Trucks Trucks & SUVs

The Fascinating History of the Iconic Chevy Truck

A boy and his mom learn about the chassis of a Chevy S10 truck

When people think of Chevrolet, one of the first things that comes to mind is its long history producing iconic trucks. In 2018, Chevy celebrated 100 years as a truck manufacturer. Let’s explore Chevy’s history in the world of trucks, including major milestones and its most memorable vehicles.

The launch of Chevy’s first truck

Chevrolet’s first truck released in 1918, the same year Chevy became part of General Motors. The Chevy Model 490 was intended to compete with Ford’s first truck, the Ford Model TT released in 1917.

A bit of a DIY truck, the Model 490 was a light-duty truck with a half-ton rating. It was sold as chassis only, requiring the purchaser to install the truck cab and body. Alongside the Model 490, Chevy released the Model T, a one-ton rated truck sold as chassis only or with an express body. Both trucks had a four-year run and ceased production in 1922.

Chevy’s first six-cylinder engine

Chevy made truck history by introducing the first overhead-valve six-cylinder engine in the 1929 Chevy International Series AC Light Delivery truck. It saw huge success, and the engine gained the nickname “Stovebolt” due to the resemblance of its slotted-head fasteners to bolts on woodstoves. The Stovebolt was the reigning Chevy engine until 1936.

Producing a factory-built pickup

Ford beat Chevrolet to the punch with factory-built pickups, producing its first in 1925. The first Chevy factory-built pickup didn’t hit the road until 1931. The 1931 Independence Series offered four body styles, and drivers no longer had to install a custom cab or bed.

Chevy’s focus on style

The automaker was known for producing the best-looking trucks in the post-Great Depression era. This may have been due in part to the introduction of its Art and Color department. The 1938 Chevrolet Half-Ton truck was the first designed by this department. It featured a redesigned vertical grille, front bumper, and swept fenders. This emphasis on style represented an important shift in Chevy truck history.

After a brief hiatus in the production of civilian trucks due to WWII, Chevy continued its focus on design from 1947 through 1959. During this period, Chevy launched the Task-Force trucks. These models continued to focus on compelling consumer designs and increased engine power. 

Three major players

From 1960 to 1998, three major truck launches defined Chevy:

  1. Chevy C/K Line: Launched in 1960, this lineup saw three generations. The most popular C/K truck was the Chevy C10, known for its good looks and eight engine options. The third generation was considered the first modern, heavy-duty pickup, with the Chevy C30 seating up to six people. The C/K era ended in 1987
  2. El Camino: The El Camino debuted in 1958 as something in between a car and truck. From 1968-87, subsequent generations of the El Camino received many redesigns, cementing it as a vehicle of the American lexicon.
  3. Chevy S10: The Chevy S10 was produced from 1982 to 2004. It began as a compact pickup truck. Over time, it received four-wheel drive and extended cab versions, as well as four or six-cylinder engine options. The second generation added a crew cab model.

Modern-day Chevy

From 2000 on, Chevy maintained its position as a prominent truck manufacturer, launching the Avalanche, Silverado, and Colorado truck lines. The Avalanche filled a new niche, serving as a cross between an SUV and a truck. Its design style was an important step forward for Chevy before it was discontinued in 2013.

The Silverado is one of the best-selling trucks in America and has a GMC counterpart, the Sierra. The second generation model received the Motortrend Truck of the Year Award in 2007. The 2020 Silverado with High Trim package may be the first truck model to cost more than $100,000.

The Colorado and its GMC counterpart, the Canyon, are a smaller pickup style. This model is a lower price point than the Silverado and fills the needs of a different consumer base. The Colorado is still offered as a mid-size truck model with three engine options, including the Duramax 2.8L Turbo Diesel. 

One thing is true of Chevy’s truck evolution: They have never stopped innovating. Only time will tell what evolutions Chevy has in store for trucks in the years to come.