As the humble pickup truck’s place in American culture steadily evolved from simple-but-valued tool to modern fashion statement, it gained a huge fan base. While admiration grew and trucks aged, restorers began returning some of them to showroom shape. Meanwhile, hot-rodders and customizers crafted their own interpretations of the classic pickup.
The years rolled on and certain models emerged as favorites, spawning a vast aftermarket blooming with reproduction and upgrade parts and kits. So widespread is this enthusiasm for classic pickups today that values of the most popular models have swelled substantially during the past decade or so. It’s good news if you already have one, but not so great for anyone on the hunt for a budget-friendly alternative to pony cars or muscle machines.
Consider the 1967-’72 Chevrolet trucks, popular from new and long adored by enthusiasts. Today, they’re nearly as sought after as the muscle cars of the same era, and values have followed suit, making them less accessible to the younger builders trying to get into a vintage project. More recently, the following generation of Chevy trucks— the 1973-’87 “square-body” era—has been following the same trajectory, with values escalating rapidly.
So, where does that leave the aspiring young builder on a budget? Or even the seasoned tinkerer looking to start a new project with a casual cash commitment? Fortunately, GM kept right on building pickups, and its next generation proved to be a winner.
For the 1988 model year, GM introduced a new line of light trucks under the internal designation “GMT 400.” To the public, the new generation of trucks was often referred to as the “C/K” series, combining the familiar C designation of two-wheel-drive models with the K of 4x4s. The new C/K line offered increased interior space, while appearing leaner and more svelte on the outside thanks to a “cab forward” design with a sloping hood and rounded prow. This was the first time GM had offered extended-cab variations on its pickups, and the traditional “step-side” bed was finally replaced with a new fiberglass Sportside interpretation.
Viewed today, the GMT-400 era of trucks was an excellent blend of then-modern technology merged with traditional pickup dimensions. Though some details are very of-the-period, like the mini quad headlamps of the earlier models and the plasticky dark-argent egg-crate grilles, GM’s stylists smoothed out many of the trim details as the generation evolved, and overall these trucks have aged well. Park a GMT 400 next to a 1967-’68 Chevy pickup and you might even wonder if GM’s stylists looked back for inspiration.
It shoulda been a contender. A modern, hot-rodded take on the 1949-’55 Advance Design series Chevrolet pickup, issued by none other than the Bowtie brand itself. But something funny happened on the way to instant-collectible status and the SSR sort of got shuffled into a parking space next to the Plymouth Prowler.
If you’re one of those keeping track, SSRs seem to be more affordable now than ever. According to data from Hemmings.com, the average asking price for a 2006—the final and one of the most desirable years due to the availability of the 6-liter engine and T-56 six-speed manual— was $39,551, based on asking prices from the last three years. The lowest asking price for an ’06 over that period was $23,500 and the highest price was $60,000. Prices trend lower for the earlier trucks which were offered only with the 5.3-liter V-8 and an automatic transmission. Out of 88 2004 SSRs for sale in the Hemmings classifieds over the last three years, the average asking price was $29,000. The lowest price asked was $18,500 and the highest was $45,000.
Those top-end numbers seem steep until you consider that the adjusted-for-inflation cost of a new SSR, that stickered for about $47,000, would be more than $73,000 today. Which means these trucks have hardly been investment grade.
But who cares? If you’re looking for a fun, open-air driver with built in LS power that makes a very retro-styling statement, the SSR is a cool choice. Over four model years there were 24,180 built and since they were pleasure vehicles by design, there are many out there with low mileage and histories of pampered ownership.
[Editor’s Note: Elmer Liimatta sent in this story of his first (full-size) car for Reminiscing in Hemmings Classic Car. Got a story about cars you’ve owned, cars you’ve worked on, or working for an automaker? Send it in to email@example.com.]
I grew up in Detroit, Michigan. My dad, with only a fifth-grade education, was a good mechanic and had a job at Packard Motor Company. During World War II, Packard had contract work building Rolls-Royce engines for the North American P-51 Mustang fighter planes and PT boats—more than 9,000 of those engines. During that time, we rebuilt used cars because the production of new civilian vehicles had ceased. It was something we still did afterwards; believe it or not, cars were still scarce in 1949. It was a problem, as I was 17 years old and had thoughts about a car of my own.
