late 1970s and early 1980s were dark days in the history of pickups. The
nation's second energy crises affected the entire economy. Pickup and
large car sales were hit especially hard. Pickup sales in 1980 fell more
than 50 percent from the industry's best year of 1978. Sales began to
recover in 1981 with a tiny increase over 1980 and continuously rose every
The bad news for
Chevrolet was that it was during the late 1970s when Ford began to sell
more trucks than Chevrolet. One wonders if the lack of an extended cab
pickup had anything to do with this. I spoke to a manager who was with
Chevrolet Truck at that time and he said the reason they didn't add an
extended cab model was because they did not have the necessary plant capacity
in which to build them. Maybe so, but it still strikes me as a major marketing
error to not find some way to get the job done!
management said that their new 1981 pickups featured more changes than
any year since 1973, the first year of this series. Truck engineers in
those days were faced with some tough problems. They had to figure out
how to increase fuel economy without diminishing the truck's ability to
carry a load and without reducing the size of their pickups. They accomplished
this in three ways: Through better aerodynamics, more efficient engines
and by dropping excess weight.
using a wind tunnel, reshaped their pickups from the firewall forward
to make them more slippery.
As a means to improve
fuel economy, Chevrolet engineers made a version of their small block-the
5.0-liter V-8 available with a 9.2:1 compression ratio. This was the highest
compression ratio in a Chevrolet truck engine in ten years. This engine
was offered in pickups and throughout Chevrolet's light truck model line.
The 5.0-liter engine also had Electronic Spark Control and a four-barrel
carburetor to deliver the greatest possible performance while retaining
good fuel economy. The ESC system continually adjusted distributor timing
so that the fuel mixture ignited at the precisely correct instant. The
combination of high compression with ESC protected against engine knock
and produced a significant boost in power. The engine required only regular
The 1981 Chevrolet
pickups shed between 115 and 309 pounds depending on model and equipment.
Two examples are lighter rear bumpers and a new aluminum transfer case
for 4WD pickups.
In addition to the
above changes, Chevrolet pickups for 1981 had a new instrument panel with
international symbol-controlled switches and new trim and upholstery options.
line was unchanged in 1981; the same was also true for the rest of its
light-duty truck line.
Its engine offerings
included the 4. 1 and 4.8-liter sixes and 5.0-, 5.7- and 7.4-liter V-8
gas engines and the 5.7-liter (350 ci) diesel V-8. The diesel was still
limited to C 10 models only.
Chevrolet's new 4WD
system for K 10 and K20 models featured automatic locking front hubs.
When shifting from 2WD to 4WD, the front hubs automatically locked up,
eliminating the need to get out of the cab to set them. To revert to 2",
the driver simply stopped the vehicle, shifted into 2WD reversed direction
slowly about ten feet and off he went. The new aluminum transfer case
with synchronized gears allowed the driver to shift from 2WD to 4WD at
speeds under 25 mph.
Chevrolet was the
first domestic pickup manufacturer to introduce a compact pickup when
it added the new S-10 pickups in 1982. Chevrolet's short wheelbase compact
S- 10 when equipped with the standard 1.9-liter, 82 horsepower four cylinder
engine and four-speed manual transmission had an EPA rating of 28 MPG
in the city and 39 on the highway. A long-wheelbase,, long box was an
option. A I 10 horsepower V-6 was the optional engine. It was the first
V-6 in the small truck field. Wheelbase lengths were 108- and I I 8-inches.
They carried cargo boxes of 73 and 89 inches. Payload ratings of the S-10
pickups were 1,000 and 1,5001b.
interesting new offering in 1982 was the new 6.2-liter diesel V-8. It
was no longer limited to C-10 pickups but was available on all pickups.
Phase-two of the
S-10's development in 1983 consisted of adding 4WD and Extended-Cab models.
The Extended-Cab added 14.5-inches to the regular cab. Another addition
was the 2.0-liter 83 horsepower four-cylinder engine. The 1.9-liter four
was also carried over.
A 2.2-liter four-cylinder
diesel was offered as an option for 2WD S-10s in the 1984 model year.
This was the Isuzu diesel formerly installed in LUV pickups. An exciting
new S-10 option was a sport suspension for the S-10 pickups. The heart
of the package consisted of special Bilstein gas pressure shocks at all
four wheels tailored for the S-10s.
carried over without significant change for 1985 except this was the first
year for the famous 4.3-liter V-6 in pickups. Full-size pickups had a
new grille for a fresh new appearance. Other changes to fullsize and S-10
pickups are too minor to merit mention.
Full-size 1986 Chevrolet
pickups came in for only minor styling changes and technological improvements.
The S-10's optional 2.8-liter V-6 engine was given a throttle body fuel
The S-10's four-cylinder
engine was given electronic fuel injection for 1987. Other than that S-10s
remained basically unchanged for 1987. Because this was the last year
for Chevrolet's full-size pickups they carried over without change.
1988-1998, GMT-400 Pickups