Chevy Truck HistoryLast Updated August 8, 2023 | Andrew Boyle
Celebrating 100 years of Chevy truck history in 2018, the American auto manufacturer has produced over 85 million trucks in the past century. With two brand-new Centennial special edition trucks released to mark the occasion, let’s take a look at some old Chey pickup trucks to see how they have progressed over the years. Co-founded by race car driver Louis Chevrolet and GM founder William C. Durant in 1911, Chevrolet had its fair share of rocky beginnings. While Louis Chevrolet left the company in 1913, Chevrolet became part of General Motors in 1918, the same year Chevy’s first truck was released.
The Beginning of Chevy Truck History: 1918-1928
Chevrolet’s first attempt to enter the competitive auto industry was with the 1913 Classic Six, priced at a hefty $2,500. Also known as the Series C, the first vehicle created by Chevrolet was too expensive for most Americans at the time. If you account for inflation, $2,500 in 1913 would be equivalent to around $63,000 today. So not only could most people not afford this price point, but there was a lot of competition from other more luxurious automakers. So while Chevy’s first endeavor didn’t take off as expected, it led to the production of less-expensive models, which is where Chevrolet begins to see an increase in sales. In order to compete with the wildly popular Ford Model T, Chevrolet decided to produce a lower-priced vehicle, the 1915 Chevy Model 490. Costing only $490, roughly the same price as the Ford Model T, the Model 490 had sales of nearly 58,000 by 1917.
By 1918, the first Chevrolet truck was available for purchase, spurring the beginning of Chevy Truck History. The 1918 Chevy Model 490 competed with Ford’s first truck, the 1917 Ford Model TT. Considered a light delivery vehicle with a half-ton rating, the 1918 Series 490 was sold as a chassis only, meaning the truck cab and body had to be installed by the customer. Sold alongside the light-duty truck was the 1918 Chevrolet Model T, a one-ton rated truck. Described as Chevrolet’s first purpose-built truck, the 1918 Chevrolet One-Ton had a 224-cubic inch OHV 4-cylinder engine with 36 horsepower. Available as a chassis only or with an express body, the 1918 Model T was rated for a maximum payload of 2,000 pounds. Both the Series 490 and Model T truck were produced until 1922. The light-delivery truck and the heavy-duty one-ton truck were redesignated as the Superior Series in 1922. In 1927, the name changed once again to Capitol, which only lasted one year. For all of these trucks, Chevrolet only provided the chassis and cowl. The first factory-built Chevrolet truck wasn’t produced until 1931.
The Stovebolt Era: 1929-1936
In 1929, Chevrolet did what no automobile manufacturer had done before. With the release of the 1929 Chevy International Series AC Light Delivery truck, Chevrolet was the first to introduce an overhead-valve six-cylinder engine. Advertised as “six for the price of four,” the 194-cubic inch OHV engine was a massive success. With 46 horsepower and around 125 lb.-ft. of torque, the overhead valve engine was nicknamed the “Stovebolt” six, due to the fact that the external slotted-head fasteners resembled the bolts found on woodstoves. It can also be referred to as the “Cast-Iron Wonder” because of its cast-iron pistons. So not only did the Stovebolt engine have the appearance of a woodstove, but it also represented the same quality of durability. In fact, with the Stovebolt six engine, Chevrolet was able to upgrade the one-ton model truck to a 1.5-ton model truck with a maximum gross vehicle weight rating of 7,000 pounds. The revolutionary Cast-Iron Wonder engine influenced future generations of Chevrolet engines.
The 1929 International Series AC Light Delivery truck also had a closed cab, a first for the Chevy truck. During this time, Chevrolet began to play with color, and style became a more important factor. In 1931, Chevrolet started producing factory-built pickups, something that Ford had already begun in 1925 with the Ford Model T Runabout. The 1931 Independence Series had four body styles available including a pickup, panel, sedan delivery, and canopy. For only $440, a Commercial chassis with pickup box and open cab was available. So rather than installing a custom cab or bed, the pickup was ready straight from the factory. In 1936, the reign of the first-generation Stovebolt came to an end with the next engine update for Chevrolet trucks.
Post-Depression & World War II: 1937-1946
As the country recovered from the Great Depression, Chevrolet focused on the design of their trucks. Considered by some to be the best-looking trucks of that time period, Chevrolet didn’t just focus on the style of their brand but introduced a more powerful engine as well. In 1937, Chevy trucks were equipped with a 78-horsepower engine with 170 lb.-ft. of torque and averaged about 20.74 miles per gallon. The 1938 Chevrolet Half-Ton truck represented the first truck in Chevy’s history designed by the new Art and Color department. Featuring a new redesigned vertical grille and front bumper along with swept fenders, the fresh styling of this truck was an important aspect in the evolution of old Chevy pickup trucks because it emphasized the importance of design.
