By on November 9, 2017

1970s Chevrolet C/K, Image: General Motors

Besides delivering bedfulls of cash to Bob Seger’s front door, Chevrolet trucks have spent the last century burrowing into the very core of rural American identity. Sure, Ford sells more F-150s, and has for decades. There’s more competition now, including full-size pickups from two Japanese automakers — something unheard of in Detroit’s heyday.

Still, the Chevrolet pickup, now 100 years old, seems perpetually positioned as a more honest, more Middle America offering than its domestic rivals. Its advertising campaigns, often serving as a new salvo in its bitter rivalry with hoity-toity Ford, make this clear (Yep, those F-150 power running boards really help a fellow avoid scuffing his slacks while loading up at Whole Foods). Remember Chevy’s sputtering incredulity over Ford’s “Man Step”?

And who can forget, two decades on, the famous “Like a Rock” campaign? Rocks last billions of years, guys. Ford’s aluminum beds can be punctured by rocks (well, cinder blocks, anyway).

So, with Chevy’s big truck birthday upon us, let’s take a tally. Which Chevy pickup was the best one?

1967 Chevrolet Truck Ad

It probably wasn’t the 1918 Series 490, based on a car chassis and featuring a four-cylinder engine with horsepower in the low 20s. No, you’re probably thinking two things: C/K and Silverado. Minus the S-10 and Colorado and El Camino, that’s all we’ve been offered for over 55 years.

Having gone to high school in a rural area and off-roaded more than once in an Oldsmobile 88, Chevy trucks were a common sight in my youth. My memories of that time seem filled with late-80s/early-90s C/K regular and extended cabs, rear wheel wells rotted out from road salt, that none of my friends drove. Not a one. The only truck in my family was a mid-70s Ford F-150 SuperCab that I was too young to remember riding in.

This isn’t to say there isn’t a Chevy truck that captures my eye. Recently, as high-tech truck options pile up higher than factory incentives, I’ve found myself longing for that true, honest, plain-Jane old truck. The kind you remember from childhood, long before crew cab, ultra-lux pickups became the ride of choice for ordinary families.

There’s a clear winner. The third-generation C/K. Running from 1973 to 1987 with only one minor styling refresh (1981), the first half of this generation gets it completely right. It’s the quintessential “truck.”

On appearance along, it’s hard to deny the simplicity and subtle style of this generation, which certainly didn’t carry over into the fourth. That pronounced character line (curving down ahead of the front wheel arch for a little bit of fender-defining brawn), that sturdy, weighty-looking grille, that pleasingly curved roofline and window frame. As close to perfection as a pickup can be, in my opinion. You may disagree. Also cool about this era in Chevy trucks is the availability of snazzy paint jobs on high-end trims. This truck’s lines were made for an extra shade of paint.

I could go on objectifying old trucks all day, but it’s your turn to pick up the torch, if indeed there’s any home fires burning for the Chevrolet brand. Which Chevrolet truck hits you right in the loins?

[Image: General Motors]

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48 Comments on “QOTD: What Chevy Truck Was Truly the Heartbeat of America?...”

  • avatar
    George B

    I like the 1971 C10 short bed the best. Clean styling with a low bed. Very easy to use for work because you can easily throw stuff over the side.

  • avatar

    1967 to 1972 Chevrolet Truck – absolute classic.

    My father-in-law had one until very recently and if I had the space to keep it I would have been the one to take it off his hands.

    His was 350 V8, automatic, and Armstrong steering. My now wife drove it to high school quite a few times and I would have loved to see 5’3″ cheerleader her trying to muscle that thing into a parking place.

    • 0 avatar

      And they had trailing arms and coils in the rear (going back to 1960), decades before Ram, for a nice ride.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. Learned to drive in my dad’s ’72 C10. The 350 threw a timing chain at 200K miles, this very amateur mechanic had it replaced in a couple hours. The whole vehicle was simple and nearly indestructible. I like the third gen but find the styling a bit too busy compared to the second.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m with you on this one, PDan. My Great Uncle had one he bought new, a ’70 I think. Short bed, 4×4, V8, setup to go hunting. Rubber mats, but the gauge package, Auto, p/s and HD everything. Mint green with dark green vinyl seat and an aluminum bed cap. When he died a few years ago I think it had 14K on it or so. Absolutely perfect in every way, I think he only actually took it in the woods a couple times, and for the last 25 years it went to the dump once a week, but only when the roads were dry.

