General Motors recently held an event in Texas to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Chevrolet Trucks. Chevrolet truck owners were invited to Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth to show off their trucks, see historic models and explore the current lineup. Recently retired Chevy hero Dale Earnhardt Jr. showed up for an interview onstage in the Speedway infield, accompanied by his personal 1988 Chevy S10 pickup. At the conclusion of the event, Chevrolet President Alan Batey unveiled the all-new 2019 Chevrolet Silverado to the crowd — by having it airlifted into the Speedway infield via helicopter. The redesigned and re-engineered Silverado will make its official public debut at the 2018 North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January.
In the week following the 100th Anniversary event, we visited with Christo Datini, lead archivist for the General Motors Heritage Center and Media Archive in Sterling Heights, Michigan to uncover 10 innovations from 100 years of Chevy trucks. These landmarks are for Chevy trucks, and some, where noted, are industry firsts.
1. 1918: First Chevy Trucks Sold to Consumers
The very first Chevy trucks were probably the chassis cab units that were used to transport materials in the factory in 1917. But the 1918 Chevrolet Model T was the brand’s first purpose-built truck produced for the general public.
2. 1926: First Chevy Trucks With a Pickup Bed
Chevy sells a commercial pickup-style truck and a utility roadster with a pickup bed made from wood and steel. They advertise “Chevrolet Builds Trucks Complete with Bodies.”
3. 1929: Stovebolt Six Engine Brings Torque to the Chevy Truck
Chevy introduced its new engine in 1929, and advertised its efficiency with the slogan “A Six for the Price of a Four.” An inline 6-cylinder design, it brought competitive levels of torque to the game. The engine was a favorite of hot-rodders, and developed into the Blue Flame Six in Chevy advertising terms.
4. 1930: Chevrolet Roadster Delivery Is the First Advertised “Pick-Up” Truck
The term was gaining traction in popular use, and starts to appear in advertising. In the same year, Chevy buys Martin-Perry Company, and begins to build its own bodies for the first time.
5. 1931: First All-Metal Bodies on Chevy Trucks Available From the Factory
Before 1931, truck bodies were built out of a combination of metal and wood. The advent of a steel bed greatly improved rigidity and durability.
6. 1955: First Chevy Fleetside Truck
The mid-1955 Cameo Carrier trim level came with a fiberglass bed with smooth sides, as opposed to the step-side design of earlier designs.
7. 1955: The Small Block V8 debuts in the “second series” truck lineup.
This 4.6-liter (265 cc) overhead-valve V8 engine is still in production, now in its fifth generation and at multiple displacements. Capable of producing 238 lb-ft of torque, the Small Block allowed Chevy trucks to keep up on the new Interstate Highway system. Though it was not Chevy’s first V8 (that distinction goes to a 1918 engine that was used for one year in passenger cars), it was certainly one of its most important innovations, and was first employed in Chevy trucks.
8. 1957: First Factory-Installed 4-Wheel Drive
An aftermarket conversion from NAPCO (Northwestern Auto Parts Company) called the “Powr-Pak” could be installed on Chevy trucks as early as 1949 (the history of NAPCO is a little hazy). In 1957, it became an official factory-installed option at Chevrolet.
9. 1967: Chevy Uses Coil Springs in Front and Rear Truck Suspension
This industry-first innovation transforms the pickup truck from a pure work vehicle to a more comfortable, smooth-riding daily driver, and leads to a wider adoption of pickups as a vehicle of choice for non-commercial buyers.
10. 1973: First Modern Heavy-Duty Pickup Truck
The 1973 Chevrolet C30 was the industry’s first Crew Cab Dually Pickup, and is widely considered the first modern heavy-duty pickup. It was designed with aerodynamics (as they were then understood) in mind, and was the first truck to use curved side glass. Its radio antenna was integrated into its windshield.
The Chevrolet trucks that we know today are built upon the foundation of these innovations, and more. When the new Silverado arrives, it will bear a name that began as a trim level in 1975, and was adopted as the official name of the full-size Chevy pickup in 1999.