If the F-150 is a timeless American icon, it must share that title with another legend of a truck, the Chevy C/K. Arguably the most successful pickup truck ever sold in American by sheer numbers, the Chevy C/K was the full-size hauler of choice for millions of Americans from 1960 to 2000. The story of the C/K starts with a void in the American truck market of the decades prior: Customers wanted a truck that was actually enjoyable to drive.
A First for Ride Comfort
Prior to the unveiling of the C/K, trucks were purely utilitarian vehicles. They provide few creature comforts and offered little more than a harsh ride quality and archaic visual design choices. The C/K was the first Chevy pickup to introduce independent front suspension, vastly improving ride quality without suffering any reduction in performance. The C/K truly marked the time that a pickup was equally at home at the worksite and a gentleman’s driveway.
… And for Bare Necessities
Also gone were binary configurations when it came to power and delivery. Buyers no longer had to suffer the summer months, thanks to the introduction of air conditioning in 1965. Plenty of new powerplant options made driving enjoyable and tailored to the buyer’s needs. For the economy buyer, the 3.6L I6 would suffice; for the family man who wanted some performance, the 4.8L I6 would do nicely. For the man who wanted to burn rubber, the new 5.3L V8, available in 1965, would do nicely.
Visually, the Chevy C/K brought the farm truck’s obtuse grille, wrap-around windshield, and gigantic hood into more moderate and stylish tones. 1964 saw plenty of modernization, with the C/K adopting a traditional flat-face windshield, modern billet grille, and more subtle, flat clamshell hood. This configuration would pave the way for modern truck design.
The Beginning of Truck Performance
But these were minor refinements in comparison to the second generation of C/Ks, unveiled in 1967. This new model saw the addition of coil spring-loaded, trailing arm rear suspension, improving ride quality over traditional leaf springs. The Turbo-Hydramatic transmission, a staple of luxury powertrain development in Buicks and Cadillacs at the time, also became an option on the C/K.
Motors and performance continued to improve, too. An optional 6.6L V8, one of the largest naturally aspirated production motors ever made in the states, produced over 375 horsepower. Combined with available Custom Comfort and Convenience interior packages, the C/K of the late 60’s and early 70’s marked the beginning of the modern truck concept:
Providing unmatched, muscle car-like performance in a utility vehicle, while also affording distinguished buyers with optional luxuries previously only found in handcrafted saloons. Chevy realized staying short-sighted would mean the death of a successful truck line, so they wasted no steam. In the third generation, the company started fresh, beginning a frame-up redesign of the C/K that provided even more changes and updates than in previous model years.
The First Modern Pickup
Starting in 1973, the Chevy C/K again received a completely refreshed exterior with a design never before seen. Dubbed the “square body” or “box body” generation, the 3rd-generation C/K introduced what many consider to be the grandfather of the 21st century American pickup truck’s style. Soft-touch materials were introduced to the cab, lining the dash, doors, arm rests, steering wheel, and shift lever. This provided more comfort while the exterior received options like chrome, aluminum, and polish accents.
The new C/K was also the first truck with side-view mirrors on both doors, optional sound-deadening material, all-season climate control, and computer-simulated crash tests.
The final generation of the Chevy C/K continued to reign as a leading American truck until 2000, with the addition of independent front and rear suspension in the 4×4 configuration – another first for any U.S.-built truck. It was only when the Silverado was upgraded from a C/K designator to its own official truck model that Chevy decided to kill the C/K’s varied trim options, powerplants and configurations.
Americans began favoring lighter trucks that offered better fuel economy, but even today, retired C/Ks are hugely popular workhorses, with many older models being favored for muscle truck classic restorations.