      The late ’90s Chevy truck my grandfather had was a heap of plastic crap. They seem much better now, but if I had a gun to my head and had to buy a truck it would be a Ford.

    • 0 avatar

      “1967 to 1972 Chevrolet Truck – absolute classic.”

      Tough to argue against that but someone will ;)

  • avatar

    Hands down, it’s the TV ad (yes, I’m old enough to remember watching it when it aired) of the ’73 C10 pulling a 747. IIRC, the truck had a 454, automatic, 4-wheel-drive, with 4.11 gears. According to the Wikipedia article on the 747, the empty weight of a 747-100 (likely what was used in the ad) was 379,500 pounds.

  • avatar

    The one in the first picture is wearing aftermarket alloys (American Racing, I believe).

  • avatar

    My favorite Chevy truck is the 454SS from the early 90s.

    In general, I’m a bigger fan of GM’s SUVs.

  • avatar

    I’ll go with the 67-72. Honest styling, the cleanest design of all.

    A workmates of mine sprung for a ’73 GMC, fully loaded. Within a few short years (in California mind you) the paint faded, rust began showing and the doors began to sag. That was a noted weak spot for that series.

    Better build quality in the previous series.

    But I still like my ’85 ford bullnose better than either of the Chevys.

  • avatar

    Well, the third generation finally got the seating and leg room right. But the quality of the body isn’t great, with the doors fracturing where the hinges attach, and poor fitment of the door and body, allowing air to blow through. Then the engine sitting down in a deep recess makes maintenance tough. I prefer the 60-66 with coil springs on all four wheels, they really do give the smoothest ride. (Ask Dodge) The body quality is one of the best also.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    On my bucket list is a retirement build of a 86 or 87 Silverado k series long bed.

    Resto mod it with a 09 – whatever from whatever with a 5.3 motor and trans swap.

    Fantastic F.E packed onto a timeless look.

    Upgrade radio to accomodate tunes from the phone and in my opinion you have a love story.

  • avatar

    The C/K trucks are the Heartbeat of America. You’ll see any number of them held together with sheetmetal patches and Trump/Pence stickers. As well as a homemade dual exhaust where the pipes are unequal and one is hanging down, blowing smoke and unburned fuel from the tired 350 upfront. “They didn’t get no better than a ’92 CK with a 350”.

    That being said, a clean C/K truck is a rarity anymore and an eye-catcher. I did like the 454SS truck on style alone. Simple and clean style, especially for GM at the time. It has aged better than a similar Ford from 88-96 (and I prefer Ford trucks to GM)

    I remember the debate on whether the 97 F-150 was “too feminine” compared to the squared off Chevy. Same ol’ debate, the Chevy truck has always seemed more evolutionary and Ford more revolutionary.

  • avatar

    Square body Chevy gets my vote, owing to its simplistic design and longevity. It also happens to be the only GM made pickup I’ve owned. Like many budget-conscious middle Americans, I’ve generally favored the less expensive Dodges.

  • avatar

    Poo on the author’s choice of ’73-’87! Most of those were malaise era with emission controlled carburetors. Have we forgotten how bad that was?

    My vote is for the ’47-’53 “Advance Design”. Last body design before they turned into boxes. Real truck suspension with solid front axle.

  • avatar
    Middle-Aged Miata Man

    “…it’s hard to deny the simplicity and subtle style of this [third] generation, which certainly didn’t carry over into the fourth.”

    I prefer the third-gens too out of sheer nostalgia, but it is rather amazing how well GM upgraded the styling on the GMT400s. They were completely new, yet looked like a natural evolution of the blockier 70s-era C/Ks and were still instantly recognizable as GM trucks.

    That’s a pretty impressive feat, especially considering how much GM got horribly, laughably wrong during that era.

