-gen 4Runner. It was a serious hassle to actually use the back seat, unless the top was off and I had limber passengers.  Interestingly, the passenger door had a second handle that the front passenger wouldn’t be able to reach, but would allow someone in the back seat to open the door easily from the inside.  I found it to be a clever solution to a problem that didn’t need to exist.

    • 0 avatar
      davey49

      You must be young. All “SUVs” were 2 doors until the 80s.
      I miss the K5 Blazer

    • 0 avatar
      starbird80

      Interestingly, the passenger door had a second handle that the front passenger wouldn’t be able to reach, but would allow someone in the back seat to open the door easily from the inside.
       
      Also, the passenger side front seat had a pedal to release the sliding mechanism so the rear passenger could push the seat forward. For those few occasions where you had someone in back, but not in the front seat, I guess.  I saw it as “attention to detail”.
       
      As awkward as it was to access the rear seat in the 2-door gen1 4Runner, I was saddened to see the gen2-onwards sacrifice the removeable top to accomodate the 4-door model.  That’s the feature that made the 4Runner stand out from the competitors – despite the “cobbled together” design.
       
      I do hope you find one to feature here.

    • 0 avatar
      starbird80

      Hmm, edit function wasn’t working for me.  Wanted to add – that second passenger side handle made it easier to reach across from the driver’s side and open the door.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      You must be young. All “SUVs” were 2 doors until the 80s.
       
      The Wagoneer debuted in 1963.  I grew up with them, and even learned to drive on one, so two-door SUVs are a strange concept to me as well!

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Back in  the 80s, one  of  my  friends delivered re-manned engines in  SE New England. He  told  the  guys   stocking  his  truck to always  start  off  with  1/2 dozen  GM 2.8 V6s.

  • avatar
    mpresley

    I, too, owned one of these.  It was the vehicle that made me stop buying American.

  • avatar
    Bruce from DC

    In 1984, with a three-year old child and a second one on the way, my wife and I went shopping.  We drove this car and its Ford twin, the Bronco II . . . and rejected both for lack of a second pair of doors.  We bought the new Jeep Wagoneer (the suburbanized version of the Cherokee, with fenders matched to the body color), and it was certainly a right-sized vehicle.  Unlike you, we opted for the standard, brand-new 2.5 liter Jeep 4 cylinder which, if I recall correctly had the same HP rating as the GM-sourced V6.  The motor turned out to be a good one, with no issue during our 8 years of ownership.  In the 55-mph speed limit era, with a 5-speed it developed adequate acceleration and worked fine pulling the family and their stuff, getting about 24 mpg on the highway.  The cherokee/wagoneer drove amazingly well, considering its oxcart-style suspension.   If you tried to corner fast on bumpy roads, it could be a handful, but was otherwise tame.  Ergonomically, IIRC, the steering wheel was offset slightly relative to the driver’s seat, something that you noticed after long hours at the wheel.
    But, as its design longevity proved, the Jeep was a very serviceable vehicle . . . unlike the S-10 Blazer.

  • avatar
    davey49

    GM must have sold enough of these to not worry about “updating” it.
    The 2 doors was due to the Blazer (both K5 and S10) being cars for young men, much like the  short bed regular cab pickups that were all the rage in the 1970s.  GM didn’t think that the family values obsessed would want trucks.
    I’ve always thought that the mid 80s- mid 90s SUVs were some of the best looking cars ever made.

  • avatar

    It hurts me to imagine that we think this at all to be a curbside classic of any kind, what’ll be next? The 90 Buick LeSabre?…because it’s a car for people that need to go somewhere…and just barely.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    A friend had an 87 back in the early 90s.  What a rattling, squeaking, juddering piece of rubbish.  Also, in my midwestern climate, these eventually rusted badly.  This article confirms my belief that anyone coming into the compact SUV market in the 80s and had no preconceived notions bought a Cherokee.  In the 90s, those buyers split between Cherokees and Explorers.  Blazers were bought by GM fanboys, but there were enough of them back then that it was still a decent seller.

