Dive into the history of Chevy
Chevrolet Pickup Trucks -
One could make the case that Ford invented the ”pickup truck.” However, Chevrolet should get the credit for making them stylish. Chevrolet followed Ford’s lead by introducing a pickup truck based on their current car frame in 1918 just one year after Ford’s Model TT in 1917.
The Chevrolet “Light Delivery” was, basically, just a cowl and chassis. It was a Chevrolet model Four Ninety car stripped of its body, except for a cowl and dashboard, then upgraded for weight capacity with stiffer rear springs. Soon, Chevrolet added a second model. The 1-ton HD, based on the FA series car without its sheet metal and with a strengthened frame and suspension; oddly, it was called the Chevrolet Model T. The Chevrolet Model T boasted a 37 HP engine for hauling the heavier loads with a governed top speed of 25 mph.
Four Ninety and Model T truck buyers would be left on their own to fit their trucks with bodies. Frequently, just wooden boxes or platforms. Or, they could contract a body company to build a panel truck or passenger carrier.
1918 Four Ninety with a Passenger Body - Grandfather of the Suburban?
Chevrolet Model T 1 Ton with a Flatbed Body - Note the Wooden Backrest on the Seat
It would be 12 years before the production of a model that could be considered a true forerunner of the modern pickup truck. Chevrolet already had a great engine to power its new line of trucks. The six-cylinder overhead-valve “Stovebolt” six was powering Chevy cars since 1928. Nicknamed the “Stovebolt” because some of its fasteners looked like the bolts used to assemble cast iron stoves it would live on until the ‘50s.
In 1930 the first Chevy, factory-built, pickup truck was offered equipped with the 50 horsepower “Stovebolt” overhead-valve, in-line six. Custom built, owner supplied, bodies were not necessary but still optional. Now, a complete, ready to work, truck was available from the factory. Equipped with a steel bed and a roadster body, it was called the “Roadster Delivery.”
Throughout most of the 1930s, the depression stifled innovation and development; but as the country began to see some relief, GM decided to take advantage of the increasing industrial and retail demand for trucks by introducing the class-leading 1937 models. Styling was becoming softer and more aerodynamic. Things we take for granted today, like hydraulic brakes and overhead valve engines were still new and developing technology in the ‘30s. Ford had been hanging on to its cable activated brake system for years, and the war between hydraulic and mechanical brakes was an ongoing battle in advertising and sales floor feature benefit/selling. Power and economy were just as important in the ‘30s as they are today, and Chevrolet emphasized their engine’s 78 HP rating and excellent fuel efficiency. Chevrolet sent a new Chevy pickup on a 10,245-mile journey carrying 1060 lbs to demonstrate the new truck’s capability. On that trip, monitored by AAA, that truck achieved an average of 20.74 miles per gallon, not bad even by today’s standards.
It wouldn’t be long before WWII would take the auto manufacturers out of the retail business and turn their massive manufacturing capacity into making the machinery that would help the United States and its Allies win the war. In 1942 Fisher Body stopped building beautiful Cadillacs and began building Sherman Tanks. Buick division built bomber engines, and Chevrolet’s experience in truck building went into producing armored transports and ambulances. GM produced some 854,000 trucks, including amphibious vehicles, for the war effort.
It wasn’t until 1947 that an all-new Chevy pickup truck premiered as a 1948 Model. The Advance Design Trucks.
I, personally, consider the Advance Design Trucks the beginning of family-friendly - daily transportation - work and play - pickup trucks. Pickup owners were no longer punished for driving a truck. Chevy isolated the cab from the frame with rubber mounts for a more comfortable ride, they improved ventilation, increased the windshield size for better visibility, and added an adjustable seat. Styling was fresh, almost car-like, and would stay current until 1954 with only minor styling changes. Its look has become iconic with modern-day references seen in the SSR and HHR models.