  • avatar

    ’67 to ’72 and the ’88 to ’99 GMT400, a toss-up for me. I spent many hours offroad in the back country of Southeastern Idaho in a ’72 Cheyenne – bulletproof and very well built. I owned a ’90 Cheyenne 2-wd cab and a half for seven years and 275k miles. This truck was likewise well built (thanks, Oshawa; well done!) and bulletproof except for GM’s electronically tuned radio and the common rusting of the cab corners. That 4.3 liter w/5-man was great and never, ever needed servicing other than regular oil changes. I did go through 3 clutches (which I replace myself – man, that 5spd was as long as an auto with that attached bellhousing). The ’73 through ’87 trucks felt and drove pretty cheap for my tastes. I never liked the styling or the propensity for tinworm.

    • 0 avatar

      I like my 94 Silverado extended cab. Two tone paint, bucket seats. I bought it new off the lot with 5 miles on it. Still going strong and looking good with its original paint. No rust issues where I live. I also have an 09 Silverado crew cab, but in many ways I like the 94 better.

  • avatar

    ” Sure, Ford sells more F-150s, and has for decades. ”

    Actually not true. Ford sells more *F-series* trucks, but haven’t always sold more F-150s. In the early 2000s Chevy sold more 1500s than Ford sold F-150s; it’s just the Ford sells so many HD trucks that their overall total surpassed Chevy. (And just to be clear, I’m not including GMC in any of these comparisons.)

  • avatar

    I nominate the 1948 “Advance Design” trucks – Chevy’s first true postwar effort and a classic to this day.

    • 0 avatar

      I would even go one step back for the art deco stylings of the AK series.

  • avatar

    For better or worse, the ’73 model was when Chevy trucks started to feel car-like inside – nice woodgrained dash that could have come from a Chevelle or Impala, nice padded doors and such. It was here where people who didn’t need trucks started buying trucks (and the SUVs based on them). Sit in the 2nd or 3rd row of a ’60s Suburban and almost everything you see and touch is painted metal. The ’73 was the first softie. How well it performed as a truck I don’t know, never owned one.

  • avatar

    GMT400 for me.

    Great timeless styling, functional and rugged without resorting to oversized chrome grilles or overstyled features. Looks better than any truck on sale today.

    Indestructible powertrains, and decent power especially in Vortec form.

    “Like a Rock” was no joke with these. I must see 3 1990s GMs still on the road for every Ford or Dodge of comparable vintage. Many still doing hard work here in farm country.

  • avatar

    I grew up in truck country but learned to drive in a Datsun 720. I was deprived of the experience of Chevy ownership until attempting to live with a well-used ’65 three-quarter-ton. Too well used, as it turned out.

    As pretty as the 65 and even the later 67 were, I would have to vote for the 73-87 as well. Where were those cool stripey paint jobs in the ad photos? My town never got those.

    One of my best friends (who was always a bit too confident anyway) received a worn ’76 long box 2wd from his grandfather. It was faded silver/red, with a dash blown apart in a shotgun-loading caper. Through family favors and gifts it’s steelies and mud tires were replaced with Cragars and huge Eagle ST’s (THE tire of the ’80s) and an amazingly good gloss black paint job. All new chrome, including a light bar. Dual chrome pipes, grille, and new chrome bumpers finished the look.

    That truck ruled the school parking lot and the cruising spots, even though my small town had started to become infused with small German sedans and convertibles (oil money). That truck wasn’t fast, expensive, or trendy, plus it’s gas tanks (2!) leaked. Girls loved it and we wanted to own it. The newer trucks, good as they are, will just never hold the same cache to me.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d like to trade in this old truck
      ‘Cause it makes me think of her and that just slows me up
      See, it’s the first place we made love, where we used to sit and talk
      On the tailgate all night long, but now she’s gone
      An’ I need to move on

    • 0 avatar

      I just missed the square-body 1967-72s, driving-age wise. Got my license in 1975. And in suburbia, trucks were not that common. Besides which, OUR family truck was a Jeep Wagoneer.

      However. I went to work at a small-town DPW, mid-1970s…their whole motor pool was Chevrolet. They had some ratty Advance Design stake trucks (and one pickup) and two Task Force pickups; five of the 1959-66s, with and without wraparound windshields.

