Photography Courtesy of General Motors Design
Now that General Motors has entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy to create the “New GM,” we thought we’d take a look back at the Top 11 Groundbreaking Pickup Trucks built by the “Old GM.” These trucks innovated in capability, functionality or design. They deserve lasting recognition regardless of how GM evolves over the next months and years.
No. 11: Chevrolet Corvair 95 Pickup
Introduced in 1961, the all-new Corvair 95 was a radical rethinking of the American pickup truck. It was built to carry light and bulky loads, but wasn’t designed to replace hard-working, conventional half-ton pickups like GM’s 1960-66 C/K Fleetside trucks. The Corvair featured an 80- or 95-horsepower rear-mounted engine and could be configured with an optional swing-down side ramp for easy access to the cargo box without having to lift heavy cargo. Load height was only 16.25 inches. Corvair pickups had a huge cargo area in terms of volume, but maximum payload capacity was limited to 1,850 pounds. The 95 in its name comes from its 95-inch wheelbase.
No. 10: Chevrolet International Model Series LQ
Chevrolet set a new standard for truck power when it introduced the light-truck segment’s first overhead valve (pushrod) six-cylinder engine and a four-speed transmission for its 1929 International Model Series LQ truck lineup. The 194-cubic-inch, 46-hp "cast-iron wonder" produced a great increase in power and torque over the old four-cylinder engine that allowed Chevrolet trucks to move or pull more significant loads than they could before.
1929 was also the first year that Chevrolet trucks rolled on new steel disc wheels, and wooden wheels went the way of the buggy whip.
No. 9: Chevrolet 454SS
GM started Detroit’s muscle-truck wars that would eventually spawn the creation of the Ford F-150 SVT Lightning in 1990 and Dodge Ram SRT10 in 2004, when the company created the 1990 Chevrolet 454SS. Its black paint job, chrome wheels and 454SS stickers gave it street performance looks that were backed up by a heavy-duty 7.4-liter big block engine that produced 230 hp and 385 pounds-feet of torque and could launch the truck from zero to 60 mph in about 8 seconds. Production ran until 1993. The SS badge would slumber until 2003 when the Chevrolet Silverado SS arrived.
No. 8: Chevrolet Advanced Design Pickup
After almost six years of war and product stagnation, Chevrolet's radically different 1947 Advanced Design light-duty trucks represented a sea change in pickup design and appearance that kicked off the nation’s post-World War II era of trucks. The biggest improvement was in interior space. The cab of the Advanced Design pickups was 8 inches wider and 7 inches longer than the truck it replaced, allowing Chevy engineers to fit in a true three-person seat, which was also fully adjustable. The additional cab width and length caused the new pickups to look much bigger than the old models. Another new feature that contributed to driver comfort and safety was a fresh-air heater/defroster system that brought fresh outside air into the cab and forced used air out through vents at the rear of the cab. Power came from Chevrolet’s new 216.5-cubic-inch, 90-hp, 174-pounds-feet-of-torque pushrod six-cylinder engine.
The looks of the Chevrolet Advanced Design pickup would inspire the 2003 Chevrolet SSR retro roadster pickup.
No. 7: GMC Sierra C3/Denali
GMC pickups have frequently taken a backseat to Chevrolet’s rigs when it came to unique features and advertising spotlight, but that changed in 2001 when the luxurious and sporty half-ton pickup debuted with all-wheel drive to help celebrate GMC’s centennial. In our driving experience and GMC’s advertised claims, the C3 had the best on-road, wet-or-dry pavement-handling performance of any full-size pickup of its day. The C3 name was dropped in 2002 for the upscale Denali badge, plus the truck added the revolutionary four-wheel steering Quadrasteer system. At high speeds, Quadrasteer allowed the rear wheels to turn slightly in the same direction as the front wheels, which greatly improved tracking with or without a trailer. At low speeds, the four-wheel steering system enabled the rear wheels to crab 12 degrees in the opposite direction of the front wheels. This let the vehicle make tighter turns, such as when cornering or getting into a tight parking space. The turning diameter of some Quadrasteer-equipped models was reduced 21 percent, from 49.6 feet to 37.4 feet, about the same range as a small car.
