Chevrolet Truck History
Style was once a luxury reserved for custom-built, one-off creations. A car named Chevrolet changed all that. In this article we will explore the Chevrolet truck history.
The Chevrolet Motor Company was formed in 1911. The new company was started in a Flint garage. It was a cooperative venture between a Belgian-born race-car driver named Louis Chevrolet and William Durant, entrepreneur and the founder of General Motors. The first Chevrolet, the Classic Six, was a premium car priced at $2,500.
Louis Chevrolet’s motto was “never give up.” And William Durant didn’t give up on the Chevrolet car after the Classic Six failed to earn a profit. He instinctively knew that a high-style yet affordable car could challenge the domination of the utilitarian Ford Model T. Chevrolet joined the GM family in 1917 as the automaker’s low-priced brand. Within 10 years the “Chevy” would be the number-one selling car in the United States.
The 1st Truck:
The first trucks in Chevrolet truck history went on sale in 1918. This was the same year that the Chevrolet Motor Company became part of GM. Chevrolet’s famous series 490 auto was also new in 1918. This model was designed to compete directly with Ford’s Model T. The 490 designation was based on the price the car was to sell for which was also the amount a Model T had been selling for. Mr. Ford immediately lowered the price of a Model T after the Series 490 was announced. The half-ton rated 490 Light Delivery was a chassis cowl only based on the 490 auto. A chassis cowl included the chassis with engine, transmission and the front sheet metal which comprised the hood, front fenders, grille and headlights. Its instrument panel, steering wheel, foot pedals and shift lever were exactly the same as the cars.
The customer was expected to provide his own cab and body. Cabs and bodies in those days were constructed of wood. Often times the buyer would build his own body, usually without a cab, but most truck buyers purchased bodies and cabs from an outside independent body company.
The 1st Redesign:
In Chevrolet Truck History, Chevrolet’s first major redesign was post-World War II. The Advance-Design series was billed as a bigger, stronger, and sleeker design in comparison to the earlier AK Series. First available on Saturday June 28, 1947, these trucks were sold with various minor changes over the years until March 25, 1955. This was when the Task Force Series trucks replaced the aging Advance-Design model.
From 1947 until 1955, Chevrolet trucks were number one in sales in the United States, with rebranded versions sold at GMC locations.
Chevrolet Truck History Differences:
Gasoline tank filler neck on passenger side of bed. No vent windows in doors. Hood side emblems read “Chevrolet” with “Thriftmaster” or “Loadmaster” underneath. Radios were first available in Chevrolet trucks as an “in dash” option on the “Advance-Design” body style.
Manual transmission shifter now mounted on column instead of floor.
Gasoline tank now mounted upright behind seat in cab; filler neck aft of passenger door handle.
Hood side emblems no longer read “Thriftmaster” or “Loadmaster”, but are now numbers that designate cargo capacity: 3100 on ½ ton, 3600 on ¾ ton, 3800 on 1 ton.
Telescopic shock absorbers replace lever-action type. Last year for driver’s side cowl vent, its handle is now flat steel, not maroon knob as in previous years.
Doors now have vent windows. Mid-year change from 9-board bed to 8 boards per bed. Last year for 80 MPH speedometer, chrome window handle knobs, and chrome wiper knob.
Outer door handles are now push button type as opposed to the previous turn down style. Speedometer now reads to 90 mph and dashboard trim is painted instead of chrome. Mid-year, Chevrolet stops using the 3100-6400 designation on the hood and changes to maroon window and wiper knobs.
Last year for the 216 in inline-six. Hood side emblems now only read 3100, 3600, 3800, 4400, or 6400 in large print. Door post ID plate now blue with silver letters (previous models used black with silver letters). Last year to use wooden blocks as bed supports.