One day, my cousin—who was “bird-doggin,” or spotting cars for dealers—came over and said, “Elmer, I have a car for you.” That Sunday afternoon we went to his house, which was about 10 miles away. There sat a 1934 Ford Victoria. It was hard to miss with that front end, and it had doors that opened from the front. The car had been used as a paint truck by a previous owner and it had big hooks on the left side that were used to hold ladders between jobs. Someone had made a wood floor in the back that covered the factory recessed floor.
The Ford looked good, but it was tired. I was able to buy it for $50. When I drove it home there was a cloud of blue smoke billowing from the exhaust. Its engine had used all the oil by the time I got home. During lunch that Monday I took three buddies for a ride. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long because the engine stalled, and it was so worn it would not start. We pushed it home.
The solution was to rebuild the engine. While we were at it, we made our own dual exhaust system using 1.50-inch diameter flexible tubing. My Ford had a nice snap to it. Later, I put two Smithy mufflers on it. But now that it sounded good, it needed to look good. We found a pair of doors at Ford Salvage over in Highland Park and bough a can of metallic blue (a silver-blue) paint. Dad took the compressor from an old refrigerator, and an old army surplus air tank, and put them together to create his own air compressor. To make it portable, he made a little cart with casters. It worked well enough that we painted the Ford’s 17-inch spoke wheels yellow
High-performance Corvette variants often came with some baked-in sacrifice: a heavy big-block hobbling chassis balance or racetrack handling at the expense of ride quality. That all changed with the introduction of the C5 Corvette Z06 in 2001.
At its core, the base C5 platform’s stiff hydroformed frames and rear transaxle layout maximized interior space and everyday usability while also paying dividends for weight balance and rigidity. Chevy opted to base this performance Vette on the C5 hardtop rather than the heavier and more flexy hatchback coupe. Hung with firmer suspension components and stickier, non-run-flat rubber, the C5’s cornering capability swelled to near-supercar levels. Hot-rodding the base car’s LS1 V-8 into the 405-hp LS6 yielded a formidable 4.0-second 0–60 hustle. Even now, the Z06 meets an array of buyers on their turf—it’s as happy on a relaxed cruise as it is beating up on cars half its age during a track day.
Speaking of track days, the Z06 looks the part, sporting several performance-oriented design cues. The notch-back greenhouse, aggressive wheels, brake ducts, mesh intake screens, and subtle badges convey a more serious, capable presence than entry-level C5s. Slide behind the wheel and the Z06’s controls, though decades old, feel current and precise. The brake pedal is firm, and each long mechanical throw of the shifter conveys that you’re wrangling 405 horses. This is no Miata shifter. Although appearing thin and delicate for the car, the steering wheel’s weight is firm but not overly heavy, and behind it are easy-to-read gauges with an attractive depth to them.
Fire it up, pop the easily modulated clutch, and the Z06 squats back on its haunches while roaring to its 6500-rpm redline. It has theatrics to accentuate its pace. There’s more roll and pitch than in younger sports cars, but suspension motions are well controlled and it never feels unwieldy. Once you’ve gotten some fun out of your system, the Z06 is a pleasant, docile road-tripper, idling down the highway at under 2000 rpm.
“Before I bought this Z06, I didn’t realize how smooth they were on the open road,” says owner Chuck Brown, who bought the car from a friend in 2018. “My wife and I enjoy it for Sunday drives to the beach or through the California mountains. We love the power and handling, but also how relaxed and comfortable the Z06 can be.”
Unsurprisingly, enthusiasts of all ages enjoy that versatility, as cross-generational appeal has driven the C5 Z06’s recent appreciation. And word is getting out on something Brown discovered four years ago: The C5 Z06 offers the sports car experience without the typical penalty of high cost. At least, for now anyway.
It’s got distinctive looks, great traction, and a horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine. No, it’s not a Subaru Forester—it’s a Chevy Corvair. Old-time Vermonters I keep encountering swear by the little air-cooled Chevrolets as cars that would, Beetle-like, go anywhere in the winter and get home again. The rest of the world sees Corvairs as “the poor man’s Porsche” and, you know, I like Porsches too—providing they’re the safari’d kind.
Safari cars are usually moderately lifted versions of regular street cars with knobby tires, extra lights, skid plates, and whatnot to permit them to go offroad or at least down sketchy, class D fire roads of the type that we have a lot of in the remoter reaches of the Green Mountain State. A safari car is kind of like a Group 11 or Baja Bug, just with any other kind of car than a Volkswagen Type 1.
Corvairs have their own off-road history, having made excursions both through the Darien Gap and into the swamps of Florida back when Chevrolet was pushing them as capable compacts more than sports cars. Since then, however, most builds lean in the direction of emulating the Fitch Sprint or Yenko Stinger SCCA contenders.