While World War II started in 1939, America didn’t enter the war until December 1941. Because of the war, the government stopped all production of civilian trucks from the beginning of 1942. So from January 1942 until August 1945, Chevrolet did not manufacture any civilian pickups. In 1946, Chevy produced a full line of trucks ranging from light duty to heavy duty. However, they were only in production until 1947, when Chevy launched a completely redesigned line of pickups known as the “Advance Design” trucks.
Advance Design Trucks: 1947-1954
As Chevrolet’s first entirely new and redesigned truck line postwar, the Advance Design pickups are one of the most notable models in the evolution of old Chevy pickup trucks. Debuting in early 1947, these trucks sported a completely new look with a five-bar horizontal grille that is instantly recognizable. Not only was this a fresh-looking truck, but the inside of the cab was both longer and wider, with room for a third person to sit comfortably between the driver and passenger. Some additional creature comforts include an in-dash radio, fresh-air heater and defroster system, and corner windows. Underneath the hood was a 216.5-cubic inch Thrift Master overhead-valve six-cylinder engine capable of producing 90 horsepower and 174 lb.-ft. of torque.
There were three different truck sizes for the Advance Design series including a half-ton, three-fourths ton, and one-ton model. The Chevrolet 3100 Series was the half-ton model, while the 3600 and 3800 were the three-fourths ton and one-ton models, respectively. Regardless of the model, the pickup boxes were 50 inches wide with wooden floors for each truck. The next major change for the Advance Design trucks didn’t come until 1954 when the trucks featured a brand-new grille, steering wheel, instrument panel, parking lights, and a one-piece windshield. The engine increased from 216.5-cubic inches to 235.5-cubic inches with 112 horsepower and 200 lb.-ft. of torque.
Task-Force Generation: 1955-1959
After the Advance Design trucks came to an end, the Task-Force trucks emerged in 1955. Featuring the truck industry’s very first wraparound windshield, the Task-Force pickups also included an egg-crate grille, running boards that were hidden behind the door, and a new style of headlights. Not only was the exterior updated, but the interior received some updating as well, complete with additional creature comforts that added a touch of luxury to the pickups. Also in 1955, Chevy started producing an overhead valve V8 engine. While Ford had released the first overhead valve V8 engine in 1954, Chevy was a year behind. Later dubbed the Small Block engine, Chevy’s 265-cubic inch engine put out a powerful 238 lb.-ft. of torque at 2,000 rpm. While Chevrolet may have arrived late to the V8 game, the wait was well worth it, with Chevy eventually outselling all other manufacturers during this time.
With the 1955 Chevrolet 3124 Series Cameo Carrier, Chevy released their first Fleetside truck model. The Fleetside design was clean and simple, with flat, straight lines from the truck bed sitting flush with the cab and fender. The 1955 Cameo Carrier had a 235-cubic inch inline six-cylinder engine with 123 horsepower and 207 lb.-ft. of torque. Two-tone paint in Bombay Ivory and Commercial Red was the only available option. The Cameo Carrier inspired the new El Camino pickup that debuted in 1959. Even though the El Camino stopped production in 1960, it makes a reappearance later on in the decade.
Evolution of Chevy Trucks: 1960-1998
From 1960 onward to 1998, things start to get even more interesting for Chevrolet trucks. This time period saw the introduction of the popular C/K line of trucks, the S10, and the return of the El Camino. Helping shape modern-day pickups through their innovative design, these trucks have played important roles in the history of Chevy trucks. By looking at how these trucks have evolved over time, we can better understand what led to their success and massive popularity that has solidified Chevrolet as one of the top automobile manufacturers in America.
Chevy C10 & C/K Series Debuts
In 1960, the Chevy C/K line of trucks was released for the first time. One of the most popular models from the C/K series was the Chevy C10, a half-ton, light-duty pickup. Several body styles were available for the C/K trucks, such as the popular Fleetside and the Stepside, which consisted of rear wheels on the outside of the bed, with a step located between the cab and the wheel wells. For the second generation beginning in 1967, the C/K series was dubbed the Action Line trucks, known more casually as the Glamour Pickups. Charming consumers not only with its good looks, but the Chevy C/K trucks also had eight engine options for the second-generation. This generation ended with the 1972 Chevy C10, now one of the most popular choices for enthusiasts.
