(first posted 3/14/2013) Back in the day, nothing said “cool” like the personal-sport-pickup truck-convertible. Produced from 1969-1994, the Chevy K5 Blazer is iconic. Like its twin brother, the GMC Jimmy, it represented…something…for a solid twenty-five years. But now that we look back, it really isn’t such a useful vehicle at all, is it? It’s a pickup truck with a tiny cargo bed. A tall, thirsty, rough-riding–and expensive–two-door ‘vertible. This ain’t no Coupe de Ville.
Perhaps, however, its vices were exactly what made it so desirable; although it was a truck, it wasn’t the kind you actually needed, so you had to be kind of cool just to buy one. Since I’m not quite sure what to call this category of trucklet, from here on I think I’ll just go with “rig”, as in “That’s a helluva nice rig you got right there!”
Charlton Heston sure looked cool driving around Los Angeles in one of these – red, sporting a whip antenna (a nice touch) and no top (the vehicle, not Heston.- Ed.) — in the 1974 action-adventure movie Earthquake. Just like Burt Reynolds popularized the T/A “Bandit” with the mullet-hair, sons o’ moonshiners crowd (and me), Ole Charl made the Blazer extremely popular with the architect-cum-hero set. Unfortunately for GM, that was a much narrower cross-section of the buying public, and its movie role didn’t do much to boost sales.
Before we dive in to our featured CC, first a little Blazer history, courtesy of Wikipedia: The Blazer was GM’s answer to the Bronco and Scout. It debuted in 1969 with four-wheel drive only, and a two-wheel-drive model was added in 1970. The four available engines included two sixes, of 250- and 292-cu. in., and 307- and 350-cu. in. V8s.
The Blazer’s prime innovation was its being based on a pickup-truck platform, which lowered its cost of production relative to the competition. Score one for GM (I guess).
The two-wheel drive version came with an independent front suspension and rear trailing arms, both with coil springs. The four-wheel drive version had a solid front axle and leaf springs front and rear, just like the pickups.
The ’73 redesign brought many, many changes. The Blazer/Jimmy came with a wide array of engine choices throughout its lifespan: the 250 (4.1-liter) I6; 292 (4.8-liter) I6; 305 (5.0-liter) V8; 307 (5.0-liter) V8; 350 (5.7-liter) V8, 400 (6.6-liter) V8; and the 379 (6.2-liter) V8 Diesel. Several trannys were offered too, including the four-speed SM465 manual; the TH 350 and 400s, of course; and later, the old reliable, albeit with a welcome fourth gear (renamed the 700R4).
In 1981, Chevrolet and GMC used the 305 with a 9.2:1 compression ratio. These engines were known to be underpowered and prone to detonation, especially with the ESC module. To achieve the 9.2:1 compression ratio, the cylinder head chambers were bigger, measuring 76 cc instead of 64 cc. Despite a camshaft swap, some Blazer owners swapped out the 305s in favor of 350s.
1982 saw the introduction of the Detroit Diesel 6.2-liter V8. It was a noisy smoker of an engine that you could hear coming from about a mile-and-a-half away. Man, did it sound good. After 1987, when throttle-body injection was introduced in the GM light truck engines, the 350 became standard.
Despite its relatively short, 106.5 inch wheelbase and 185 inch length, the Blazer had presence. The good news was that unlike just about everything else the General made in the 70s, the K-5’s lovely proportions and wide stance really didn’t grow, relative to the first gen. All that really changed was color combos and crazy-70s tape stripes on the hood.
What was most interesting about this generation is that it was made all the way to 1992, well after the 1987 redesign of the GM pickup truck lineup.
There were at least a few, very minor styling changes to the front clip throughout the 70s (on which some of you fellow readers have commented in the past (What’s up, Junqboi and Zackman!), culminating in very handsome, clean-looking rectangular headlights. Interestingly, this style was produced only for model year 1980. That makes our CC a rare bird.
Nineteen eighty-one brought us a complete front-end redo, with a sloped, “aerodynamic” (I’m using the term loosely here) hood and stacked headlights that seemed to change, ever-so-slightly, from time to time throughout the decade. And let’s not forget the new, more contemporary badges and the obligatory paint scheme changes. Although the sloped hood looked crisp and clean, those stacked headlights were debatable, IMO.
