A Texan's First Truck

Phillip Thomas
by Phillip Thomas

I used to daily drive a 1969 Chevrolet CST/10. The 1967 to 1972 Chevrolet and GMC trucks were a big step towards what we see now as a modern pickup. Gone were the divorced hood and fender styling, strong (uni)brow hood line, and lean-forward look of the cab. This bodystyle would later define the bodylines and grille design of the later trucks, especially in the early GMT800 trucks where they share the same hood and style-line down the side.

What arrived was a clean-cut design, with more upright styling, streamlined front and side sheet metal, and modern proportions. The coil spring trailing arm suspension in the rear was a revolution in handing and ride comfort; so much so that NASCAR still uses an identical rear suspension today. The long control arms are resistant to axle hop, and improve the behavior of the rear axle. The front suspension was a short/long-arm design, similar to contemporary GM sedans at the time, though much stronger.

And for HD applications, you could still get a traditional leaf sprung rear end, though on paper the two were rated for the same payload. By far, GM had the best truck chassis at the time compared to Ford and Dodge’s relatively uncivilized pickups. Dodge was still using a dead-beam front axle, and Ford was in full swing with their front swing arms; which after recently driving one makes me appreciate my CST/10’s SLA suspension.

Settling into the 2000’s, these attributes made the truck popular with hotrodders of all types. The custom truck scene clamored to shove airbags into the trailing arm trucks for a cheap and easy bagged suspension. The Pro-Touring scene found that overall suspension package was relatively capable. And the muscle truck guys found comfort in the fact that a fair number of them came with a 396 big block and 4spd, or often a TH400 auto — making these a decent drag truck.

I was in high school when I first started seeing these trucks, but my tastes ran towards the mini-truckin’ scene, and I read Truckin’ mag religiously. Pages and pages of air kits for Hardbodies and S10’s, wheels of every shape and taste and a wealth of custom suspension to gawk at in the various feature trucks. The ’67-’72’s always stood out, since they were just damn good looking no matter what you did, while the platform lent itself to an array of different builds and drivetrains.

My neighbor, also a gear head, had brought home a ’69 CST/10 one day. It took all of five minutes for him to realize it wasn’t going to fit in his garage once he got it here, and offered it to me for $500. It was a rolling shell, no motor or transmission. I scrounged up cash from my parents, and in January of ’07, it was mine.

Most of the big money parts came from my family during Christmas and my birthday. New light lenses, door panels, giant 4-core radiator, lights, etc. I dredged through the 67-72Chevytrucks.com forums for build ideas. Some of what I took back were upgrading to 73-87 “Heavy Half” 12.5” disc brakes up front, seats out of a modern ’08 Silverado (GM has used a flat floorpan since forever, seat swaps are easy), shoulder belts out of an 80’s S10 (the cab has threaded anchors for the upper belt), and H4 conversion headlights. In the winter of ’07, I sold my ’90 Pontiac Firebird and used the cash to finish the truck. It eventually gained a new gas tank, 3” lowering springs and shocks, and a few other tricks before hitting the streets.

On my birthday, February of ’09, I took it for its first legal drive. To say that it was the baddest truck at the highschool parking lot was an understatement. My orange, low, loud, black-steelied CST/10 stood out from the cookie-cutter bro trucks, with its retro looks and the distinct rumble from the mild cam in the 350 small-block.

I drove it hard for four years, before driving it from Austin to College Station for a weekend of drinking and partying, and then to Houston to store it. At the time, I was flipping cars to pay for college, and making half-decent cash. But storage was an issue, and I was stuck with 4 cars at once. My dad had a side driveway for a trailer that I could stash the truck in for the time being.

