CHEVROLET TRUCKS
100 Years of Building the Future

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BOOK REVIEW
Chevrolet Trucks: 100 Years of Building the Future
By Larry Edsall

Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Motorbooks
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0760352488
ISBN-13: 978-0760352489
Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 0.9 x 11.2 inches

Review by Tom Gomez

If you’ve read my previous articles for LACar, you know that I’m a self-professed Chevy guy. So when I got the assignment to write a review on a book celebrating the 100 year anniversary of Chevy trucks, I was in GM heaven! The official title of the book is “Chevrolet Trucks 100 Years of Building The Future” by Larry Edsall, a former editor at AutoWeek magazine and also a contributor to several other automotive publications.

In the book Mr. Edsall talks about how Chevrolet basically invented the Chevrolet pickup out of necessity, when they had to ferry parts from one plant to another by taking an existing 1916 model 490 car and reinforced the suspension, removed body panels and built platforms to carry the various parts to and from the many plants that Chevrolet had.

A 1916 Chevrolet 490 passenger car, converted into the configuration that would have been used in a Chevrolet assembly plant up to two years before the company produced trucks for commercial sales (Vintage Chevrolet Club of America)

In 1918, that configuration worked so well for Chevrolet they decided to mass produce it. The first Chevrolet truck, equipped with a 37 horsepower overhead valve four-cylinder engine, hit the assembly line and was offered to the public and by 1919, the first medium-heavy duty truck was offered but listed as a “commercial car”.

They say you’re never too old to learn something new? Well, I did. During WWII, Ford Motor Company open their plants to help manufacture Jeeps and other components from the Jeep/Overland Company. Chevrolet was enlisted into the war effort as well, and was given the task of building the majority of the 2-1/2 ton troop carrying Army trucks. They had a distinct cab with a pop out windshield and was massed produced and sent all over the world . Chevrolet even made the Pratt & Whitney engines that powered a variety of military aircraft.

As the war came to a close, Chevrolet already began to plan for civilian future. Chevrolet could foresee the future of America and the return of the American soldier.

As early as 1942, Chevrolet had begun new pickup designs that integrated the headlights into the fenders and a “tall” hood. A brochure that was mailed out to customers proclaimed “There is a Chevrolet Truck to fit your business.” In 1947, Chevrolet trucks were presented as “the trucks of a thousand uses.” The various models available were the 1500, 2100, 3600, 3800, 4000, 5000, and 6000.

This 1937 Chevrolet pickup truck was part of a national safety and economy test that covered more than 10,000 miles.

By 1955, Chevrolet wasn’t just going for dependability, they were going for looks. This new body style with a fiberglass rear body was a complete new look for any make or model of pick up that was available at that time. The 1955 Chevrolet Cameo was part truck and Corvette. How much better could it get? Consumers were getting the best of both worlds and sales were starting to skyrocket. All 5,220 Cameos made in 1955 were Bombay Ivory with Commercial Red accents, with a red bed, red and beige interior, red floor mats and a red three-spoke steering wheel.

These trucks were beautiful, and if you’re lucky to see one in person you should spend some time looking at it closely. You can feel the Corvette in this truck. Over the years we have had an opportunity to drive one these iconic trucks and yeah, it’s everything you think it would be. Very cool ride.

With its smooth lines and large wheel covers, the Chevrolet Cameo Carrier brought revolutionary styling and sophistication to the pickup truck market.

The new styling, promised, to attract attention, favorable impressions, and prestige for a business, combining glamour with utility, beauty and practicality. The Cameo had the same load capacity as the Model 3100 pick up and came equipped with a new V8 engine. These new trucks were available in a variety of two-tone paint schemes that was a hit with consumers that used the truck for work and recreation.

Throughout the 1950s, Chevrolet continued to make changes that were not just cosmetic, but a focus on the suspension and new engine configurations that appealed to farmers, businessmen, and the average guy or gal looking for a vehicle that was both a workhorse and had the amenities of a car.