In 1973, the third-generation C/K series was released, also known as the “Rounded-Line” generation. Also referred to as the “box-body” or “square-body” trucks, the third release of the C/K series saw another redesign of the body. Considered by many to be the first modern heavy-duty pickup, the 1973 Chevy C30 One-Ton Dually was the first dual rear wheel truck in the industry to have an available Crew Cab, with seating for up to six people. Under the hood was a 350-cubic inch V8 engine that had 155 horsepower and 255 lb.-ft. of torque. Chevrolet began to offer the Silverado luxury trim edition in 1975. While the fourth generation began in 1988, Chevy moved to a different naming structure for the C/K trucks. As such, the end of the Chevy C10 era ended in 1987. The C10 is an important aspect of Chevy truck history since it leads to the eventual replacement of the C/K line with the Silverado, which will become one of the best-selling trucks in America.
The El Camino Resurfaces
When the El Camino debuted in 1959, it was competing against Ford’s utility coupe dubbed the Ranchero. Not exactly a car but not really a truck either, the El Camino falls somewhere in between the two classifications. Inspired by the Cameo Carrier, the first generation didn’t last long, but Chevy brought back the “car-truck” for the 1946 model year. Once the El Camino resurfaced, it was based on the Chevelle, another car that Chevrolet was producing at the time. With the second-generation El Camino, a redesign occurred that gave the truck a fresh look with a new grille, bumper, and trim. In 1968, the third-generation El Camino received a Super Sport edition to the lineup. For the fourth-generation El Camino released in 1973, the utility coupe received another redesign, and catalytic converters became standard. The fifth and final generation of the El Camino lasted from 1979-1987, eventually being discontinued due to the success of the Chevy S10 pickup.
The Chevy S10
Introduced in 1982 as a compact pickup truck, the Chevy S10 was a prelude to the Chevy Colorado. Described as a “light-utility vehicle,” the Chevy S10 didn’t get a four-wheel-drive option or an extended cab version until a year later in 1983. While the first generation offered both the regular and extended cab, two wheelbase options, and a four or six-cylinder engine, the second generation saw more choices. In 1994, the Chevy S10 came in an additional crew cab model and had several different packages available, including the ZR2. The Chevy S10 ZR2 was a package for the short bed, regular cab trucks that offered increased off-roading performance. With alloy wheels, a high-performance V6 engine, large off-road tires, sport suspension, and four-wheel drive, this truck was perfect for thrill seekers and off-road enthusiasts alike. Chevy released the S10 Extreme in 1999, a package that catered toward racing rather than off-roading. In 2001, Chevy released a four-door crew cab S10 that could fit up to five passengers. There were only two generations of the Chevy S10 before the truck was discontinued in 2004 in order to produce the succeeding Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon.
While the fourth-generation of Chevy C/K trucks lived on from 1988-1998, there was a new naming structure for the trucks. Known as the GMT400 platform and nicknamed the OBS Chevy or GMC trucks, short for Old Body Style, this was the final generation for the beloved C/K series. Now designated as the 1500, 2500, and 3500 for the various weight classes, the once-popular Chevy C10 was no longer available. The first truck available for the GMT400 platform was the 1988 Chevy C/K 1500. The four-wheel-drive models were equipped with an Insta-Trac system that allowed drivers to switch from two-wheel drive to four-wheel drive on-the-fly. For the fourth-generation Chevrolet C/K trucks, there were three trim models available: the Cheyenne, Scottsdale, and Silverado. The Cheyenne was the base trim and considered an affordable full-size work truck. The next trim level up was the Scottsdale, which would be your middle-of-the-line truck. Then there was the Silverado trim. Described as the top-of-the-line package, the Silverado was the third trim level available. However, in 1999, Chevrolet ditched the C/K line of trucks entirely, replacing it with a new series of trucks based on the Silverado trim.
Modern Chevy Trucks: 1999-2018
Just before and during the turn of the new millennium, Chevy continued to revolutionize the truck industry. With the unveiling of the Avalanche, the Silverado, and the Colorado during this time period, Chevy began to produce some of the best-selling trucks in America. As the 100th anniversary of Chevy trucks approaches, these modern-day pickups are helping shape the future of American trucks for the next century.