  • avatar
    texan01

    A buddy of mine has a 1993 two door Blazer. I’ve found it to be very crude compared to my slightly less crude 1995 Explorer.
    It’s a wash between the two on gas mileage, both manage to eek out 23mpg, but his 4.3 has 200hp (on paper) vs my 4.0 and it’s 160hp, and I think mine would win in a drag race. The 4.3 is such a crude rough running motor, that I hate driving it at speed since it sets up a resonance with the cab and makes it tiring to drive, not to mention the really vague and sloppy steering, and the oddball hump in the passenger floorboard for the converter clearance.
    The brakes leave a lot to be desired since it does share the same lousy brakes as the G bodies and the Astro Vans. A friend of mine had a 1990 S-10 extended cab with the same 4.3, and he and I were in it on the road, he wound it out to as fast as it would go, which according to the digitial speedo was about 130mph. Yeah, don’t do that as it faded the brakes in a hurry.
     
    If I had to get a small SUV from the ’80s it’d be a tossup between the Cherokee or the Bronco II.
     
     

  • avatar
    pauldun170

    The Cherokee would run forever but the instruments and trim bit would dissipate. The Bronco II would eventually reward you with cracked heads or you ended up with oiling problems.
    Blazers just kinda went “poof”.  A big pile of rust and oily engine bits. the last generation continued the legend of suck but having the HoM 4.3 V6 (hit or miss). You draw straws with that engine…it either last forever or a bearing takes a dump by 60K.
     

  • avatar
    venator

    I still use a 1989 S10 pickup with a 4.3 V6, automatic and 4wd, as a worktruck. 190,000 miles on the odometer, remarkable fuel economy, 24+ mpg (US), quite reliable, easy to work on, parts are cheap. Had it loaded to 1 ton and over without ill effects. Can tow decent-sized loads as well. Build quality is average. Bucket seats are uncomfortable, but not as bad as, say, a VW seat from the same (or any) era. All in all, I liked it enough that I talked the wife into buying a  Jimmy (we need 4wd where we live). As for the handling, a good driver knows both his own and his vehicle’s limits and drives accordingly. I do not drive older pickups or SUVs the way I drive a Porsche 928 or an Acura RSX, for example. But the smarter, fancier cars do not go places an old Blazer would, nor do they take the abuse. As for fit and finish, who cares, it’s a work truck/winter/off-road transportation! As for rust, not nearly as bad as the 4Runner. To sum it up, functional, low-cost transportation. Dozens of them are in daily use still in our small mountain town (population 7800).

  • avatar
    geozinger

    I don’t have a lot of direct experience with any of these SUV’s outside of a couple of trips in my wife’s friends’ 1988 S10 Blazer. She brought the car up to Michigan from Georgia in 1999 with 200+K miles on it. At that time the interior was badly faded, but the car never saw the inside of a garage, so the sun just disintegrated the interior like it did on most cars from the ’80′s in the South. I drove it a couple of times while helping to move some furniture and found it to be a nice sized vehicle. It’s kind of a shame they still don’t make something like this anymore, all of these kinds of vehicles have suffered from bloat.
    Hers had the crap-o-matic 2.8, but it was in good running order when I drove it. She still had the thing when she moved to Indiana in 2002, and at last report it’s still running with over 300K on the clock. 

  • avatar
    mikey

    I bought a  new 2003 2dr 4×4 Jimmy cause it was dirt cheap,at the time. GM flooded Canada with them,which did nothing for resale value. So we kept it. My wifes old job required her to drive 500 klms a week on the back roads of south central Ontario. She piled 50,000 klms on in two years. A couple of brake jobs  and oil changes,is all it ever cost The little beast is now our winter beater/work horse.

    So wifey now commutes to downtown Toronto everyday on the GO train,and she still won’t part with her Jimmy. I mentioned the other day to her,that keeping three cars was getting a little pricey. Her answer “pull your Firebird out’a winter storage,and put it in Auto Trader” Sooooo I guess were going to keep the Jimmy for a little longer.

      

  • avatar
    George B

    The Chevy S-10 Blazer (and pickup) have one valuable feature.  You can rip out the factory drivetrain and easily replace it with a powerful and inexpensive Chevrolet small block V8.  There is a market for relatively light weight RWD vehicles for drag racing.

  • avatar
    italianstallion

    But it took GM almost eight years to take a Sawzall in hand and carve out some damn rear doors.
     
    I remember wondering about this as a young kid in the mid-’80s.  The 4-door Cherokee (and Explorer later on) made so much sense and were selling like hot cakes.  It seemed ridiculous that GM couldn’t get their shit together to offer four doors until the ’90s.  WTF?
     