The truck ended up sitting for three years, partly due to unresolved mechanical issues. I would take it out every few months to go around the block and burn off some fuel, and top it off with fresh gas to keep the fuel happy. Unfortunately, during one nostalgic full throttle run, it blew a freeze plug, and began to overheat. While my Dad was confident that I could drive it the last mile home by driving to speed and coasting with the motor off, I was unsuccessful

I managed to push the orange behemoth into a parking lot and started walking home. I was surfing Craigslist for a new small block, or cheap LS 5.3 truck motor. A buddy of mine came over and we rope-towed the truck to my house. Once I got home, I was so frustrated, I didn’t bother to look at it. When my dad came home later, we put a wrench on the crank and found that the motor still spun. Meaning, it wasn’t seized. The level of relief I felt is hard to put into words. Must be the starter, I thought.

After running to 4 different parts stores, trying to remember where I had a lifetime warranty on the damn thing, I installed it only to find no change. Then, it hit me. Battery cables. The steam from the freezeplug had flash-corroded the terminals and killed the connection. Sure enough, a little backwoods trick of soaking the cable-ends in Coke was all it took to get it fired up. Even so, I never really got around to replacing the freezeplug, on account of my studies and other events in my life.

It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I got around to replacing it, fixing the motor mounts and all the other fun stuff that needs to be done after a vintage truck has been sitting idle for years.. My goal now was to get it ready to drive back to Austin on the next weekend. After a few hours messing around with the thing, it came time to fill it with coolant and fire it up.

Almost instantly there was a leak from the back of the block.

No.

Both sides of the block.

No, no.

A quick rev of the throttle to knock the carb off high-idle, and then two more freeze plugs blew. Nope. No more of this day. As the steam billowed from the engine bay I took a long look at the truck. Visions of “For Sale” signs danced around in my mind.

Phillip Thomas
Phillip Thomas

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  • Jim brewer Jim brewer on Jan 06, 2014

    Dad bought a 1970 Ford. In retrospect, The GM trucks were clearly superior. Ford had dangerous suspension and brakes. GMs were more well-sorted. I think the GMs look better, although the Fords look darn nice now, too. Its a little unclear whether the author has sold or is about to sell the truck. I'd think twice. A good old truck is a handy thing to have for once in a while use. A classic old truck is even better. Zero depreciation expense is helpful.

  • Skink Skink on Jan 07, 2014

    I would love to get a pickup of this era. Just one thing: in what model year did Chevy introduce the club cab? Same question about Ford?

    • See 2 previous
    • Skink Skink on Jan 08, 2014

      @poltergeist Thanks guys. I meant to type crew cab. Thanks for correctly guessing what I meant.

  • Kosmo Love it. Can I get one with something other than Subaru's flat four?
  • M B When the NorthStar happened, it was a part of GM's "rebuilding" of the Cadillac brand. Money to finance it was shuffled from Oldsmobile, which resulted in Olds having to only facelift its products, which BEGAN its slide down the mountain. Olds stagnated in product and appearances.First time I looked at the GM Parts illustration of a NorthStar V-8, I was impressed AND immediately saw the many things that were expensive, costly to produce, and could have been done less expensively. I saw it as an expensive disaster getting ready to happen. Way too much over-kill for the typical Cadillac owner of the time.Even so, there were a few areas where cost-cutting seemed to exist. The production gasket/seal between the main bearing plate and the block was not substantial enough to prevent seeps. At the time, about $1500.00 to fix.In many ways, the NS engine was designed to make far more power than it did. I ran across an article on a man who was building kits to put the NS in Chevy S-10 pickups. With his home-built 4bbl intake and a 600cfm Holley 4bbl, suddenly . . . 400 horsepower resulted. Seems the low hood line resulted in manifolding compromises which decreased the production power levels.GM was seeking to out-do its foreign competitors with the NS design and execution. In many ways they did, just that FEW people noticed.
  • Redapple2 Do Hybrids and be done with it.
  • Redapple2 Panamera = road porn.
  • Akear What an absurd strategy. They are basically giving up after all these years. When a company drinks the EV hemlock failure is just around the corner.
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