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Chevy Trucks: 100 Years of Design Milestones

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author photo by Russ Heaps October 2017

Chevy trucks celebrate their 100th anniversary in 2018. What better way to highlight the milestone than by featuring a few of the major generational leaps in exterior styling over the last century? It's been a long journey since the first Chevy One-Ton rolled into dealerships in 1918. Based on the vehicles shuttling parts around the General Motors factories, the One-Ton set the stage for Chevrolet's form-following-function styling approach.

Born into a Chevy truck family, Rich Scheer, Chevrolet's director of truck exterior design, has lived the bowtie since he was old enough to recognize a truck. From his youth, Scheer's goal was to design trucks, and his dream was that those trucks would be Chevrolets.

Only too happy to talk trucks with us, Scheer had no hesitation in naming 5 of the 12 generations of half-ton Chevrolet trucks that he suggests made the greatest leaps in exterior styling innovation.

1947 3100 Series

1947 3100 Series

Chevy considers the 1947 3100 Series its fourth generation of trucks. Even if you weren't around to drive or even see it, the 1947 may look vaguely familiar: Its styling inspired the 2003-2006 Chevy SSR. According to Scheer, it's the generation that springs to most people's minds when talking about vintage Chevrolet trucks. A huge departure from the trucks before it, the 1947 was bigger, stronger and sleeker than previous generations. Scheer calls it the iconic truck of that era. One of the bigger styling departures was its wide 5-bar horizontal (rather than vertical) tombstone grille. Still classic with its fenders and running board, the fenders were more integrated and the headlights moved to the wider part of the vehicle. The result was a more planted, more substantial-looking truck.

1955 3124 Series Cameo Carrier

1955 3124 Series Cameo Carrier

Considering the 1950s the golden age of automotive design, the 1955 3124 Series Cameo Carrier is one of Scheer's favorites. The fifth generation of half-ton trucks, it represents the first time the cab and box shared an integrated design. The running boards are gone. Stretching to the outside width of the wheels, the bed is flush with the cab. It's what Chevy would refer to as "Fleetside" going forward. This also marks the first time the styling didn't stop at the back of the cab; it was a bumper-to-bumper design. "I really love the curved front windshield and reverse A-pillar," Scheer added.

1967 C10 Fleetside

1967 C10 Fleetside

The seventh generation in Chevrolet's truck line, the 1967 C10 Fleetside was also the second generation of the C/K. "The big leap" is how Sheer characterizes the advance in styling from the 1950s to the 1960s. It was the gateway to the modern era of truck design. Among his favorite design cues are the strong shoulder on the body side that tapers toward the rear and the line that flows away from the top of the bed. This was also the introduction of the Chevrolet bar on the front fascia, stretching to the headlamps with the bowtie in its center. Metallic paint found its way onto trucks during this era, highlighting body lines that weren't as evident as before. "The styling is clean and pure," Scheer said. "It's not just the best-looking truck from GM, but of all trucks. It set up the next 40 or 50 years of Chevy truck design."

1973 C10

1973 C10

In 1973, Chevy rolled out its eighth-generation pickup. Scheer likes the 1973 on several levels, although beauty isn't one of them. "Not as beautiful as previous generations," he mused. "But it looks purposeful." In fact, that's his main attraction to the 1973: Its powerful, work-oriented look. He also likes the '73, because it included the C30 One-Ton Dually, which he refers to as the first modern heavy-duty truck. The C30 was also the first crew cab dually to reach the marketplace. Its design, Scheer believes, accurately reflects the truck's toughness and increased capability.

1988 C/K1500

1988 C/K1500

Until the ninth-generation Chevy pickup, aerodynamics didn't influence styling. It wasn't until the 1988 C/K1500 that some consideration was given to cheating the wind. Scheer tossed out the term "great design reach," meaning it looked very modern. "The proportions just seemed right," he added. "It's not over-designed." Although the conversation was about exterior design, this was the one truck where he mentioned interior styling. The low instrument panel and dual pod arrangement provided a futuristic look. "It still looks modern and sophisticated 40 years later," he concluded.

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In the End

At the end of the day, Scheer is convinced the design of Chevy trucks hasn't strayed much from the idea of purposeful-looking trucks, offering plenty of opportunity for customers to display their personalities. "Looking back on the past century of truck design," he said, "I realized that Chevrolet designers have been focused on the same goals since the very beginning."

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