Still, there are a lot of Powerglide-equipped Corvairs that will never run with the four-speed cars on an autocross track but could be used for other vehicular adventures. This is a rare (unique?) case of me putting my time and money where my mouth is: I already own a near-identical car, and this is essentially the plan I have for it, though here we’ll take a look at how to safari a 1962 Chevrolet Corvair Monza listed for sale on Hemmings.com.
To start with, don’t imagine trying to replicate the New England Forest Rally in this thing. That’s a whole different car, incorporating a roll cage. For moderate driving, I envision just enough lift to deal with substantial ruts and clear oversized wheels and tires. That’s maybe an inch and a half to two inches over stock.
To accomplish that, the right way is new, taller springs and shock absorbers to match. Those aren’t something available off the shelf for Corvairs because most people want to lower their car or keep it stock height rather than go up. Spring spacers are another option, but kind of weak sauce for something intended as permanent.
It goes without saying that fresh bushings and an in-spec, adjusted steering box are mandatory before any modifications begin. You don’t want to compound deferred maintenance with weird changes.
The biggest weak points in a Corvair for long-term ownership are the rear wheel bearings. The wheel bearing for the swing-axle car was a unique design that interchanges with nothing except the ’61-’63 Pontiac Tempest. Further complicating things, the ’60-’62 design will fit a ’63-’64 car, but the slightly redesigned 1963-type bearing won’t fit a 1960-’62 Corvair. They’re not reproduced and weren’t intended as a serviceable part. The best thing to do, it seems, is to carefully drill a hole in the housing, install a plug (or a Zerk fitting—but some reports indicate that may not allow sufficient flow) and re-lubricate the bearing periodically. Having a useable spare set on the shelf also seems to be a wise mov
Brakes, Wheels and Tires
Speed is the enemy of brakes. This isn’t a high-speed build. Ergo, it doesn’t need bigger brakes. That’s good because the early model Corvair doesn’t really lend itself to brake upgrades. In the front, it’s simple enough to swap to five-lug disc brakes, but you’re pretty much stuck with four lugs in the rear unless you can dig up and shorten a pair of axles from a Corvair 95 (that’s the van/truck version, which used front suspension more like that of an Impala than the standard Corvair unit).
One upgrade that I do demand and have already installed is a dual-reservoir master cylinder. Losing one of four brake lines shouldn’t mean losing all four brakes!
I’ve never been a fan of 13-inch wheels—probably because I’ve seen too many of them wearing undersized tires. There are better options today for Corvair radial substitutes than there used to be, but 14- and 15-inch wheels are way better supported. My feeling is that a 25.5-inch diameter looks best on a car this size, so I’m running 195/75R14 Firestone Winterforce snow tires.
It happens that I had easy access to 14-inch Ford Maverick wheels, which have the same four-lug bolt pattern as a Corvair, but a slightly smaller center hole. I had our friendly local machine shop open them up for me and used ’59 Chevy dog-dish hubcaps, but a more straightforward approach would be to grab a set of 14-inch aftermarket four-lug wheels (and matching ‘56 Chevrolet-style hubcaps) from someone like Wheel Vintiques.
One caveat here is that at extremes of suspension deflection while the wheels are turned, they sometimes catch the fender lip—hence the recommendation to raise the suspension slightly. Otherwise, 185/75R14 tires might be the ticket to avoid interference.
Although the ad says otherwise, according to the crossed-flags badge on the decklid, this car has the 102-hp Super Turbo Air engine. Like all ’61-’63 Corvair engines, this is a 145-cu.in. boxer six. For 1964, Chevrolet stroked the 145 out to 164 cu.in., raising the formerly 102-hp engine’s output to 110 horsepower. The 102 is a good engine, but the 110 is an absolute stalwart.
I’ve already sought out a 110. Mine’s a ’65-vintage unit. A ’64 engine would be even better because it would come a lot closer to being a drop-in swap to the ’62 engine bay. Installing the later engine requires some parts shuffling—and a few ’64-only pieces—but is doable.
Alternately, I suppose you could have the 102 rebuilt with the 110 crankshaft inside; making a 110 completely disguised as a 102 save for the telltale harmonic balancer.