    A friend bought one of the rounded-off mid-’90s models, brand new.  I recall being astounded at how narrow  and off-center the driver’s foot well was (on par with the Astro Van’s so-called ergonomics).  What a POS.

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      My guess for the reason GM so badly misjudged the market for a 4-door version of the S-10 Blazer, even as the 4-door Cherokee and Explorer were cleaning up in the market, is that GM executives likely felt that the SUV market was primarily the domain of macho, true off-road male types that preferred the more trail-friendly, shorter 2-door SUVs (the traditional province of the original short-wheelbase Jeep). They failed to comprehend that soccer moms would switch from their minivans to less practical and fuel efficient small SUVs which would rarely, if ever, be taken off-road.

      It was an error that would cost GM dearly as the Explorer became one of the best selling vehicles of the nineties and, as stated, when GM finally got around to offering a 4-door S-10 Blazer, it would be an outdated afterthought which would garner only a fraction of a market fad that was by then moving in another direction (crossovers).

      In fact, the late-to-the-party 4-door S-10 Blazer may be the reason the poorly executed Aztek got approved for production. GM had missed the boat on the small- 4-door SUV market so badly that they were determined not to miss out on the burgeoning crossover segment. It’s a shame because if the Aztek had been executed properly, it might have done exactly what GM had been hoping for.

  • avatar
    venator

    Someone mentioned the Astro and Safari. These were unibody shells with the front half of the S10 frame attached underneath as a subframe for engine, gearbox, transfer case and front suspension!

    • 0 avatar
      BuzzDog

      It may not have been unique to GM, but for quite a while they seemed to have a fascination with front subframes attached to a unibody; for example, the X platform (prior to 1980) and its derivative F platform (prior to 1982).

      I’m sure there are advantages – primarily cost – but it always seemed to combine the ease of assembly of a body-on-frame platform, while losing the design flexibility of a full BOF and the superior rigidity of a unibody. The bank I worked for in college had several ’78 and ’79 Novas that were used to courier checks to the Federal Reserve, and I often felt as though the entire front end was tack welded on about 3 degrees off from where it should have been.

  • avatar
    AnthonyG

    The 1984 Cherokee had design input from a fomer Ford engineer named Roy Lunn, who worked on the Ford GT40 racecar in the 1960s. That (and the unibody) was why it handled so well for an SUV.

  • avatar
    Robstar

    My dad had a 1989 blazer for a number of years and no matter how much it rusted out, and fell apart (EVERYTHING fell apart), he finally gave it up when we convinced him that the steering column being very very lose was dangerous.  He then moved on to a 1993 buick century wagon which he still has today.

  • avatar
    NickR

    Here in southern Ontario these things rusted at pace faster than bamboo grows.  Complete rust through around the front and rear wheel wells was common after a few winters of saline road spray. 

    Ah yes, the immortal 2.8 V6.  A classic of the genre.

  • avatar
    DweezilSFV

    Worst automotive idea ever: fixed rear passenger window glass.

    • 0 avatar

      Not fun for passengers, but they do increase rigidity. For a 2+2 coupe that’s rarely going to have back seat passengers anyway, it’s not that big a deal.
       
      I have more hate for frameless door glass. I’ve never had a car with frameless glass where the windows didn’t rattle.

  • avatar
    joeaverage


    My parents had an ’84 2-door that they bought new. Paid about $12,500 for it. Replaced a ’76 Toyota Landcruiser with it. The Toyota was a FJ series I think they were called with center facing rear seats, door doors in the back, no a/c, and this was our family vehicle from ’76 until ’84. My Mom’s ride.
     
    The S-10 had a single catastrophic failure – the T-5 Borg-Warner tranny at about 10,000 miles. Dad didn’t want the dealer screwing around with his new truck so he made a a deal where we would pull the tranny at home and carry it down to them for rebuilding. Crazy but they went for it. The tranny just got to the point where it howled – badly. Once we pulled the tranny and looked inside the gears were pitted and completely worn. Anyhow I donated a whole Saturday and we got the tranny and transfer case pulled on the garage floor using a floorjack and a set of ramps. The dealer rebuilt it and we reinstalled it. That sucked!!! Anyhow the rebuilt tranny had a different set of problems and the truck was driven to the dealer in 2nd or 3rd gear. They pulled the tranny and made the fixes and we never had anymore problems.
     
