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A Short History of the Chevy Silverado 1999-2006 – New Truck for a New Millennium

Chevy Silverado 24066-Rear Cover BWThe first generation Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck arrived in showrooms in late 1998, sharing space with all those red Corvettes blasting Prince’s “1999” from their stereos. Formerly a trim level on the C/K, the Silverado and its equally new GMC twin, the Sierra, were well prepared to welcome the new millennium and do what they’ve always done best: Work hard and play hard.

Here’s a brief look back at the first Chevy Silverado trucks, covering model years 1999 through 2006, and found in Chilton manual 28625.

Chevy Silverado 28625CoverA Whole New Truck

The first-generation Chevy Silverado arrived in August 1998 as 1999 models. Under the modern, Nineties-style sheet metal was the equally new GMT800 platform. This platform, also used under the Chevy Tahoe, Suburban and Avalanche, GMC Yukon, Cadillac Escalade, and Hummer H2, used a three-section frame, with a rigid hydroformed front section and standard stamped mid and rear sections. In this way, the GMT800 platform allowed vast flexibility in creating different sized vehicles for handling trips to the mall with the kids, or visits to a mall construction site with 2,000 lbs of cargo and tools.

At the time of introduction, the previous Chevy C/K pickups were still sold alongside the Silverado for that first year, while the heavier payload C/K models continued until the 2000 model year. For 1999, production was limited, and the new Silverado could only be had as a regular cab truck or an extended cab with a rear-hinged third door on the passenger side. The 2000 model year saw the option of a driver’s rear side door added, but the market would have to wait until 2004 for the Silverado 1500 crew cab.

The new platform was also the first truck usage of the “LS” Gen III Vortec V8s, ranging in size from 4.8-liters to 6.0 liters, and the introduction of the 8.1-liter Gen VII big block. Along with the 4.3-liter Vortec V6, all Vortecs were paired with a trio of four-speed automatics, though in the 2500 and 3500 trucks Alison 1000 five or six-speed automatics were used, and manuals from New Venture or ZF were also available.

“Twenty years now. Where’d they go?”

As mentioned in our previous post about the Chevy C/K trucks, Chevrolet trucks were advertised with the help of Detroit ad agency Campbell-Ewald, and Detroit rock legend Bob Seger. The iconic “Like a Rock” campaign, named after Seger’s rock ballad, embedded the hard working American image and spirit of freedom and rugged individualism into the psyche of Chevy and non-Chevy truck customers alike. However like the song says, all good things come to an end.

After 13 years of Seger’s gravelly voice pitching the toughness of Chevy C/K and Silverado pickups, Chevrolet retired the campaign in 2004. The next few years would go without “rock” to remind America how strong the Silverado was, though sales weren’t hurt by Seger’s absence. Over 710,000 units were sold in the 2001 model year, a peak the GMT800 pickup would come close to hitting again in 2005 with just over 700,000 sold, though one the Silverado hasn’t seen since.

The silence wouldn’t last long, though, as Campbell-Ewald had a new, similar campaign in mind for the new millennium. However, that campaign wouldn’t launch until the 2007 model year, and the GMT900 trucks, which we’ll cover next time.

Silverado 3500Hybrids, Heavy Duty, and Silverado SS

The first-gen Silverado could be had in a few novel ways, aside from what was typically on other truck company’s lots. For starters, environmental-minded truck owners who wouldn’t go near a Toyota Prius were in luck for the 2004 model year when General Motors introduced its first-ever hybrids; the Chevy Silverado Hybrid and GMC Sierra Hybrid. Power came from a 5.3-liter Vortec V8 with an electric motor sandwiched between the engine and transmission, replacing the starter and alternator and creating a stop-start system which shut down the engine whenever possible (coasting downhill, at stop lights, etc). Three additional 12-volt batteries were fitted under the extended cab rear seat, and four 120 volt AC outlets were added to allow the truck to run power tool on a job site. This truck was a rarity at first, sold only along the West Coast, and select other markets, and GM later repurchaased most of them in an attempt not to have to service them into the foreseeable future.

Those who preferred red lines over green pines had three choices available. First came the Chevy Silverado SS in 2003, based upon the 1500 extended cab truck, in two or four-wheel drive (depending on year). Under the hood was the six-liter Vortec V8 from the Cadillac Escalade, which pushed 345 horses and 380 lb-ft of torque through the 4L65-E four-speed auto. A limited-edition Intimidator SS in 2006 added a few touches to transform the high-performance pickup into a rolling tribute to the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. Meanwhile in 2004, some markets (Texas and other states that bought many trucks) were offered the Vortec High Output package, with the SS motor but not all the flash of the SS. Then in 2006, the Vortec Max was offered with the 6.0-liter engine in a truck better suited for towing instead of stoplight drag races.

Finally, those who needed their trucks to be more truck like could opt for the Chevrolet Silverado HD, a strengthened version of the light-duty Silverado and Sierra. The 1500HD offered the 300 horsepower, 360 lb-ft of torque, truck version of the 6.0-liter Vortec V8 and capabilities above the standard 1500. The Silverado 2500HD (a non-HD 2500 was also offered in the first few years) and 3500HD could be had with a 6.0 or 6.6-liter Duramax diesel paired with the same Allison 1000 automatics used in larger commercial trucks. The 8.1-liter Vortec big block was also available, paired with the 4L80E Automatic. Oddly enough, these Silverado HD trucks were the last from Chevy to offer an optional manual transmission.

The first-gen Chevy Silverado had big shoes to fill, but it made a name for itself to become one of the first truly modern trucks of the new millennium.

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  1. I Purchased a 99 Chevy Silverado LS model in 2001 with 46,000 miles it now has 209,000 miles. I run Mobile1 synthetic oil’ it runs as good as it did when I bought it. I will own it till I die. Great truck as long as you maintain it.

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