Only year for significant design changes. Windshield now curved one-piece glass without center vertical dividing strip. Revised steering wheel. Revised dashboard. Cargo bed rails, previously angled, now horizontal. Tail lights round instead of rectangular. Grille changed from five horizontal slats to crossbar design commonly referred to as a “bull nose” grille, similar to modern Dodge truck grille. Engine now 235 in straight-6. Serial number codes unchanged from 1953. Hydramatic automatic transmission is available for the first time as a paid for option.
1955 First Series
Similar to the 1954 model year, except redesigned hood-side emblems and modern open driveshaft in place of enclosed torque tube.
1955 Second Series
First year for new body style. New “wrap-around” windshield—a truck industry first—and optional wrap-around rear window on Deluxe cabs. Power steering and power brakes became available for the first time on GM trucks. Electrical system upgraded to 12 volts. Only year for seven-foot bed length. Fenders have single headlights and one-piece emblem is mounted below horizontal line on fender. Cameo Carrier series introduced.
Wider hood emblem. Two-piece fender emblems are mounted above horizontal fender line. Last year for egg crate grille.
Only year for more open grille. Hood is flatter with two spears on top, similar to the 1957 Bel Air. Fender emblems are still above fender line, but are now oval-shaped, as opposed to previous versions in script.
First year for fleetside bed, significant redesign of front end. All light-duty trucks are now called “Apache”, medium-duty trucks called “Viking”, and heavy-duty trucks called “Spartan”. Truck has four headlights instead of the previous two and features a shorter, wider grille running the width of the front end. Parking lights are now in the grille instead of being in the front of the fender and the hood is similar to 1955/1956 models, but with a flat “valley” in the middle. First year for factory-equipped air conditioning. For 1958, GM was promoting their fiftieth year of production, and introduced Anniversary models for each brand; Cadillac, Buick, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, and Chevrolet. The 1958 models shared a common appearance on the top models for each brand; Cadillac Eldorado Seville, Buick Roadmaster Riviera, Oldsmobile Holiday 88, Pontiac Bonneville Catalina, and the all-new Chevrolet Bel-Air Impala. The trucks also received similar attention to appearance, while staying essentially durable, with minimal adornment.
Minimal changes from 1958, the most apparent was a larger and more ornate hood emblem and redesigned badging on the fenders. The last year that the NAPCO (Northwestern Auto Parts Company) “Powr-Pak” four-wheel drive conversion could be factory ordered.
The Chevy Apache/GMC K-Series replaces the line.
First generation 1960-1966
The 1960 model year introduced a new body style of light pick-up truck that featured many firsts. Most important of these were a drop-center ladder frame, allowing the cab to sit lower, and independent front suspension, giving an almost car-like ride in a truck. Also new for 1960 was a new designation system for trucks made by GM. Gone were the 3100, 3200, and 3600 designations for short 1/2, long 1/2 and 3/4-ton models. Instead, a new scheme assigned a 10, 20, or 30 for 1/2, 3/4, and 1-ton models. Since 1957, trucks were available from the factory as four-wheel drive, and the new class scheme would make this known. A C (conventional) in front of the series number indicates two-wheel rear drive while a K denotes four-wheel drive.
Actual badging on Chevrolet trucks carried the series name system from the previous generation in 1960 and 1961: the 10, 20, 30, and 40 series (C and K) were badged as “Apaches”, 50 and 60 series trucks were badged as “Vikings”, and the largest 70 and 80 series models were marked “Spartans”. In 1960, C/K trucks were available in smooth “Fleetside” or fendered “Stepside” versions. The 1.5 ton Chevrolet C40 and GMC 3000, which were using the light-duty cab (but only as chassis-cab and stake models), were discontinued for the 1963 model year.
Second generation 1967-1972
A new, more modern look came in 1967, along with a new nickname: “Action Line”. It was with this revision of the C/K truck that General Motors began to add comfort and convenience items to a vehicle line that had previously been for work purposes alone. Updated styling features for the 1967 Chevy Pickup trucks came with new body sheet metal that helps fight rust. The majority of 10 and 20 series Chevrolet trucks from 1967 to 1972 were built with a coil spring trailing arm rear suspension, which greatly improved the ride over traditional leaf springs. However, the leaf spring rear suspension was still available on those trucks, and standard on 30 series trucks. The front suspension on all Chevrolet trucks were independent front suspension with coil springs.
