New Book Details 100 Years of Chevy Trucks


Editor's note: Motorbooks tapped former AutoWeek editor, editorial director and automotive historian/author Larry Edsall to write "Chevrolet Trucks: 100 Years of Building the Future," about Chevrolet's 2018 truck centennial. Here's his take on writing the book, now available at Amazon for $35.24.

Just when I thought I might have written my last "car" book, Motorbooks called with a proposition: In 2018, Chevrolet will celebrate its centennial as a truckmaker and you are our choice to author a book chronicling that 100-year history.

I think I was selected because I'd recently written books on the development of a new Chevrolet Corvette and on the two most recent generations of the Camaro, so I had a good working relationship with folks in several departments at Chevy. Such contacts — and access to people and historical documents — are crucial when undertaking such a project.

However, there were two other factors that persuaded me to invest the time and effort into another book project:

  1. I'd just stumbled across a story about how people working in a Chevrolet assembly plant converted a few passenger cars into flatbed trucks for hauling stuff around the factory in 1916, two years before the company started selling such vehicles. I found that fascinating — folks we'd now call blue-collar workers were well ahead of management when it came to knowing how to meet customers' needs, even if those workers were the customers.
  2. I did some quick math. There are a gazillion Chevrolet pickup trucks on the road. If even a small percent of those Chevy truck owners bought the book, it could mean some nice royalty checks.

So, I accepted the proposal, started doing research and interviews, and made a couple of visits to the GM Heritage Center, where manager Greg Wallace and lead archivist Christo Datini provided not only their insights but access to the truck-related documents that the company has preserved.

I was surprised more such documentation wasn't available, though I shouldn't have been. Since becoming editorial director at and its daily news Journal, I've been disappointed in the lack of attention American automakers pay to their history, especially in comparison with European manufacturers. It's easy to get sales figures for the last 30 days, but try to find out what happened 30 years ago, and even Indiana Jones would be challenged to find extensive documentation about the early days of design and vehicle development.

On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised that the GM Heritage Center's archives included an amazing book about the company's automotive involvement in World War II. Much has been made of Detroit being the arsenal of democracy during the war, but more than just aircraft and Jeeps contributed to the war effort.

A large-format book, "Report of War Production Activities" was produced by Chevrolet, apparently for internal use and with a warning about the transmission of its contents in relation to the Espionage Act of 1917. The book details a shift in production to the war effort with the manufacture of trucks — many with six wheels — bomber engines, guns and shells, various aluminum forging and magnesium castings. It also reports that the military was so impressed with the efficiency of Chevrolet's parts department that the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps asked Chevy to reorganize the huge Camp Normoyle supply center in San Antonio.

GM also provided all the historic photographs and advertising illustrations used in "Chevrolet Trucks: 100 Years of Building the Future." Among those documents were tales of some early durability validation programs, including the Alaska Highway drive in the mid-1950s and another to Baja Mexico in the early 1960s. But there also was an earlier one, in the 1930s, a "Round the Nation" drive by a half-ton Chevy pickup with a 1,000-pound load in its bed.

These days, engineers drive hundreds of thousands of miles doing durability validation, but it's all done in secret as much as possible as part of the lead up to production, and in inclement conditions. For the most part, those remain untold but fascinating stories.

Also untold so far are details of the next-generation Chevrolet pickup truck. Try as I did — and I did — I could not penetrate the curtain or secrecy around the design and engineering of the truck that's working its way through the pipeline for model-year 2019.

Ah, well, perhaps that will be the subject for yet another book.

Manufacturer and Motorbooks images

1918 Chevrolet half ton

1938 Chevrolet half ton

1967 Chevrolet C10 Fleetside


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