    Mom and Dad drove the truck until nearly 100K miles and it was still perfect inside and out. Back seat was okay for older kids that could get themselves in and out. I remember you could not slide the driver’s seat forward easily to exit the truck, had to be in and out on the passenger side only. Bean counting???
     
    They offered it to my college-age sister when they were done with it and she chose the neighbors Celica which was for sale. I was stationed overseas. A week after they sold it the new owner totaled it. Spun it and rolled backwards into a tree? Creased the roof and the floorpan. All I could think of was Dad fussing over the Blazer all those years.
     
    The engine was rough. The tranny stick shifter had an odd growl when the truck needed a lower gear. The oil filter was only accessible through a flap in the driver’s side front fenderwell. It was reliable and comfortable and warm/cold inside as desired. It also got mid-20s with the ’84 fuel injection on the V-6 on the highway. Later in life Dad towed some really heavy stuff. Like 4,000 lbs of building materials and trailer.
     
    In ’99 my wife and I bought a CR-V b/c the domestics didn’t offer anything small and CUV that was actually domestically made. I wasn’t going to buy a Suzuki or a Mitsubishi having had exceleltn service from several used Hondas. Our ’99 ‘V has a four banger that makes 146 HP and only 20 ft-lbs less torque than my parent’s ’84 S-10 2.8L V-6.
     
    The ‘V weighs about one adult passenger less than the S-10 did. Funny because Dad still mentally puts it in a compact car class when the basic vehicle stats are similar to their old S-10. Warns me my tiny Brenderup utility trailer might push the ‘V around during stops when loaded to maybe 800 lbs. I think the ‘V might be heavier than the S-10 was at the rear axle. Certainly handles better – AWD on the ‘V puts the complex rear differential and a cross member out back.
     
    By the way we paid only about $7K more for the ‘V than they did the Chevy 15 years later which to me makes the S-10 seem pretty expensive for the era. One more thing I’ll add – our CR-V is ten years old now and the one we optioned out was only $2-$3K more than what we paid for ours. Are Honda prices flattening out?
     
    Generally speaking I liked the S-10 Blazers, trucks and crew-cabs. I wanted a crew-cab badly until I saw the mileage. I won’t go backwards on the family MPG average. Dad still drives a last year cherry S-10 4WD extended cab. I don’t know what he will buy next time ’round b/c he is not a fan of the Colorado. Just plain ugly and he isn’t happy about the 5-cylinder engine. Not too happy about the bailouts either. Still trying to rationalize it with his personal politics I think.
     
    Maybe it is the body on frame construction but I don’t like the floppy chassis feeling of that Blazer or his truck. Seems like everything is flexing and shivering on a rough road. Our unibody CR-V seems much more stiff. And we can/do tow with the ‘V. All the way up to a ton or so. I’ve cheated a time or two. Yes, I have a substantial sub-frame mounted hitch rated for 3500 lbs – even if the car isn’t rated that high… LOL! I pick my routes and traffic conditions b/c the big limitation are the brakes.
     
    I think we’ll buy another CR-V. I’ll look at the Vue but we’re not interested in anything larger from GM even though I admire some of them. Don’t want to pay for the care and feeding. Big tires, lots of gas, etc. Too bad there isn’t an updated S-10. It was about the right size.
     

  • avatar
    dolorean23

    The only other competitors to the compact Blazer’s eponymous title are the Isuzu Trooper II and the Mitsubishi Montero (Pajero).

    What about the Ford Bronco II? I seem to remember that coming out around ’84 or so. 

    although both the Iron Duke 2.5 four and the 4.3 V6 were both notoriously unrefined in their manners.

    The 2.5  was at least relatively reliable. More reliable than the 2.8 by far

    Absolutely true. Refinement aside, the “Iron Duke” 2.5 was one of the most reliable four bangers Chevy ever produced. Essentially half of a 5.3L 350 V8, Chevy added electronic fuel injection and called it good. Reliability however, is dependent on how good a shadetree you are as the headgasket was prone to blow by 100K and the exhaust manifold needed replacing soon after. Not hard jobs, but time consuming.

    Paul, what no mention of the venerated GMC Typhoon, perhaps the only collectible example of this trailer trashheap?

     

  • avatar

    The Blazer was the last vehicle produced in New Jersey. I remember seeing the plant in Linden with a Blazer displayed in front. They also made Berattas and Corsicas there. The Ford Edison plant was also one of the last NJ plants.