A four-seater ‘Vette would have taken on the bigger Thunderbird
News broke this week that GM’s considering turning the Corvette into a sub-brand rather than just another model in the Chevrolet lineup, with an electric four-door and an SUV. Details are scant at the time, but apparently GM plans to forge ahead with this for the 2025 model year and has been benchmarking Porsche’s Taycan and Cayenne. But, just as the suggestion of the mid-engine Corvette took decades to come to fruition, the idea of expanding the Corvette beyond its two-seater sports car format to keep up with the competition has been around at least since the early Sixties.
Not counting the Waldorf Nomad show car, an early take by Chevrolet on what the Corvette would have looked like as a station wagon, the earliest proposal for something other than a two-seater Corvette came in 1961, when Ed Cole asked Bill Mitchell to design a four-seat version of the pending 1963 Corvette. Mitchell, according to an article that Michael Lamm wrote for the December 1980 issue of Special Interest Autos, then turned to Larry Shinoda to make it work.
“Buick had already designed the 1963 Riviera but was still 18 months away from production,” Lamm wrote. “Design of the standard two-place Corvette for ’63 had also been completed and was being released for tooling.”
Shinoda and the special projects studio thus added six inches to the Corvette’s wheelbase, trying not to alter the car’s shape too much. The doors soaked up much of that length, which makes sense, given the need for rear-seat passengers to get in and out, but Lamm also noted an apparent stretch to the split-window glass and an increase in roof height.
It wasn’t just a clay styling study, either, getting a designation of XP-796. The special projects studio added actual rear seats that folded down as well as lengthened door panels, longer door glass, and stretched internal door hardware, judging by the fact that the doors could still be opened. The longer doors even necessitated slight reworking of the door cuts into the roof. In addition, as Lamm noted, the engineers got involved in the project, strengthening “the pickup area of the 1963 Corvette frame to accept the extra weight of a four-passenger version.”
In hindsight, perhaps Shinoda and the engineers shouldn’t have taken the concept beyond the styling study stage, however. “GM design director Charles M. (Chuck) Jordan reflects that no one at GM Styling, as it was then called, really cared for the four-seater,” Lamm wrote. “Most thought it was ungainly at best.”
Shinoda offered another reason why the four-seater Corvette never went anywhere, according to CorvetteBlogger:
It’s hard to believe that the IROC Camaros of the F-body’s third-generation are now considered classics, and qualify for collector plates and insurance policies. So, we shouldn’t be surprised that the market is rising for them as many of the potential owners have now slipped past the half-century mark, possess more disposable income, and are empty nesters… or close to it. As did older enthusiasts, many potential IROC owners are now succumbing to the nostalgia of their youth and the cars they either owned or lusted after during those times.
Third-generation Camaros were produced from 1982-’92 in prodigious quantities and myriad configurations, from base models to Rally Sports and Z28s to IROCs. Production numbers notwithstanding, finding a good one these days can be a daunting challenge as many of them were rode hard and put away wet. Low mileage, rust-free examples with performance options are commanding the most attention and, consequently, the highest prices. Look hard enough, though, and you might still find a great Camaro at a great price, but you’ll need to move fast because the market for them is on the move.
We recently decided to make our own move on an ’88 IROC convertible. What caught our attention was the five-liter TPI (Tuned Port Injection) engine (220 hp) backed by a five-speed manual transmission. The diminutive engine may not have represented the pinnacle of Camaro performance, but we felt the gearbox would allow us to extract the most performance from it. This IROC also has the rare G92 option, which included a “performance” rear gear (3.27:1 Posi) and opened the door for a high-flow exhaust, four-wheel disc brakes, and engine oil cooler, which were also present on this Camaro.
The IROC had lived its life in Texas, so it is rust-free and its ragtop was recently replaced, plus all the accessories worked like they should. The engine, however, ran rough and lacked power, but didn’t smoke, knock, or act stupid, so we attributed the shortcomings to the fact that the owner had let it sit for a couple years and the gas had gone bad during that time. We managed to drive it on the trailer and dragged it home to Tennessee
If this 1984 Chevrolet Chevette CS listed for sale on Hemmings.com isn’t the most well-preserved example of the most representative Chevette, I’m not sure what is.
