What are the Five Best Chevy Truck Classics of all Time?
Below is our list of the top five most iconic trucks Chevrolet has made over the years.
1973 - 75 Chevy C/K
This truck makes a list of the best of all time for various reasons, namely that it set the basic design form for what Chevy trucks have looked like for nearly 50 years. Even today, the square-jawed shape of this truck has set the tone and design underpinnings for every Chevy truck built since, even launching the Silverado nameplate as trim level in 1975. What most of us have grown to expect from a Chevy truck, the simple, straightforward lines we’ve seen in a thousand commercials, began here.
The 1973 Chevy C/K was a part of the model lineup for over 18 years, from 1973 until 1991. Computer technology and wind tunnels were a first in the development and helped bring a subtle rounding to the corners and side edges of the truck, but not enough to ruin the overall aesthetic. Chevy offered a two-wheel drive with a 4WD option and found hungry Americans who needed a truck that could handle the demands of off-road work but still wanted a truck to double as a family-friendly hauler on the paved roads. This truck offered the public something more than years of drug use and flower power and began to divert their weary eyes from watching a bloody war played out on national television every night.
The 1973 redesign was the first truck to feature a passenger-side rearview mirror, four-way flashers, a softer impact steering wheel, and three-point retractable safety belts. In 1975, a center lap belt for middle-seat passengers became standard equipment. Also included were front bucket seats with a center console.
One of the things that made the C/K popular was that Chevy introduced the four-door crew cab with four distinct doors, similar to its successful Chevy Suburban. The additional space and interior updates made the truck's interior much more family-friendly. (The upgraded wood trims, the addition of air conditioning, improved upholstery, and an optional AM/FM radio with an antenna built into the windshield didn't hurt matters). Chevy began to recognize the growing demand for a truck that could haul and tow the increasing number of recreational trailers and campers that were becoming a part of the American roadways. (The price of gasoline was only .39 a gallon, so you can see why Americans were exploring).
Equipped with lots of different options for an engine, the 1973 C/K came equipped with a 454 V8 along with smaller V6 offerings. Still, it also introduced as an option a 478 cubic inch diesel. The truck was offered in various bed configurations, giving the public more choices.
Any discussion of the 1973 C/K should mention that the one-ton version of the C/K had optional dual rear wheels known as the “Big Dooley” and was the first crew cab pickup to sport this configuration. The full-ton pickup started the HD truck movement and, as such, deserves to be a part of the C/k glory.
While you probably remember the 1970s C/K, plenty of these beauties are still on the road today. If you run across one, snatch it up if you can. The truck runs forever and will only keep increasing in value as the years go by.
1947-1953 Chevrolet ‘Advance Design’
Fresh to capture the love of returning GIs from overseas from World War II, GM began to invest its energies into fashioning a new look for its pickup. The entry into the market came about as the Advance Design, instantly popular with GIs who were getting jobs, building families, and buying homes and trucks. This was a time of prosperity for many families in America who worked hard to build their American Dream, and the Chevy pickup began a part of the up-and-coming landscape.
Taking their cues from passenger car styles and comfort, the designer increased the size by a whopping 8 inches wider and 7 inches in length. A large, fixed windshield, embedded headlights built right into the quarter panels, and flowing chrome bumpers were fashioned to draw immediate attention to the oversized front opening hood. With its distinct nose, this pickup makes a statement when it pulls in front of you. The series was the best-selling pickup for every year from when it was introduced in 1947 until it was discontinued in 1955.
Yet the Advance Design trucks didn't stop with exterior modifications; the designer wanted to appeal to hard-working soldiers and their families by redoing the interior. The cab size was increased with additional headroom and legroom. The seats could move back and forth to accommodate different-sized drivers, and thicker dash padding and floormats helped make the appearance more luxurious while reducing the noise of the road. An extra-large glove compartment with an optional heater/defroster. In 1948, the manual transmission was moved to the steering column, the first Chevy truck to have three on the tree, and the emergency brake refashioned to a foot-activated pedal.
The truck was offered as a ½ ton, ¾ ton, and full ton option with cargo bed stretching 78, 87, or 108 inches, respectively. The half-ton version was equipped with a 90 hp, OHV six-cylinder engine. While the horsepower wasn't going to win any speed races, the engine was solid enough to haul and handle most commercial and personal uses. (The more powerful 235 straight six became the standard engine). With a 50-inch wide bed, and stronger sides and tailgates, many Advance Design trucks were used as delivery vehicles, as businesses incorporated them as a part of their daily operations.
