QOTD: What Chevy Truck Was Truly the Heartbeat of America?

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
qotd what chevy truck was truly the heartbeat of america

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?

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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  • Mikey Mikey on Nov 10, 2017

    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.

  • AtoB AtoB on Nov 11, 2017

    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.

  • Alan The Prado shouldn't have the Landcruiser name attached. It isn't a Landcruiser as much as a Tacoma or 4 Runner or a FJ Cruiser. Toyota have used the Landcruiser name as a marketing exercise for years. In Australia the RAV4 even had Landcruiser attached years ago! The Toyota Landcruiser is the Landcruiser, not a tarted up Tacoma wagon.Here a GX Prado cost about $61k before on roads, this is about $41k USD. This is a 2.8 diesel 4x4 with all the off road tricky stuff, plus AC, power windows, etc. I'm wondering if Toyota will perform the Nissan Armada treatment on it and debase the Prado. The Patrol here is actually as capable and possibly more capable than the Landcruiser off road (according to some reviews). The Armada was 'muricanised and the off road ability was reduced a lot. Who ever heard of a 2 wheel drive Patrol.Does the US need the Prado? Why not. Another option to choose from built by Toyota that is overpriced and uses old tech.My sister had a Prado Grande, I didn't think much of it. It was narrow inside and not that comfortable. Her Grand Cherokee was more comfortable and now her Toureg is even more comfortable, but you can still feel the road in the seat of your pants and ears.
  • Jeffrey No tis vehicle doen't need to come to America. The market if flooded in this segment what we need are fun affordable vehicles.
  • Nrd515 I don't really see the point of annual inspections, especially when the car is under 3 years (warranty) old. Inspections should be safety related, ONLY, none of the nonsensical CA ARB rules that end up being something like, "Your air intake doesn't have an ARB sticker on it, so you have to remove it and buy one just like it that does have the ARB sticker on it!". If the car or whatever isn't puking smoke out of it, and it doesn't make your eyes water, like an old Chevy Bel-Air I was behind on Wed did, it's fine. I was stuck in traffic behind that old car, and wow, the gasoline smell was super potent. It was in nice shape, but man, it was choking me. I was amused by the 80 something old guy driving it, he even had a hat with a feather in it, THE sign of someone you don't want to be driving anywhere near you.
  • Lou_BC "15mpg EPA" The 2023 ZR2 Colorado is supposed to be 16 mpg
  • ToolGuy "The more aerodynamic, organic shape of the Mark VIII meant ride height was slightly lower than before at 53.6 inches, over 54.2” for the Mark VII."• I am not sure that ride height means what you think it means.Elaboration: There is some possible disagreement about what "ride height" refers to. Some say ground clearance, some say H point (without calling it that), some say something else. But none of those people would use a number of over 4 feet for a stock Mark anything.Then you go on to use it correctly ("A notable advancement in the Mark VIII’s suspension was programming to lower the ride height slightly at high speeds, which assisted fuel economy via improved aerodynamics.") so what do I know. Plus, I ended a sentence with a preposition. 🙂