Debuted in 2001 as a 2002 model, the Chevy Avalanche is a cross between an SUV and a pickup truck. Inspired by the Ford Equator concept, the Avalanche featured a midgate, a fold-down panel separating the cargo area from the passenger compartment. With the midgate open and the rear seats folded down, the truck bed expanded from just over five feet to more than eight feet of cargo space. Even though the Chevy Avalanche was quite popular when it was originally released, sales continued to decline, leading to the discontinuation of the truck in 2013. While the Avalanche is no longer in production today, the truck contained many design elements that helped shape the future generations of Chevy trucks.
Silverado & GMC Sierra
In 1999, the Chevy Silverado became more than just a trim level for the C/K series of trucks. Replacing the entire C/K line, the Silverado quickly evolved into one of the best-selling trucks in America. As with most Chevy models, the Silverado has a GMC counterpart called the Sierra, both part of the GMT800 platform. The light-duty line of Silverados is designated as the 1500 and 2500 models. The heavy-duty trucks are identified as 1500HD, 2500HD, and 3500HD. The 1999 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 had a 5.3L V8 engine, outputting 270 horsepower and 320 lb.-ft. of torque. In 2001, Chevy introduced one of the most powerful engines to date for the heavy-duty Silverado models. Meet the Duramax 6.6L turbodiesel, which at the time had a massive 520 lb.-ft. of torque. In 2003, Chevy came out with a Silverado SS edition that was equipped with a Vortec High Output engine, which put out 345 horsepower and 380 lb.-ft. of torque. The first-generation Silverado trucks lasted until 2007, but Chevy released the second-generation models a year prior.
With some models produced alongside the first-generation trucks, the second-generation Silverado debuted in 2006. Not only did the second-generation Silverado trucks receive a redesigned appearance, but they also got a new suspension and frame that enhanced aerodynamics. In 2007, the Silverado received the Motor Trend Truck of the Year award along with the North American Truck of the Year award. Constructed on the GMT900 platform, the 2007 Chevy Silverado 1500 featured a 5.3L V8 engine that was capable of producing 315 horsepower and 338 lb.-ft. of torque. A hybrid Silverado was introduced in 2008 but only stayed in production for a short time before discontinuing in 2013 after a lack of sales. The second-generation Silverado came to a close in 2014, but there were some third-generation models released early in 2013.
Still in production today, the third-generation Chevy Silverado pickups debuted in mid-2013 but were considered 2014 model year trucks. The heavy-duty versions weren’t released until the following year, coming out as 2015 models at the start of 2014. The trucks received another redesign in 2016, with a new front fascia, grille, and headlights. As time progresses, Chevy only continues to come out with bigger and better things. For 2018, the second-generation Duramax engine found in the Silverado HD trucks produces a whopping 910 lb.-ft. of torque. But that’s not all — a Silverado equipped with the new Duramax engine can go 0-60 miles per hour in 6.2 seconds flat, according to Car and Driver. Chevy is also producing a special Silverado Centennial edition for 2018. Priced at nearly $54,000, the 2018 Centennial Edition Silverado will come with a 6.2L V8 engine with 420 horsepower and 460 lb.-ft. of torque. Containing elements from past generations, the special edition Silverado is inspired by old Chevy pickup trucks and even contains heritage bowtie logos on the floor mats, grille, tailgate, bedliner, and front doors. Chevy recently revealed that there will be an all-new 2019 Chevy Silverado, and we can’t be more excited to see what they have come up with!
Colorado & GMC Canyon
While the Silverado is a full-size pickup, Chevy also produces a smaller pickup truck called the Colorado. Just as the Silverado used to be a trim for the C/K line of trucks, the Colorado was known as the S10 prior to 2004. Along with its counterpart, the GMC Canyon, the Colorado became a standalone truck, with the first generation produced from 2004-2012. However, after 2012, production halted for three years until the Colorado made a comeback in 2015. Described as a midsize pickup, the Colorado comes both in an extended cab as well as a crew cab. For 2018, Chevy will be producing a Centennial Special Edition Colorado alongside the Silverado. Considerably less expensive than the Silverado version, the Centennial Colorado will be nearly $40,000. Under the hood, the celebratory model will feature a 3.6L DOHC V6 engine capable of producing 308 horsepower and 275 lb.-ft. of torque.
100 Years of Chevy Truck History
Coming from humble beginnings, Chevrolet has accomplished many automotive feats in its almost 100-year history. From the creation of the first Chevy truck in 1918 to the new 2018 Silverado and Colorado Centennial editions, Chevy has come a long way from where it started so many years ago. As technology and design continue to improve, the automotive industry will progress along with them. We can’t wait to see what new and exciting things Chevy will develop in the future!