In ’89, the front clip got the last of many redesigns, this time with handsome horizontal headlights similar to the GMT400 pickups. Also available was a stripper, work-truck variant with a single-headlight configuration if you were either extra-cheap or a government agency. After all, these did end up making fine Jeep replacements for our military – at least until the mighty HUMVEE was ready for action.
Throughout its entire model run, the interior layout didn’t change much. As with all trucks of the era, several marginal trim packages were available, including the Scottsdale, Cheyenne and top-o’the-line Silverado packages.
Sadly, there was no Rally Fun Pack option. Looking back on the era, the differences separating the trim levels were pretty few–a little cheap carpeting here, a little plaid cloth there, a gauge or two, and a shiny black and chrome “Silverado” badge on the dash pretty much did it. Outside, you’d be looking at nicer wheels and paint and a little extra chrome trim. Not very Broughamy, but at least you didn’t have to pay a lot for it. But hey–that’s the way trucks used to be–simple, rugged and pretty darned plain, just the way we liked ‘em. In 1980, nobody–and I mean NOBODY–thought about paying 65 large for a Chevy truck. How times change.
So just how popular were these…rigs? In 1979, Blazer production totaled a fairly sizable 90,987 units, but in 1980, it dropped to a paltry 31,776. That figure would prove to be the nadir for sales during the 80s and 90s, and although Chevy moved 40,011 Blazers in 1985, the post-1980 numbers never really improved much. Why the precipitous drop-off? Was it a hatred of the new rectangular headlights? No. Gas lines, rampant inflation and the coming recession = no fun for Blazer.
So who, aside from Mr. Heston, were Chevy’s target buyers? Mainly, the federal government, along with a handful of rich guys who also likely owned a Corvette or two and a Caddy.
And now about that top: The second-generation K5 incorporated the rear hatch glass and tailgate into a single unit, which allowed the glass panel to retract inside of the tailgate via a tailgate-mounted manual crank or an electric motor activated by either the key-operated switch on the tailgate or the one on the dash.
The weight of the large glass panel caused the manual crank gears to wear prematurely, and the electric motor was prone to frequent overheating. There were also problems with the safety switch, which prevented the rear window from being raised if the tailgate was lowered.
In 1976, GM rectified some of these problems by replacing the full-convertible body style with a half-cab design that was less prone to leaks and slightly safer in a roll-over. These half-cabs are convertible from a few inches behind the driver/passenger doors to all the way back to the tailgate. This design lasted until 1992.
By the mid-1980s, the days of full-size rigs were clearly numbered. The smaller, more nimble (and more comfortable) S-10 Blazer and Jimmy, Bronco II (say Paul, how many people can you fit in one of these?) and Cherokee were selling in numbers several times those of this dinosaur. And why not? They literally drove circles around them.
As for our feature rig, I’m assuming it has the carbed 350 and TH400 combo. As you can tell, this is an original California blue-plate, so it likely spent its whole life here. That would mean the engine is of the slightly detuned “CA Emissions” variety. Hearing it start up this afternoon, I can tell you it certainly isn’t running the standard-issue 4.1-liter I6, and it doesn’t appear that Chevy offered the 305 on four-wheel drive models or in California that year. So a 350 it is.
Finished in Mystic Silver and outfitted with the Silverado trim, including bucket seats sporting light-blue pleather, this is one fine ride indeed.
As far as craptastic interiors of the day go, this particular owner found a respectable way to deal with faded and cracked GM plastics by the ‘liberal’ (see what I did there? We’re over here on the Left Coast) use of diamond-patterned steel plates covering the trim areas around the doors and back. Nice.
Somewhere along the line, a lift kit was added, along with Big Ass Tires that help give it a tough stance compared to the standard skinnys.
This one clearly has the (part-time) four-wheel drive option, as evidenced by the locking hubs. Which, of course, raises the question: Who in LA needs four-wheel drive?
Here in La La Land, you don’t need a roof over your car all that much either. Our friend here may not even have the original top; if he does, I’ve never seen it. And in true Blazer-owner fashion he has, once again, developed a handy solution for this–a matching gray tarp that can be stretched across the back, canopy-style, for those few rainy days each winter.
It’s hard to tell whether this Blazer is a lucky survivor or whether it was originally some celebrity’s third or fourth car. Maybe it was owned by a little old lady in Pasadena. Who knows? But by the looks of it, I’d say the evenly faded paint is original as is its interior – with no apparent rips or tears in the vinyl bucket seats. So, it’s a clean driver, which probably makes it a pretty happy truck.
Charlton would be proud. And I want one.