      And two of the square-body ones. Only two. Budget increases had them go hawg-wild on the later Chevrolets…we had a few 1973s, two 1974s (one a C60 dump with a snowplow, no front-axle drive) and a 1975, 1976 C30 stake trucks.

      The newest Chebbys didn’t hold up. Now the engine was gutless, but we all understood why. And the 292 six looked good, on paper…those trucks being low mileage, the engineering had yet to be proven.

      But, body rust…and doors sagging…and instrument-panel wiring glitches…the carlike clutch was good for new-pickup owners; but not for a work vehicle.

      The following year, 1978, they switched their fleet buying to Ford. Of course, Fords of that era rusted even FASTER, but that wasn’t yet known…

      Meantime, the two square-body Chevrolets, just hanged around…the doors held up, the engines started, the “armstrong” steering was not unexpected in such a vehicle. Not unlike the Advanced Design trucks, which looked like they were aimed for the scrapyard…but everything worked on them

  • avatar

    My favorite is the Chevy version of GMC’s Gentleman Jim.

  • avatar

    Yep, Chevy all the way for me. Sorry, Ford and Dodge.

    First new vehicle I ever bought was a factory-ordered 1976 C-20!

  • avatar

    It’s bizarre behavior GM went out of its way to not offer an extended cab fullsize pickup, until deep in the ’80s. The S10 even had one 1st. Meanwhile GM happily provided cars no one asked for (or bought), left and right.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      In this business you lead, follow, or get out of the way.

    • 0 avatar

      “to not offer an extended cab fullsize pickup, until deep in the ’80s. ”

      Excellent point because that was exactly the reason I bought my first-ever brand new truck, a 1988 ExtCab/Long Bed Silverado with the 350 V8.

      When I finally sold it to an illegal alien Mexican in Jan 2011, I had replaced nearly all of the parts on it, except the driver-side rear axle bearing.

      That truck is still doing daily driver duty, to this day, in Nebraska where the guy works at a meat-packing plant!

  • avatar

    “Minus the S-10 and Colorado and El Camino, that’s all we’ve been offered for over 55 years.”

    Granted, it was an Isuzu underneath, but is there no love for the Chevy LUV? Captive import it may have been, but it was still sold as a Chevrolet.

  • avatar

    I agree on the 3rd generation C/K. My grandfather had a limeade color C10.

    Only thing that would stop me from wanting one are those damn side saddle gas tanks. I would gladly pay the money to retrofit something safer, but no idea if there’s anything on the market.

  • avatar

    My favorite, hands down, is the ’67-’72. Kinda the Tri-Five of pickup trucks.

    But arguably the best Chevy Trucks ever were the ’47-’53 Advance Design models.

    Built to a high standard in its day – Chevy’s general manager, Nicholas Dreystadt, had started at Mercedes-Benz before coming to Cadillac and finally Chevrolet – these trucks were durable and handsome. No wonder they’re in demand today alongside the ’67-’72s.

  • avatar

    I am a Toyota / Honda type. However, the 2017 Chevy Pickups are just plain perfect. Best pickup ever. Sometimes, I consider buying a brand new Silverado 1500 …

  • avatar

    Like many others here, the GMT400 would be my choice..My dream truck would be a 95 Chevy 4X4, regular cab, long box.

    Unfortunately up here in the great lakes, the rust monster has ate most of them. The few that are around have either been imported from the USA, or stored in the winter..The odd time one comes up for sale, and are snapped up in the $13-!5 K , CDN ,range.

    I’ve considered a U.S truck ? After adding up all the costs, shipping , import duties, to say nothing of the 26-27 cent exchange, just not worth it.

  • avatar

    Good timing!

    I was in getting my car smogged a couple of days ago with an ’81 Chevy pickup just ahead of me in the que. Good GOD did it stink! I had to vacate the building! I spoke with the tech afterwards, the truck polluted so bad the machine wouldn’t even turn on.

    The owner was a younger guy with no clue about cars. I gently asked him about his truck and recommended he take it in for an honest to God tune up before wasting money trying to get it smogged again.

    The good news is that it had well over 300,000 miles on the clock.

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