In 1966, Ford introduced the Bronco, a cool 4-wheel-drive utility vehicle with a removable hardtop and a passion for off-road adventures. Jeep already had the CJ-5, and International Harvester had its Scout. Not wanting to be left out of the fun, GM responded in 1969 with the Chevrolet Blazer. Built from the Chevy C/K pickup platform, the Blazer was larger than the Bronco, although it shared the same removable hardtop and solid front- and rear-axle design. GMC also got a version of the Blazer named the Jimmy.
Blazing a New Trail
In its first year, the K5 Blazer was only offered with 4-wheel drive. The standard engine was a 250 cubic-inch (4.1-liter) inline 6-cylinder rated at 155 horsepower. However, GM wanted the Blazer to be more versatile than its competition, so it offered the SUV with a number of clever options, including 1-, 2- or 5-passenger seating, power assists for steering and brakes, a lockable rear lift gate with telescoping supporters, and a choice of engines that included two V8s: a 305 cu-in. (5.0-liter) rated at 200 hp, and a 350 cu-in. (5.7-liter) producing 255 hp. The standard transmission was a 3-speed manual, with a 4-speed Synchromesh and 3-speed Turbo Hydra-matic optional. Two transfer cases were offered, but one, the Dana 20, was only offered with the manual transmission. Riding on a 104-inch wheelbase and with 8 inches of ground clearance, the Blazer proved remarkably stable, roomy and off-road-capable. In its first year, Chevrolet sold 4,935 Blazers.
1970 saw the introduction of the 2-wheel-drive model, as well as a new 292 cu-in. (4.7-liter) inline-six. The 2-wheel-drive Blazer employed an independent front suspension, as opposed to the 4WD’s solid front axle. Sales more than doubled for 1970, sending Ford, Dodge and Jeep scrambling to come up with larger, more powerful challengers to the Blazer. In a review that year, Car & Driver said of the 1970 Chevrolet Blazer, "In a personal sense, the Blazer has been a blast. Its traction, its toughness and the brand of enthusiasm it exudes give an entirely new perspective on driving." 1971 saw the addition of power front disc brakes, as well as some new options, like an available upgraded instrument cluster with a tachometer and revised front-end styling. Sales shot up again, rising to 17,220 units. 1972 would mark the final year for the first-generation Blazer, with sales jumping to 44,266 vehicles.
A Bigger, Brasher Blazer
In 1973, Chevrolet revamped its entire truck line, including the full-size Suburban and Blazer. The Blazer’s body became more muscular, and its interior was modernized with a new dash, new seats and such upscale features as a tilt wheel. The engine lineup remained pretty much the same, with only the 292 cu-in. engine dropped from the line. One of the biggest changes came at the Blazer’s back end, where the folding rear tailgate now included a retractable glass window. The design made loading a bit easier, but proved problematic, as the heavy glass caused frequent power motor failures and abnormal gear wear. The removable full fiberglass top returned as well, and remained until 1976, when it was modified to expose only the rear seats and cargo area. The new design protected front passengers with a fixed metal roof that also added rigidity to the Blazer’s body.
Another addition to the Blazer line was the rare Chalet model that converted the Blazer into a mini camper complete with sink, stove, refrigerator, table and sleeping quarters for two adults. The Blazer would carry on through 1979, adding more luxury features like power windows, power locks, cruise control, rally wheels and upgraded stereo options, as well as more stylish fabrics and interior colors.
1980 saw a new face for the Blazer, with a larger egg-crate grille and rectangular headlights. The new upscale Silverado trim debuted, bringing brushed stainless-steel dash trim, a center console, color-keyed carpeting, a custom steering wheel and a chrome grille with stacked rectangular headlights. By 1981, toughening emissions standards forced manufactures to change engine timing and compression. As a result, horsepower dropped noticeably. Throughout the 80s, the Blazer continued to add options and upgrades, including a 400 cu-in. (6.6-liter) gasoline V8 and a 376 cu-in. (6.2-liter) turbodiesel option.
Birth of the "Baby Blazer"
Seeing the need for a smaller, less expensive and more fuel-efficient sport utility vehicle, Chevrolet used its compact S-10 pickup as the basis for a new 2-door SUV. The 1982 Chevy S-10 Blazer shared nothing in common with its big brother save for the name. It was powered by a 4-cylinder engine, had a fixed roof and couldn’t tow nearly as much weight. An optional V6 engine and 2.2-liter diesel weren’t much help in the areas of horsepower, but they did improve towing. Nevertheless, the S-10 Blazer sold well, taking on the likes of the Jeep Cherokee, Ford Bronco II and Toyota 4Runner. In 1991, a 4-door version was introduced, further expanding the model’s appeal.
A Short-lived Successor
With the 1992 C/K redesign came the short-lived third-generation full-size Blazer. Basically reduced to a 2-door Chevy Suburban, the Blazer lost most of the cool features that had made it so unique, namely the removable hardtop and colorful seat fabrics. What it gained was a more modern interior, antilock brakes, a standard 5.7-liter V8, room for six passengers and better towing ability. The new Blazer had a much-improved ride, a quieter and more luxurious interior, and what might be the largest fixed side glass panel ever to grace an SUV. In 1994, Chevrolet offered a 6.5-liter diesel engine for what would be the last year for the 2-door Blazer. In 1995, the Tahoe replaced the full-size Blazer and was offered only in 4-door form. The Blazer name, however, carried on in the smaller S-10 version, which carried on until its demise in 2005.
A Blazer for the 21st-century Family
With sedans falling out of favor and SUVs continuing their single-minded mission to populate every driveway in America, Chevrolet has seen fit to revive the Blazer name, this time affixing it to a sleek, modern CUV. When it arrives next year, the 2019 Chevrolet Blazer won’t be a rugged competitor to the Jeep Wrangler and upcoming Ford Bronco. Instead, it will be a 5-passenger crossover based on the GMC Terrain platform. Looking like a hopped-up 4-door Camaro, the new Blazer will offer a choice of a 193-hp 2.5-liter 4-cylinder or a 305-hp 3.6-liter V6. The Blazer will offer front- or all-wheel drive and come standard with a 9-speed automatic transmission and a 4,500-lb tow rating. The new Blazer will offer just about every imaginable convenience feature in the Chevrolet arsenal, including a panoramic sunroof, standard 8-in MyLink infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 4G LTE Wi-Fi plus Qi wireless smartphone charging, and more.