Back to The Future - 1955
If ever there was a pivotal year in truck and car innovation, it was 1955. Chevy and Ford were in a heated battle, and the big three had all introduced new styling on their car lines. Ford Restyled their F-1 truck in 1952 and still had a few more years before its next redesign, but Chevy was armed and ready to launch a truck that as stylish any car in their line-up. Styling aside, there was another weapon in the arsenal - the 256 cid V-8. Known commonly as the “Small Block Chevy V8,” it only gained that moniker when the 348, 409, and larger engines were available.
Up until 1955, typical pickup truck design was a cab, distinct front fenders, exposed running boards, a narrow box for a bed, and two protruding fenders on each side of the box. That all changed with the introduction of the 1955 Chevy Cameo.
The Chevy Cameo Carrier
The cab and front fenders were no longer separated. Instead, the fenders and doors were part of one sweeping line that continued right through the rear fenders to the taillights. The taillights were the same lights used on the 1954 Chevrolet cars and replaced the typical, round, stand-alone lights most trucks used at that time. The Chevrolet Cameo Carrier was a look into the future design of all modern trucks. Not just a pretty face, the sleek styling was backed up by the new V8 engine’s power and reliability. On its way to becoming family transportation, the automatic transmission option meant anyone could drive this truck. Standard equipment included chrome bumpers, grille, door handles, window accents, full wheel covers, and a red and white paint scheme. Deluxe interiors came standard with arm-rests, dual sun visors, a cigarette lighter, chrome interior door-knobs, and a wrap-around rear window.
The Cameo was not a huge sales success, but it started a trend. Customers were asking for more optional equipment on their trucks, and Ford thought enough of the sleek bed design to introduce the Ford Styleside in 1957, mimicking the bed style of the Cameo. Not to be outdone by Ford, when Cameo production ceased in 1957, Chevrolet made the Fleetside bed available on their mainline pickup trucks for the 1958 model year.
In 1956 you could have your dealer install 4WD, but it wouldn’t become a factory-installed option until 1960. The 1957 model year saw the introduction of the 283, a larger displacement version of the 265 V8, and an in-factory built four-wheel drive option.
The next major redesign of the Chevrolet and GMC pickup trucks came in 1960. No longer called the Task Force - Chevrolet introduced the C/K model designations in 1960. A ‘C’ Series Truck was a rear-wheel drive, and a ‘K’ Series truck was a four-wheel drive. Numbers after the letter now defined the capacity of the truck starting with the C10 for 1/2-ton, C20 for ¾ ton and C30 for 1 ton, etc. Through the years, the number designations changed with GMC using 1500-3500, and eventually, Chevy adopting the 1500-3500 designations.
Car and truck styling started to mimic jet planes and rockets more and more, and the Chevy truck was no exception. The hood design resembled the air intakes of a jet engine. Based on Chevy truck advertising, you could see that GM knew that styling was now as important as capability. The jet plane themed hood was not a particularly attractive look and lasted only until the end of 1961 production. When I look at the 1960 and 1961 Trucks, I think of the Pontiac Aztec. Both vehicles look like two different design teams worked on the vehicle, and rather than fight over which design was best, they took both and just stuck one on top of the other.
GM saw the light in 1962 and redesigned the hood turning that oddball look into a nicely integrated design considered classic today. Advertised as “Easy View Styling,” the phrase referred to the view from the driver’s seat, but I believe it also referred to the view from outside of the truck.
The Task Force design lasted until 1966, and in the 1967 Model Year, Chevrolet brought out the redesigned Action Line of trucks. These trucks were so highly-styled they became known as the “Glamour” pickups. More and more engine and creature comfort options were becoming available. Optional comfort and convenience packages received names like Cheyenne for Chevy and Sierra and Sierra Grande for GMC. Based on Chevy advertising, you can see the emphasis on comfort and styling is starting to take precedence over work truck capability. The market had grown for pickup trucks so large that trucks accounted for a full 1/3 of vehicle sales in the USA.