Most of the Advanced Design trucks that are still on the road have become sought-after collector's items. While parts and sheet metal are still readily available, the value of this particular series is going through the roof, and many collectors are finding their restored ADs are fetching $40 - $50 grand or more.
1990 454 SS
A Chevy truck was made for only four years but is enjoying a rising value among collectors, meaning that it is on the verge of becoming one of GM's greats. You will see this truck make more and more lists over the next five years, and many millennials are snatching these simple trucks up, betting that their increasing value will continue to grow. What is it? If I had to describe the 1990 454 SS, it would be the mighty little pickup that could do anything while running circles around the more prominent, cumbersome half-tons other makers were putting forward.
The idea behind this truck is to put the most significant engine into the smallest pickup possible. Chevy decided to take the 454-cubic-inch Mark IV V8 and slap it into a small block, regular cab half-ton. The V8 engine produced 230 horsepower and had lots of other stuff going for it (not the least of which was 385 lb-ft of torque, which meant the truck could do 0-60 mph in 8 seconds). Even if you didn’t want to race the truck (it got terrible gas mileage), it could still light up the rear tires because it had such a powerful motor coupled with a very light end.
Only 17,000 of these beauties were built, but they were made almost indestructible. Selling for a little under 20 grand in 1990, the 454 was equipped with a heavy-duty radiator, Bilstein shocks, advanced steering components, and a blacked-out grille. Only available in Onyx Black with a Garnet Red interior, the 454 featured the Silverado trim with cruise and a tilt steering wheel. The paint color is part of the appeal of this truck. The SS became a sought-after truck, and because of its limited production, it has become one of the most popular pickups for collectors. Some car enthusiasts are paying top dollar because parts are so readily available, allowing owners to customize their trucks with add-ons they want on their trucks. If you are looking for a cheap truck to get into initially but whose value has been steadily increasing, take a hard look at the 1990 - 93 454 SS.
1937 - 39 Chevrolet Half-Ton
Reeling from the lingering effects of the 1930s Great Depression, Chevrolet needed a way to continue its dominance in the pickup truck market. (Chevy was engaged with a bitter battle for sales during the years of the New Deal, having outsold Ford for the first time in 1928 and again in ‘31- 33). The economic hardships of the past decade were still fresh in the minds of potential buyers, but there were signs of growth as Americans began to get their feet underneath them again.
Chevy wanted a truck with a little bit of something for everyone. Men returning from New Deal projects were sold on the more basic features. In contrast, their families wanted a vehicle that offered more refined amenities like those found in luxurious vehicles that were beginning to populate American roadways. The answer was the 1937 - 39 half-ton.
The truck's exterior was streamlined, giving it a simple, tough-as-nails appearance. The elevated cab improved visibility and safety and made accessibility easier. The Half-ton had a hefty steel frame with five stout cross members that gave the truck stability, while an extended wood paneled bed provided owners more room to haul more stuff. (The cargo bed was almost 5 inches longer than previous models, to 77 inches). Enhanced rear springs made the truck an ideal performer for light to moderate daily work, as much of the country took the construction lessons of the New Deal projects and applied those skills to their own homes and communities.
The interior cab sought to offer more comforts (again a design cue from GM cars), with padded seats, an adjustable seat and back, an improved instrument panel, and larger, more readable gauges. Rubber mats covered the floor, while wooden trim covered the metal door interiors. While the truck only offered one cab configuration, it was an upgrade over the plain jane trucks it had previously offered.
The truck has a payload capacity capable of hauling 1,500 lbs. To demonstrate the worthiness of the truck, Chevrolet sent it on a 10,245-mile marketing campaign monitored by AAA, in which the truck carried over a thousand pounds of cargo and ended up sporting an average of 20.74 mpg. Much of that work was due to a new, more hefty 78 horsepower 216.5 cu. in. Blue Flame straight-six. (Even the fuel entry was repositioned from under the front passenger seat to an intake tube outside just past the passenger side door - which eliminated gas fumes from overtaking the cabin's interior).
Many enthusiasts believe that Chevrolet began the modern pickup era by introducing the ‘37 - ‘39 half-ton truck. While Chevy listed the truck for $572 back in its day, the value of these trucks is considerably more now and growing exponentially.