The original owner may have sprung for an option or two—Chevette experts chime in here to note any options you see—but with a manual transmission, crank windows, no power brakes or steering, two doors, and an AM radio, it’s hard to see how the car could have come much cheaper. Typically, this is the kind of car most people buy to run into the ground by commuting over long distances with minimal-to-zero maintenance, but this one was actually treasured by its original owner, who undercoated it, stored it indoors, put vanishingly few miles on it, and generally treated it like a highly optioned Buick rather than an econobox. It’s not perfect after all these years, but it still has a lot more going for it than 99 percent of the Chevettes still out there. From the seller’s description:
All original. Clean green title. My mom bought this Chevette brand new, her “blue jewel,” and put it away in the barn only a few years later all covered with sheets and blankets inside and out. She had it out a few times since to change the oil, start it, wax it, drive it a little, then put it back away “to save it.” It is the CS version with the 1.6 liter 4 cylinder engine and manual 4 speed transmission, cloth seats, seats 4, hatchback. Car comes with full history and a story. Comes with all original paperwork and documentation, warranties and receipts. All maintenance records and logs from new. Mom even had a cute blue flowered journal where she recorded the maintenance and every gallon of gas she put in the car. It was dealer undercoated at new, Vesco Ban-Rust “lifetime.” The undercoating did a good job. The interior is near new. Seats and hatch and floors were always completely covered with rugs, blankets, and towels. She never sat on the seat fabric. Never in an accident or painted in any way. Original Firestone P155/80R13 tires and they still hold air. It was never stored or sitting outside so the paint is in really nice, but original, shape. The black moldings are all original, not sundrenched or faded. These cars did not have metallic paint and there are a few storage blemishes, but no stone chips on the front hood like most cars. No power what so ever. Manual steering. Manual brakes. Manual transmission. Manual windows. Manual locks. Manual key to open hatch. Driver side mirror only. AM Radio. Cigarette lighter. All lights work and are original. No pets. No smoking ever. In the past few months, the car had its oil and filter, lube, front brake pads and adjacent lines, and battery replaced. We have driven it a few dozen miles and it has driven fine.
America’s personal-luxury car scene exploded in the late ’50s. Studebaker’s Golden Hawk was among the first, back in ’56. Ford’s Thunderbird helped prove the market when the four-seat Squarebird came out in ’58. By 1963, Buick’s Riviera had eased onto the scene, and suddenly most car brands wanted in on this new niche. Chevrolet naturally sought a way to capitalize on the near-luxury-car game, but the Impala was too big (and the ritzy Caprice was coming for ’65 anyway), the Nova was too small, the Chevelle was brand new for the year and just finding its feet, and the Monte Carlo was half a dozen years away.
Why not try it with the Corvette? This ad is trying to convince people to see the Corvette’s softer side. It’s printed in color, but the image is a study in black-and-white contrasts. Black suit, white dress. Black pavement, white Corvette. Black tires with whitewalls. And maybe the ultimate contrast: presenting the Corvette as a luxurious proposition.
If you own a car with a generator, odds are somebody has walked up to you at some point while you’ve got the hood open and asked, “You ever think about doing an alternator swap?”
Well, of course you have—every time a car-show or gas-station expert has offered his or her unsolicited wisdom on the state of your car’s electrical system. If you’re like me, the reason you’ve never decided to swap to an alternator boils down to three reasons: 1) the generator works fine with the existing and planned electrical loads of your car; 2) an alternator is really going to harsh the period look of the engine bay; and 3) why change something that doesn’t really need changing?
My 1962 Corvair was designed and built with a generator, and it still has one (although, as I learned, not the one it was born with). Corvairs from 1965 to 1969 came with alternators (“Delcotrons” in period GM speak). Thus, it’s not that hard to put an alternator on an Early Model Corvair, and when one of the ears on the front end frame of the generator broke off this spring, I contemplated it.
The swap would have involved not only a Corvair-style alternator (which rotates in the opposite direction from most and requires at least a special cooling fan and pulley), but the 1965 to 1969 adapter plate to mount it to the 1962 block, a regulator change, and some wiring modifications. But why? I suppose there’s some weight savings (but I’m neither a racer nor that fuel-economy minded), there’s better charging at idle speeds (but I don’t live in the city or do anything where I’m idling a lot), and there’s the potential for increased amperage delivery (like up to 100 amps, but I don’t have any non-stock electrical additions to the car, and the wiring is probably only designed to handle maybe 65 amps anyway).
No, I decided that because my generator had always generated just fine (and, in fact, even once it was flopping around due to the broken ear, though it continued to do its job, just more noisily), I would simply repair the broken ear and reinstall it. Of course, that wasn’t as simple as it sounds.
Initially, I contemplated epoxying the ear back onto the end frame. Candidly, that might have been the best option, but then a friend who is an expert welder said he could stick the metal back together properly for me. That sounded less rinky-dink than epoxy, so I said okay and tore the generator down so I could send just the end plate for repair. Unfortunately, my friend changed jobs and lost a lot of his free time.