The name Silverado first appeared in 1975 as a trim package. The Sierra name was already in use on GMC trucks. They became the top line GM trucks of the era. Luxury features typically found on higher-end GM cars made their way into the Silverado and Sierra trucks. Features we take for granted today like full carpeting and headliners, softer seating, woodgrain, and extra sound deadening made owning a Silverado or Sierra C or K series truck just like owning a Caprice with a huge trunk. The 1966-1972 models and the next generation 1973-1987 trucks are considered classics today and have a considerable following in the collector market. They have become the basis for nut and bolt factory correct restorations and high dollar, high-performance custom builds.
The redesigned 1973 Chevy Trucks were referred to by GM as the “Rounded Line.” GM was referring to smoothed body lines that made the truck a little more aerodynamic, but the truck world nicknamed them the “Box Body” or “Square Body” due to the square front end and grille design. The 1973 models were a real step into the modern era of pickup truck design. Many components were engineered with the aid of computers and tested via computer simulation before going into production.
1973 was also the first year for the Dually Crew Cab. Available on the “Big Dooley” it was the perfect truck for the then-popular slide-in campers. The whole family could now ride safely in the cab of the truck.
The 1973 to 1987 Chevy and GMC trucks proved their worth becoming the longest-running GM truck design at the time. Thousands of these trucks are still on the road today. Their advanced design and subsequent safety features make them viable transportation even in the 21 st century.
In 1988 the C/K designations were still the identifiers but, so many customers were buying the Sierra and Silverado trim packages that GM decided to rename the GMC version, the GMC Sierra. 1988 was also the first year GM offered an extended cab pickup truck. GM joined the extended cab truck group a little late, but by including a door on one side and eventually on both sides of the extended portion, they defined what an extended cab pickup truck would be from then on. Now the kids, the dog, or the rest of the work crew could easily enter and exit.
Redesigns were becoming extremely expensive as the government imposed stricter safety and economy standards. Hence, the 4 th Generation Chevy trucks stayed basically the same with optional equipment changes taking precedence over drastic styling changes. So many of this generation Chevy and GMC trucks are still on the road today it’s hard to believe that these trucks are over 30 years old.
Silverado and Sierra Take Hold
In 1999 the Chevy Truck was no longer a C or K model but a Silverado and the GMC a Sierra. Their sales success made those names household words, and people who own later C and K models often mistakenly refer to them as a Silverado or Sierra. Styling is similar to the previous model, but the two models share very little.
The Silverado and Sierra’s appeal to the masses as daily family transportation had grown to the point that more extended cab - shorter bed models were sold at the retail level than traditional 8 ft bed standard cab models. In 2003 the “Crew Cab” was made available on the light-duty trucks, and with its front-hinged door and more extended cab, the Chevrolet and GMC pickup trucks had officially become sedans. Who would think that the crew cab body style would become the norm for all pickup trucks that weren’t fleet or work truck only units?
A slight facelift on the 1500 series Silverado set it apart from the HD models. Ford had separated their F-150 from the Super Duty Line in 1997, making it a completely different truck. Still, GM continued with the same basic body opting to differentiate the workhorses from the family work and play trucks by changing front sheet metal and grille design. Capitalizing on the iconic SS moniker that was attached to high-performance Chevrolet cars, Chevy brought out the Silverado SS.
With all-wheel drive and performance car acceleration, its nickname was the “Corvette of pickups.” It could still carry almost 1,500 lbs. of cargo and tow up to 7500 lbs. Without a load or trailer, it could run through the ¼ in under 15 seconds.
In 2007 an all-new Silverado and Sierra truck were introduced. With more horsepower, more luxury options, and increasing levels of technology, this generation would make way for the redesigned 2014 with sales totaling 664,803 units for 2013.
The next major styling and engineering changes came in 2014, and sales moved up to 805,135 units for the final year of this generation Silverado and Sierra, 2018.
There is little doubt that the redesigned 2019 Silverado and Sierra will not continue the upward sales trend.