No. 6: Chevrolet "Task-Force" Cameo Pickup
Chevrolet's management dubbed its new 1955-59 trucks the "Task Force" line, after the naval term. Task-Force pickups were all-new, with styling cues that included the truck industry's first wraparound windshield. Chevrolet advertising called it a "Sweep-Sight Windshield.” This idea was first shown the year before on GM's innovative Buick LeSabre concept Motorama show car. Other interesting styling innovations included shrouded headlights set in visored fenders, a classic egg-crate grille and running boards. A 12-volt electrical system also debuted, which is the same power rating that’s found in today’s trucks. A new 265-cubic-inch overhead valve small-block “Trademaster” V-8 took the lead in powertrain technology. Transmission choices included a three-speed manual synchromesh, with or without overdrive, a heavy-duty three-speed manual, a four-speed automatic and a four-speed synchromesh.
No. 5: Chevrolet El Camino
GM watched as Ford gained sales success with its Ranchero car-based pickup, so GM followed suit and offered its own coupe-utility, called the Chevrolet El Camino. The 1959 El Camino was based on the big Chevy Impala. It had the gull-wing styling of the cars, but with a load box that could hold 34 cubic feet of cargo. El Caminos came in 13 solid colors and 10 two-tones, and were available with a six-cylinder engine or one of two V-8s. The Chevrolet El Camino would continue in various forms, including the GMC Sprint and Caballero versions, before ending production in 1987 as compact pickups gained in popularity.
No. 4: Chevrolet S-10
While the Detroit automakers dominated in full-size pickups, they never anticipated the rise in popularity of compact pickups until the energy crises of the 1970s drove fuel prices sky high. Japanese importers like Toyota and Datsun were well-positioned for this situation, and they capitalized on it by importing their small pickups to sell to buyers looking for thrifty trucks with reasonable hauling capabilities, rather than thirsty, heavy-duty pickups. At first GM partnered with Japanese automaker Isuzu to import its LUV line of trucks into the U.S., but GM finally decided to design and build its own all-new line of small trucks in the U.S. to create the Chevrolet S-10 and its twin, the GMC Sonoma, in 1982. The S-10 started as a single cab but eventually grew in size to include extended and crew cab models. Power came from several choices of four- and six-cylinder engines. The trucks were produced until 2004, when they were retired for the all-new Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon midsize pickups.
The GMC Sonoma make a unique splash in 1991 when the limited-edition, high-performance GMC Syclone debuted with a turbocharged 4.3-liter V-6 that was rated at 280 hp and 350 pounds-feet of torque. It was capable of sprinting from zero to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds and could do a quarter-mile run in 13.4 seconds at 98 mph.
No. 3: Chevrolet Model T One-Ton
1918 was the first year for Chevrolet commercial vehicle sales, with a total of 879 reported truck sales. Three models of the 'T' truck line were available; the cab and chassis, the Flare Board Express, and the Express with 8-post curtain top. The 'T' also featured clincher type pneumatic tires instead of solid rubber for a more comfortable ride.
A separate, lighter Chevrolet 490 model truck was a beefed up version of the Chevrolet 490 passenger car, with a heavier suspension. The 490's body was a steel cowl with mounted headlights, fenders, a fold-out windshield, and an open rear chassis. It also used an electric starter.
Cabs and bodies in those days were constructed of wood. Often times the buyer would build their own body but most truck buyers purchased bodies and cabs from an outside independent body company. The 490 was powered by a four-cylinder 171 cubic-inch pushrod motor that developed 21.7 horsepower. The T had a 224 cubic-inch, inline OHV 4-cylinder motor rated at 37 horsepower.
No. 2: 2007 Chevrolet Silverado 1500
Almost a century after it sold its first truck, GM debuted the 2007 Chevrolet Silverado (and GMC Sierra) series of light-duty pickups that were all-new from the frame up. It featured strong new exterior styling DNA that resonated with long-time Chevy truck buyers, plenty of engine V-6 and V-8 choices and a choice of two interior trims depending on the truck’s application. In 2009, the Silverado received a new six-speed automatic transmission and powerful 403 horsepower 6.2-liter V-8.
The Silverado truck lineup is the number 2 selling vehicle in the U.S., after Ford's F-Series trucks.
No. 1: Chevrolet C/K "Glamour" Pickups
The Chevrolet C/K Glamour Pickups produced from 1967 to 1972 are hands-down the all-time favorite with Chevrolet pickup collectors; first for their refined, handsome styling, but also for their drivability, quality engineering and excellent power. It was available as a Stepside or Fleetside with four engine choices – two six-cylinder engines and two eight-cylinder engines. In 1971, Chevrolet was the first manufacturer to make front disc brakes standard equipment on all light-duty trucks.