1918 Half Ton Model 490 and One Ton -
No Chevy truck list would be complete without mentioning the truck that started it all. Troops were returning from the first World War, longing to push the horrors of modern warfare behind them. These dedicated men began to take manual labor jobs, hauling and moving equipment, produce, or working in factories. Chevy recognized the need for a work vehicle to assist the flow of goods driving the US economy during the apex of America becoming a new world power.
Even though Chevy had been experimenting with trucks designed to compete with the Ford Model T, early attempts were less than successful. Their first endeavor was the 1913 Classic Series C, but it was priced too high for many of the public worried about the war and their boys overseas. The company continued to tinker with the design, and by 1918, they were producing a lower-cost pickup at the same price point as the Ford. Sales began to take off almost immediately. As Chevrolet merged with GM that same year, the company began to see the value of partnership, strengthening itself to compete against Ford, which was by far the leading car company in America.
The 1918 Forty-Nine was a rolling chassis with an open, exposed cab, powered by an inline four-cylinder engine. The factory often did not install a back body, allowing customers to build the cargo area that best met their needs. Whether a tanker designed to deliver gasoline or a flatbed to deliver lumber, the truck developed a reputation for solid performance. The One-Ton version could haul a payload of 2,000 lbs and had an engine (OHV 224 cu. in. 4 cyl) that produced a whopping 36 horsepower and 45 lb-ft of torque with a governor keeping its top speed to 25 mph.
There was no interior to speak of, just a seat pad and a strip of padding bolted to the back wall of the cab. Over the next couple of years, Chevy continued to scavenge from its automobiles, adding gauges and other components from the various car models they were producing. While the one-ton had updated springs so that it could haul heavier loads, the ride was rough. In short, it rode like a truck. One interesting design note is that the bowtie emblem was incorporated into the front grille, having been developed by Chevy only a few short years before.
Honorable Mention - El Camino
I know the debate about whether the El Camino has had over whether it was a truck or a car, but the truth is it is a bit of both. First introduced in 1959, Chevy needed something to compete against the Ford Ranchero, but the early entry only lasted a couple of years. The second-generation burst back onto the scene in 1964, based on the Chevelle, a hefty coupe that Chevrolet had been selling with success. The vehicle was a pickup concept adapted to a station wagon with no back roof. Interestingly, US regulations classify it as a pickup truck, so we are giving it an honorable mention.
There have been five generations of this iconic “truck/car,” each with its adaptations and improvements. Various engines (both V6 and V8) were offered, and increased springs in the rear allowed owners to haul things like surfboards or skis. Chevy continued to make the El Camino until 1987 and enjoyed being renamed the Caballero in 1978 until its demise almost a decade later.
Probably the best years of the El Camino SS were in the early 1970s when a 6.5L or 7.4L V8 was added putting out 350 - 450 horsepower, making the car a beast. Soon the El Camino was making the Hollywood circuit, popping up again and again in front of the American psyche. The public loved the powerful truck/car that could beat almost every kind of muscle car around.
Honorable Mention - The Stovebolt Era - 1929 - 1936
In 1929, Chevrolet did something remarkable. They made a truck with an Overhead Valve six-cylinder engine. The motor was 196 cu.-in, with 46 horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque. Nicknamed the “Stovebolt,” the engine was secured to the frame with bolts used on cast-iron woodstoves. (The pistons were also made of cast iron - which made them durable and almost impossible to destroy) People thought that designers had modified a wood-burning cast-iron stove and put it in the front of the truck. It wasn’t long before Chevy had slapped the durable engine into a 1.5-ton truck, increasing payload weight to over 7,000 lbs. The significance of this engine cannot be underestimated.
Other improvements began to take their place in how Chevy approached the manufacture of their trucks. Buoyed by the success of their sales (1928 was the first year Chevy had outsold Ford), the company changed its production model. The 1929 Stovebolt was the first Chevy truck with an enclosed cab and to be offered in multiple colors. Trying to match the mass production of Ford trucks, Chevy started building the 1929 in the factory (Ford had been doing this for years). In addition, Chevy discovered how favorable it was to offer options of body styles so that businesses could purchase a panel truck ready for their company logos to be painted on the side. This was a truck that weathered the Great Depression and saw lots of American families loading up what little belongings they had to drive in search of work. Even on the hardest days of our nation, this Chevy truck stood true.
About THE AUTHOR
My name is Matt and I've been around cars all my life! I have owned and worked on many different classic vehicles, so I started this site to share my experiences. If you're new to classic cars, then this website is for you.Read More About Matt Lane