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A Short History of the Chevrolet C/K Truck 1967 – 1987

1986 Chevy C10 Silverado

Over the course of two decades, the Chevrolet C/K pickup transformed the landscape for all trucks to come. The Chevy truck in a short time went from agricultural to offering luxuries customarily found only in passenger cars, then ushered in a new era of design to improve fuel economy through better aerodynamics, after the energy crises of the Seventies.

Here’s a brief look at the generations of Chevrolet C/K trucks that ushered in the modern age, covering model years 1967 through 1987, and found in Chilton manuals 28620 and 28622.

First Generation Chevy C/K Truck: 1960 – 1966

1960 Chevy C10 Fleetside TruckChilton doesn’t cover these early trucks, but we would be remiss not to mention the Chevrolet truck that introduced the modern integrated body design, drop center frame, and independent front suspension to trucks. Model year 1960 was also the first to use the C10/20/30 nomenclature that would continue until the late 1980s. The all-coil-spring suspension introduced in 1963 under the two-wheel drive version of these trucks is nearly identical to that under the trucks up until 1972. One of the reasons these trucks are such popular projects is this car-like chassis, which was also the basis for the NASCAR rear suspension design.


Second Generation Chevy C/K Truck: 1967 – 1972

1970 Chevy C10 TruckThe second generation Chevy C/K arrived in 1967 with a cleaner, more modern look than the previous generation truck. The new trucks were the first in Chevrolet’s history to offer the creature comforts and convenience items to attract an audience beyond those who bought trucks for farm or field. There were few changes for 1968; DOT mandated side reflector markers appeared on all fenders, and the small rear window cab was dropped. This year was Chevrolet’s 50th anniversary in the truck business, and celebrating the occasion was a Golden Anniversary package which boasted an exclusive white roof-gold-white lower stripe paint scheme. There were no real changes for 1969, and 1970 had a small change to the C/K’s grille, but nothing compared to the full egg-crate grille introduced the following year. The 1971 edition also introduced the Cheyenne as the top-line trim above the base Custom and mid-level Custom Deluxe, though in 1972 the Cheyenne would drop to a rung, in favor of the new top-line Cheyenne Super.

Mechanically, the second-gen Chevrolet C/K trucks first arrived with either a 250 cu in (4.1-liter) “stovebolt” six or 283 cu in (4.6-liter) V8 mated to a column shifted three-speed manual transmission standard. Optional engines included the 292 cu in (4.8-liter) straight six and the 327 cu in (5.4-liter) V8, while optional power delivery included a manual three-speed with overdrive, Powerglide two-speed automatic, Turbo-Hydramatic three-speed autos, and three different “granny gear” four-speed manuals. The 1968 model year added the 307 cu in (5.0-liter) in place of the 283, and the option of a 396 cu in (6.5-liter) big block V8, while 1969 dropped the 327 in favor the 350 cu in (5.7-liter) V8. The 1970 model year saw the 396 grow to 402 cubic inches (6.6 liters), though the new size would only be noted in the 1971 model year when the “396” badging was finally changed to “400”.

Tying the wheels to the road, the second-gen C/K retained the coil-spring trailing arm system from the earlier truck, though heavier trucks in the lineup could still be had with the traditional rear leaf suspension (rear leaf springs were an option on lighter trucks, and common on GMC branded trucks). Up front, all two-wheel-drive trucks had independent front suspension, while four-wheel-drive trucks came with a traditional solid axle with leaf springs. Stopping power used rear drums for the entirety of the second-gen era, while front discs became standard on light-duty trucks starting with the 1971 model year (the same year AM/FM radios were factory installed in the C/K for the first time). This year would also see two-wheel-drive 1/2-ton models adopt 5 x 5″ bolt pattern axles (replacing 5 x 5.5″) found on most of General Motors’ larger passenger cars of the time; the four-wheel-drive models kept the six-lug pattern.

