1973-’87 Chevrolet Pickup Buyer’s Guide – Mike McNessor @Hemmings

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Rounding out some finer points of the popular “square body” haulers

There’s been a lot of buzz in recent years around 1973-’87 Chevrolet light trucks (and their GMC counterparts), aka “square bodies.” Whatever you choose to call them, these boxy trucks are popular because they’re widely available at affordable prices, there’s an abundant parts supply, they’re simple to work on, and they’re a blank slate for modifications

.The current trendiness of 1973-’87 Chevrolet light trucks is inspiring this issue’s buyer’s guide, but it’s probably overdue. While values have been on the upswing—we’ve seen some examples fetch breathtaking amounts at auction—with more than 10 million built, these trucks are still plentiful.

When Chevrolet’s C/K light trucks broke cover for the ’73 model year, they sported a new, more modern-looking profile, with a hood that was flush with the tops of the fenders and doors that were set into the trucks’ roofline. (To clarify: “C” for two-wheel drive, “K” for four-wheel drive, and in ’87 the nomenclature changed for one year on full-size pickups to “R” for two-wheel drive and “V” for four-wheel drive.) A four-door crew-cab model was also introduced as a $1,000 option on 1- and ¾-ton trucks.

Under the skin, updates from the 1967-’72 series included a switch from standard rear coil to leaf springs on two-wheel-drive ½- and ¾-ton trucks, longer front leaf springs and a standard front stabilizer bar on four-wheel-drives, full-time four-wheel drive, and an energy-absorbing steering column. The 454-cu.in. V-8 was offered for the first time, and the fuel tank was moved from inside the cab to outside the frame rails.

1976 C10 fleetside with the Silverado package

It was that last change that would embroil these trucks in controversy and lead to accidental deaths, a federal investigation, millions in court settlement costs, and a nationwide class action lawsuit. Long after the last of these trucks had left showrooms, their side-saddle tank design received a double dose of national media attention. First, in 1992, NBC’s news series Dateline aired a segment that showed a GM truck exploding when it was T-boned by a speeding Chevrolet Citation. Subsequently, Dateline retracted the segment and admitted that it had rigged the truck with incendiary devices to make it explode. But, in 1995, GM agreed to a $600-million settlement over the sidesaddle tanks. As part of the deal, owners of 1973-’87 GM light trucks were issued $1,000 rebates toward the purchase of a new GM vehicle.

Today, 1973-’87 GM light trucks make great projects and excellent work or play rigs. Their popularity means you might pay more for good examples as time marches on, but it also means a better return on investment. Due to the wide range of this guide, it’s a little bit general in some areas. For specific year and model details, go to gmheritagecenter.com, where every brochure from 1973-’87 is available for download, as are detailed information packets with dimensions, options, specifications, and more. That said, if you’re considering one of these hardworking haulers, here are some points to be aware of.

Silverado (left), which was the top trim offering with available cloth seats, carpeting, and more; Scottsdale was a step up from base and included vinyl upholstery, full-depth foam seat, and interior courtesy lighting.

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