  • avatar
    Trashmaster

    The automatic trannys in these things imploded on their owners on a regular basis. Typical 1980′s GM, right up there with the X body Omega

  • avatar
    nrd515

    A deadly sin? I disagree.

    I had an ’88 with the most powerful engine available at the time, the 160HP 4.3. We had two problems in the 6 years we owned it. One was a hunk of trim came off where the seatbelt attached, and the then new remarkably tiny starter died. It was fixed under warranty, and that was it. I had two real complaints. The first was it was a tiny bit narrow for me, I’m a big guy and my left elbow always was rubbing up against the the door, and it annoyed me. The second was it being a two door. It wasn’t a huge deal, the hatch let my dogs get in and out fine.

    Six years later, we sold it to a friend, who drove it until 2007, 15 years, putting almost 400K on it, on top of the 58K it had when I sold it to him! It was stolen twice, trashed both times, and all he did except for repairs when he got it back, was put a transmission in it once, and a couple of water pumps and a radiator, a battery, and several sets of hoses. When it was close to the end for “Old Red”, he went out West and found a 4 door one in the same color as the other one, and he still has it. His son learned to drive in “Old Red”, and drives the newer one to school now.

    It was the second most trouble free vehicle I have ever owned, the only one better was the 82 full sized Blazer I had. Other than a headlight, the only thing that ever broke on it was the rear window track, and that was my fault for forgetting I had some wood trim I had bought that morning sticking out the back.

    I have driven a late 80′s Cherokee, and would take a 4.3 S10 over one, anytime.

  • avatar
    joeaverage

    Well a trouble free 58K miles isn’t very impressive. I’ve had cars that only recently lost their new car smell at 58K miles. -GRIN!- However – the 400K miles is VERY impressive!!!

    • 0 avatar
      nrd515

      Well, 58K was as long as I had it. I only sold it because I had 3 dogs and wanted something with a little bit more room for them and 4 doors, and more than anything, more elbow room for me. All said, it was a pleasant ownership experience. I went on a lot of trips in it, with great memories. I bought a 92 Grand Cherokee to replace it, and with the exception of A/C problems (Always fixed under warranty) and some early brake issues, it was a decent vehicle. I traded it on a 99 Grand Cherokee, and I have to say, it had zero problems, I hated that thing to the point I finally had to get rid of it, the seats were killing me, the steering wheel was off to the right (Every one of that generation I’ve sat in is the same or worse). I finally traded it for a 2000 GMC Sierra. I was very happy with it, until it got wrecked in 2003 (I hit a 1996 Camaro and a 1997 Cavalier, and totalled them both. NOT my fault!), and had a never ending series of electrical issues. I was going to buy a 2003 Sierra to replace it, identical except for price and color, but the dealer pissed me off, so down the road I went to the Dodge dealer, and soon I had a Ram, which I would still have if I hadn’t suffered two severe knee injuries. I don’t miss the gas it used, but other than that, I loved it.

      My friend and his wife had the Blazer for years without any problems except ones related to the two times it was stolen and trashed, and the time it was parked on the street, and some guy driving a flat bed truck had a diabetic problem, and passed out and sideswiped it and about 4 other cars. There was something on the side of the truck that acted like a knife and it sliced open the Blazer and cars like a pocket knife to a beer can. The Blazer was about 6 years old, and it looked great inside! We were impressed as we saw zero rust in there, and it was kind of a neat looking injury anyway.

      The second time it disappeared from his driveway when they were out of town, so it had been gone a while before it got reported, and he was about to get the check from the insurance company, and a train crew spotted it two weeks later, in a ditch, nearly vertical, and so he got it back. There wasn’t any part of the seats or carpet that wasn’t burned, cut, or both, and the tires had been sliced. He found a wrecked one and did a interior swap out, and back on the road it went. It was actually running ok when it went to the boneyard, but it leaked very badly around the windshield, to the point you would get wet sitting in either front seat, and the plasitc bags he had on top of the dash weren’t helping a lot anymore.

  • avatar
    Oren Weizman

    I had one of these, on the highway it sounded like a T-Rex with a bad case of hemorhoids was stuck in your muffler, it was such a turdsicle I hired a city employee to run it over with a snow plow

  • avatar

    I was just reading the latin america (?) chevy site… When you’re advertising stuff like clear lenses (with amber flashers) as one of the main features, you know you’re vehicle is sorely lacking!


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