As I read the book, it was getting more informative and as a Chevy guy, I thought that I knew quite a bit. But you can always keep learning, and I did. One page describes Chevrolet’s quest to show consumers how dependable and indestructible these new Chevy trucks were, Chevrolet decided to take a fleet of Chevy trucks up the Alcan Highway which was an unpaved highway that stretched from British Columbia north to Canada’s Yukon Territory and then on to Fairbanks Alaska. This was in 1957, two years before Alaska was a state.

Chevrolet chose five trucks that they called the Task Force 57. It consisted of a 1957 Cameo pickup, a one ton panel truck with a double axle dump body, a panel-bodied, low cab forward vehicle and a pair of big trailer pulling tractors equipped with the Powermatic transmission. Each truck carried or pulled a load typical of its normal use.

Rampside made a lot of chores easier to accomplish. (1961 Corvair, car-based pickup truck)

The Automobile Association of America then did inspections of the trucks before they left the plant to make sure they were indeed stock, off the assembly line Chevrolet trucks, and inspected them again before their departure from Dawson’s Creek.

The trucks made the 1,520 mile treacherous journey in just 45 hours in a trip that usually takes 72 hours in ideal conditions. Chevrolet later issued ads that was titled, Chevrolet Trucks, “The fleet that conquered the Alcan Highway.”

In 1959, Chevrolet went back to its roots of a truck made from a car chassis. The El Camino was introduced to the public as a Coupe Delivery. The name El Camino came from the Spanish word, meaning “the road” there are a lot of versions of what the word means, but as a Spanish speaker, I was taught it meant “the street”. As a kid, my Mom would say in Spanglish, “stay out of the camino, before you get run over by a car!

It would be terrible in any sense of the word, but what if you got hit by an El Camino while you were playing or crossing the camino? Okay, back to the review.

The El Camino was based on Chevrolet’s Brookwood station wagon and added side trim from a Bel Air sedan. The long fin type rear fenders actually looked better on the El Camino than the station wagon, and customers loved it.

The Apache C10 was ready for work or play.

From reading this great book, I get two main things from it that have been staples of Chevrolet trucks. One, durability and dependability. And, two, comfort. Okay, maybe that was three things, but you get the idea—plus these trucks just look cool. If you go by each model and year from let’s say, the late 1930s to today’s super trucks, I honestly can’t think of any model or year of Chevy truck that I think is hideous. Well, maybe the Chevy LUV. It just wasn’t that sexy, but it was durable and it fit a certain niche that the people wanted. Other than that, the little truck did it’s job and had it’s place in Chevrolet history.

Right now in 2017…wow that sounds so futuristic, but in another 20 years if someone finds this article they are going to laugh at how old that sounds. So here we are in 2017, and the hip thing is 1970s-80s C-10 Square body Chevy trucks. Shops across the country are building these trucks with air bags, LS motors and digging the patina look or painting them to showroom perfection.

We got news for you youngsters, we were building Square body C-10’s when they were 1-2 years old and we even had a couple of brand new ones . Man, we’re old.

An S-10 gets a workout in off-road racing.

At that time we didn’t have access to air bags or LS motors, but we did lower them and tweaked the motors and ran Corvette Rallye wheels and yes some had real natural patina and others got painted.

What does all that mean? It means, that Chevrolet had the right idea of what the public wanted, and generation-after-generation keep discovering the old school Chevy trucks of yesteryear and dropping insane New Gen LS engines that bring these old trucks back to life, to cruise the roads of America again.

Whether you’re a Chevy guy or not, buy this book, it’s a fun read and I guarantee you will find something that will make you say, “I didn’t know that?” My favorite tag line from Chevrolet: “See the USA in a Chevrolet!”

Texans buy more full-size pickup trucks than the residents of any other state.

Drive safe!

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