1967 was the only year for the “small rear window”. The standard drivetrain came with a three-speed manual transmission and one of two engines; the 250 in3 straight six or the 283 cu in (4.6 L) V8. The optional transmissions were the four-speed manual, the Powerglide and the Turbo-Hydramatic 350 and 400. The 292 six and the 327 in3 V8 were the optional engines.
The most visible change in differentiating a 1968 from a 1967 was the addition of side-marker reflectors on all fenders. Also, the small rear window cab was no longer available. The GMC grille was revised, with the letters “GMC” no longer embossed in the horizontal crossbar. Another addition was the Custom Comfort and Convenience interior package that fell between the Standard cab and CST cab options.
Third generation 1973-1987
An all-new clean sheet redesign of General Motors’ Chevrolet and GMC brand C/K-Series pickups débuted in mid-1972 for the 1973 model year. Development of the new third-generation trucks began in 1968 with vehicle components undergoing simulated testing on computers before the first prototype pickups were even built for real world testing. The redesign was revolutionary in appearance at the time, particularly the cab, departing from typical American pickup truck designs of the era. Aside from being near twins, the Chevrolet and GMC pickups looked like nothing else on the road.
The third-generation trucks are colloquially known as the “Square-body” or “Box-body” generation. GM’s official “Rounded-Line” moniker highlighted the pickup’s rounded styling cues that were incorporated into the design. This included rounded windshield corners, rounded corners of the cab roof, rounded-corner doors which cut high into the cab roof eliminating roof height, slanted front fenders, and rounded pickup box corners which allowed for rounded wraparound taillamps, a first for GM pickups. The design also featured strong distinctive curved shoulderlines which rounded out below the beltline. The curved shoulderline continued across the back tailgate on Chevrolet Fleetside and GMC Wideside models. However, the low slope of the hood and rectangular front end of the truck originated the “square/box-body” nickname, which was propagated through truck magazines and word of mouth.
The Rounded-Line generation ultimately ran for a lengthy 15 model years (1973–1987) with the exception of the Crew Cab (four-door cab), Blazer, Jimmy, and Suburban versions, which continued up until the 1991 model year. GM ends this generation with 1987 as 1987 was the last model year for the conventional cabs (two-door cab).
Fourth generation 1988-2000
In 1989, a half-ton 2WD fleetside Sport appearance package was available with black and red bumper and body trim, and a black grille with red outlined Chevrolet emblem, chrome wheels with custom center caps, and fog lights. The 89 was a limited production run set to determine how well the “sport” package would be received by consumers in the years to follow. The Sport package was more of a trim and towing package edition as well as a few engine enhancements that weren’t available on other Chevrolet trucks of the time.
The sport package was only offered from 1989 until 1992 as some insurance companies began to express concerns with the idea of a high-performance truck. The Work Truck (W/T) was introduced in 1990, which featured a single-cab long bed with Cheyenne trim and new grille with black bumpers. Of the first 1989 Silverado sport trucks there were only 5,400 produced. The Sport was re-introduced in 1990, this time with composite headlights and different sport emblems on the bedsides.
1994 models received a new front fascia, federally mandated CHMSL, many new exterior colors including a new two-tone option on the rocker panels, and new tire and wheel combinations. All 1995 models received a new interior that included a new steering wheel containing a driver’s-side airbag, a new dashboard containing a more central-mounted radio, dial-operated HVAC system and an improved gauge cluster. New front door panels, and new seating were also included.
In 1996, a passenger-side-mounted third door was optional on extended cab models.
1997 saw a passenger-side airbag on 1500 models in order to comply with new federal regulations for light trucks. Also, 1997 was to be the last year the C/K Silverado would display CHEVROLET on the tailgate.
1998 meant minor trim and badge updates.