Third Generation Chevy C/K Trucks: 1973 – 1987

1976 Chevy Pickup TruckThe time had come to shake-off the design language of the 60s with a modern design language of the decade to come, a look which influenced all truck manufacturers around the world. The third-generation C/K debuted in mid-1972 for the 1973 model year with a clean-sheet design created on computers before the first prototypes were ever assembled for testing. Out were the complex curves, in were the straight edges. The new “Square-body”/”Box-body” C/Ks departed completely from the look of other trucks then on the road.

GM did make good use of the few rounded bits were on the body, though, including windshield corners, high-cut rounded-corner doors, slanted front fenders and rounded pickup box corners which allowed for wraparound tail lights. The new design, sculpted in wind-tunnel testing, was meant to improve aerodynamics and fuel economy, going so far as to incorporate the radio antenna into the cab’s raked windshield. Aero would be enhanced further with the 1981 facelift, taking lessons from the 1979 energy crisis and leaving an even sleeker modern look.

Behind the cab were two different box options: the Fleetside full-width box with flared shoulder line to match the front fenders of the cab, and either wood or steel bed floor, and the Stepside narrow box with separate rear fenders, and (initially) only wood bed floor. A new “Big Dooley” dual-rear-wheel option was introduced in one-ton trucks, as well as a four-door, “3+3”, crew-cab for trucks built on the 164.5-inch wheelbase frame.

Other features introduced throughout this generation include fuel tanks mounted under the bed instead of inside the cab, optional dual fuel tanks, and cassette player and CB radio options. Trims ranged from the base Custom to top-end Cheyenne Super in 1973 and 1974, Custom Deluxe to Silverado from 1975 through 1987. And of course, improved safety features were introduced, including standard passenger-side mirror, collapsible steering column (in use in GM’s passenger cars since 1967), and dual front three-point safety belts with emergency locking retractors.

1981 Chevy C10 TruckUnder the hood, power for the square-body C/K came from a wide range of engines, including the long-serving 250 cu. in. straight six (until 1984), the 262 cu in (4.3-liter) V6, 305, 350, and 400 cu. in. small blocks, and the 454 big block. Two diesel options were offered over the years, the infamous 350 cu. in. Olds V8 and the hardy 6.2-liter Detroit Diesel V8. Power was delivered to the rear or all corners through either three- or four-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic automatic transmissions, three- or four-speed Saginaw manual transmissions, or a four-speed New Process overdrive manual. Two-wheel-drive trucks used an independent front suspension with and coil springs and true car-like ride and handling, while four-wheel-drive models had a live front axle. All trucks used GM’s new Load Control rear suspension system with live rear axle and multi-leaf springs. The four-wheel-drive models could be had with manual locking hubs or shift on the fly system.

For the final swan song, GM gave these trucks fuel injection and changed the name to the R/V for 1987 to keep them from being confused with the GMT400 trucks which were already in production. From 1988 through 1991, the old R/V name and body style was still produced for one-ton crew cab use and chassis cab commercial trucks.

Millions of second- and third-generation Chevrolet C/K trucks are still going strong today, whether at car shows or on construction sites. The C/K is beloved by those who prefer their trucks to be real trucks and is definitely deserving of its “rock-like” credibility.

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4 Responses

  1. Bob Moore says:

    Do I understand correctly that 3rd gen had a 350 Olds v8 diesel?
    Great information about 2nd gen and 3rd gen. Thnks

    • Bryan Wood says:

      Yes, for a few years the Olds 350 Diesel engine was an option in the Chevy and GMC trucks before the 6.2 liter Detroit Diesel motor was introduced in 1982

  2. Herbert Trejo says:

    were can I get the Chevy emblem that goes on front fenders

    • Bryan Wood says:

      We don’t sell parts, only the service manuals. But there are plenty of places that do sell reproduction Chevy Truck parts, like Classic Industries, or Classic Parts, or National Parts Depot. You can often find originals on eBay as well.

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