The obvious difference between the C10 and the C20 is that one is a half-ton and the other a three-quarter-ton truck. These classifications don’t refer to their respective curb weights, but rather to their payload capacity.
Payload capacity is the difference between a vehicle’s curb weight and its weight capacity, so the total weight of cargo that each can ideally carry. Over time that definition has become less literal and exists more as a way of distinguishing respective capacity. There’s a lot to be said about pickup sizes and how they’ve changed over time, but what it boils down to for you is that C20s are heavier, and subsequently capable of towing a greater weight.
The less obvious differences are why one makes a better hotrod than the other and why you might jump at the chance to daily drive a C10 but feel slightly differently about a C20. If you’re wondering which classic pickup is for you, then there are a few other more subtle differences to consider.
C20 Seating Capacity
If you’re looking for a classic pickup that has a backseat, you’re definitely going to want to get a C20. The C10 was never available in a crew cab or bonus cab, but the C20 was.
The crew cab had a backseat, and the bonus cab had additional storage, great for a pet or just for keeping things covered and secure instead of in the bed.
The C20 also has a roomier interior, though both had nearly identical trim package offerings, so the comfort features in each are similar. Depending on which trim package you selected you could have anything from a bare-bones outfit to ultra-plush seats and every feature available in the 1970s and 1980s (it’s not a long list).
The C10 was no lightweight, capable of hauling anywhere between 4,000 and 6,000 pounds easily depending on which engine and other options you selected. But the C20 could haul significantly more.
In 1962, the two C10 options had a maximum payload capacity of 1,500 pounds for the Fleetside model and 1,550 pounds for the Stepside. The C20 had a payload capacity of 3,400 pounds in either the Fleetside or the Stepside model.
Perhaps nothing makes the difference in their towing capacity more clear than when Chevy elected to extend the Custom Camper trim package to the C10.
The C10 got a camper shell, sure, but the C20 could pull a full camper, with enough gear for a family getaway. It’s a difference that’s significant and is obviously heavily impacted by what activities you’re most interested in doing with your pickup.
The suspension differences between the C10 and the C20 depend largely on which year you’re looking at, with some years having more differences than others as Chevy tried to figure out exactly how these two trucks complemented each other.
Ultimately, the C10 most often came with a semi-floating rear suspension as opposed to the C20s full floating rear suspension. A full floating rear suspension means that the vehicle weight is carried on the axle casing rather than on the half shafts which are instead allowed to “float” inside the assembly.
A full floating suspension design means that the C20 can safely carry bigger loads; it also means that in the event of an accident the wheel will not necessarily come off with the axle, which is a nice safety feature.
C20s also frequently came with substantially heavier duty springs and often were available with options like a heavy-duty stabilizer bar that the C10 didn’t have access to.
Though initially the C10 and C20 sported nearly identical engine options, that changed, and by the early 1980s, the C20 often had two or three additional larger engines, including a big 7.4L engine that included the floating rear suspension.
The largest option for the C10 at that time was a 5.0L V8.
On the other hand, if you’re already planning to do an ls engine swap, then putting the same size engine in the C10 and the C20 would have more effect on the C10 due to its significantly lighter curb weight. This is the reason a lot of people like to convert the C10 into a drag truck, and it lends itself to that purpose better than the bulkier C20.
Thankfully, many of the same parts designed for C10s will work on a C20 since they are so similar. Things like the fuel filter and air cleaner elements are virtually identical, and even many body and interior parts can be traded around.
It is important to double-check any individual part that you have your eye on against the specs in your owner’s manual though.
C10 aftermarket parts range from maintenance and restoration pieces to parts that can allow for a completely unique truck experience.
Differences By Year
1960, 1961, and 1962
In the early years of the C10 and C20’s production, they were very similar. The C20 was larger and had a larger towing capacity, and had 8 stud wheels instead of 6 studs. These differences would persist through the life span of both trucks.
In 1963, major engineering shifts were made for all of the C Series pickups, including an increase in the size of their side rails. The C10’s grew from .119 inches to .156, and the C20’s grew from .149 to .194.
The design of the upper and lower control arms was changed, and with that change, the C20 was moved to using tapered roller front wheel bearings rather than the traditional ball-type bearings.
1964 and 1965
The C20’s rear springs were improved and replaced with springs that were hardier than the C10’s. There was also an option to upgrade the front springs.
Dually rear tires were offered as an option for C20s during this time, though that option went away later.
1966 was one of the years with the most differences between the C10 and the C20. The C20 was available with custom camper equipment, which included 7.50” x 16” tires, auxiliary rear springs, heavy-duty rear shock absorbers, front stabilizer bar, and a host of other less-performance enhancing features like a chromed front bumper and hubcaps.
The C20 moved to using a full floating suspension this year as well.
The C10 received a custom camper package this year, but it had significantly fewer tire options and smaller rear springs. Given the C10s reduced payload capacity, it was really more of a camper shell package.
This was the first year where the C20 came standard with power brakes, while the C10 only had them available as optional equipment. It was also the first year where the C20 was available with engine options that the C10 could not come equipped with. The C20 could also come with a larger clutch and fuel tank.
Chevy tried to introduce a model that would slot in between the C10 and the C20 known as “The Big Ten.” This didn’t affect the options for either substantially, but it did give Chevy more space to play with the differences between the two. This model was only available until 1981. Comparing the specs for all three during 1978 illustrates the differences between the respective trucks.
For the final years of the C10, both it and the C20 came standard with power brakes.
Is a C10 or C20 a Better Fit for You?
So, the biggest difference is size, but there are several other differences impacted by that which may make either a C10 or a C20 a better fit for you. Regardless of which you decide suits your needs, you’ll be getting an eye-catching vintage truck that’s like riding in a piece of history that you can make yours.
Though the differences between these two are significant, they share a common history, and more than a few pieces, so feel free to mix and match as you work on making your classic Chevy yours!