Curbside Classic: 1971 Chevrolet K5 Blazer – It Redefined The SUV Genre

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When the Chevrolet K5 Blazer appeared in 1969, it was an aha! moment. Probably most of all for International and Ford, who had tooled up fairly unique 4×4 vehicles that were substantially more compact than the Blazer, which was nothing more than a shortened full-size pickup. Jeez; why didn’t we think of that! We could have saved a bundle on our Scout and Bronco.

It was also a bit of a sad moment, as it seemed sort of like cheating, and took away from the mystique of dedicated off-road capable 4x4s. But it was a highly effective move on GM’s part, and a well -timed one, as the SUV off-roader boom was just about to explode. And the Blazer would ride that wave to huge popularity and profits for its maker. 

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It’s a wave that long ago flattened out and morphed into something altogether different. Some folks still call vehicles like the Lexus RX across the street an ‘SUV’. I wouldn’t, and the RX pioneered and typifies the modern ultra-soft CUV. But a there’s no denying that there is a clear link from the Blazer to the Lexus.

Chevrolet Blazer 1969

Ironically, Chevrolet was touting the new Blazer as a ‘car/truck combination’. Given how utterly trucky these were then, that really is a stretch. But it typifies the marketing strategy to sell these as such, which was a precursor of the move by Americans to adopt trucks as a legitimate replacement to their sedans. Trucks were quickly becoming cool, and their off-road capability was an important part of the equation. The Blazer was not being marketed to the existing cadre of hard core off-roaders. And by 1970, the Blazer was already outselling all the others. No wonder Ford (and Dodge) soon got on the full-size SUV gravy train, and poor International got left behind, with a lengthened Scout that didn’t quite cut it.

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That market turned out to be a bit smaller than anticipated, and Scouts and gen1 Broncos didn’t really sell in real quantities. But the K/5 Blazer was the breakthrough SUV, offering a wider range of power trains, trim levels, four or two-wheel drive, and the room and comfort only a full-size truck could provide.

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Of course, comfort is a relative term. This Blazer has the CST (Custom Sport Truck) package, but even a precursory glance inside makes it clear that this is no Escalade, although it is the most direct antecedent to it..

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This is what an upscale truck interior circa 1970 looked like. Actually, all that painted metal and the fairly honest instrument cluster are quite attractive, especially compared to what was to come. This generation (1967-1972) was the last of the old school trucks before they went wall-to-wall molded plastic.

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The rear seating area was even more spartan; essentially a bench bolted to the bed of a shortened pickup, with a removable top.

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That still left a fair amount of useable space behind the back seat, although that appears to be a spare tire holder, which would eat up quite a bit of it.

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There were four engines to chose from, starting with a 250 CID six, the optional 292 CID long-stroke six, a tough workhorse, and the 307 and 350 CID versions of the small block V8. Transmission choices were the three-speed manual, the heavy duty four speed manual with an extra-low first gear, and the three-speed THM 350 automatic.

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Suspension was of course the same as the analogue C10 pickup versions, with coil-spring independent front suspension and a coil-sprung rear axle for the two-wheel drive versions, and leaf-sprung solid axles front and back for the four wheel drive versions.

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It’s worth pointing out that this generation Chevy and GMC trucks were the first to bring down the ride height for its 4WD light trucks to a level closer to the 2WD versions, unlike the ultra-high Ford and Dodge 4WD trucks. This alone was another important step in civilizing 4WD trucks for the masses.

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In case it wasn’t blazingly obvious, this truck has been restored to one degree or another. The top looks absolutely new. Well, for that matter, so does most of this truck.

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Check out the rubber seal where the top meats the windshield header. Its amazing how everything is available for just about anything these days. One wonders how much this restoration cost. Someone is re-living their youth; or their youthful dreams. It’s nice to see not everyone wanted a ’69 Camaro in high school.

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These gen1 Blazers aren’t exactly common sights anymore, unlike their long-lived successors, which will blight our streets for seemingly forever. Yes, I have a bit of a lingering bias against the gen2 Blazer, given how it came to typify a certain lifestyle that was a bit rowdy and not generally very sensitive to where their trucks were being driven. And there were just so many of them; up to 90k were sold in some years of its almost twenty year lifespan.

But these early Blazers are pioneers, and their low production numbers and attractive design gives them a different vibe. I wonder if folks will start restoring its successors too?