Auto-Biography: 1997 Chevrolet S10 – “What You’re Buying Here Is a Car. Not a Truck.”


…At least those were the words that the man at the dealership said to my dad when he was buying it to haul God-knows-what to God-knows-where. I was far more interested in him purchasing a white Chevy Monza that was on the lot at the time. Thankfully, I failed.

I wish I had been older than five at the time this shindig happened because I would’ve loved to see the salesman versus salesman showdown that happened when my dad walked into REASA Chevrolet one day in 1997 with the intention of buying a new car. My dad had experience in his favor while the salesman had superior knowledge of the product. It wasn’t a fair match really. At least it wasn’t until we take into account that my dad had a serious handicap: He needed the car ‘now’ and he was a GM Man.


Brand Families aren’t that much of a thing around my neck of the woods. Certainly not to the point where they would fight if someone didn’t bought the brand the family was used to. But my dad has always had an unnatural admiration for the bowtie. So much so that when he looked at a Chevrolet Aveo he deemed it good looking and nice, even after I had showed him that all the plastics inside were made from discarded Cozy Coupes and the seats would make cement stadium seats feel like a massaging La-Z-Boy. And when I explained to him it was a Daewoo, he told me that because it had a Chevrolet badge it would surely be built to a superior standard than the ones that had a Daewoo badge. I facepalmed. I had to concede to him that the Chevrolet Prizm is a superior buy than the identical Toyota Corolla, but that’s because you can pick a Prizm for much less than a Corolla and they’re exactly the same car.

So you can see why we came home that day with a bog-standard 1997 Chevrolet S-10 Short-bed finished in Light Autumnwood Metallic and with absolutely no options on it whatsoever for the low low price of $11,000. It had air conditioning and an AM/FM Radio, what else could you need? Later I discovered that the only other option was the exact same car, but in white. It’s a good thing that they didn’t have a red one. He loves red. I’m sure if they’d say “Well, we have a fully-loaded 4×4 extended cab red one for about twice the price” he would’ve man-mathed it to reality.


So what did he actually pay for? Well.. A very, very, very old car for one. Underneath its ‘all-new’ 1994 image lived the same GMT325 platform that had underpinned the S-10 since its inception in 1982. The A-Frames had first seen duty in the G-Bodies. What was different, quite thankfully, were the engines. Instead of the Iron Duke we got an all new multi-port fuel-injected 2.2-liter four cylinder engine. Named Vortec 2200, it developed 120 horsepower and 140 lb-ft of torque. The Vortec 4300 (no guesses about its displacement please) V6 was a development of the 90-degree V6 and developed 175 horsepower and it was not an option my dad ticked. From dad came reinforced leaf springs so he could go beyond the standard 1571 lb. payload.

Despite being a base model, everyone started praising the old man. So naturally, about three days after he bought it there was a scratch that ran the entire length of the car. Praise usually comes with the veneer of either loathing or people thinking about how many crimes you committed to get it. Someone tried to imply that to my father’s face once and the verbal beatdown that ensued (in a completely calm and amicable manner) was so comprehensive its ingrained in my brain. Someone broke the back window once so for a while we had to cover it with clear plastic until we replaced it. At which point someone broke the passenger side window. Someone peeled the ‘C’ sticker from the bed. *This* is why we can’t have nice things.

And it really was nice. Although I’m sure the fact it’s the first car I have a memory of may be rose-coloring the memories, as the most I remember is that the air conditioner blew so cold I damned near froze (good luck telling my dad to turn it down a notch). And rare, but that was mostly due to the color. Everyone seemed to prefer the darker Smokey Carmel Metallic or anything but the light metallic brown. I went on adventures with it. All the adventures someone in the ages of 6-11 can go on at least. One day, the road to church was closed to build a highway pass and we had two options to get to it: go down the track to the highway and drive about twelve miles to turn around and cross, or go straight through the mountains of sand and gravel that blocked the way. Turns out the S10 has some good sand capabilities.
One day out of nowhere, my dad insisted I sit on his lap and drive. It was the most fun and nerve-wracking 25 miles per hour I’ve ever had. Then when I was older, mum and I spun it out on a rainy night in an off-camber curve. That one was more scary than fun though. Then one Sunday night, it was gone. The lease was over and some men came to pick it up. I think it would’ve been nice if they had notified my folks first and not left them carless.

If my memories seem a bit fuzzy and all over the place well, they are. I was very young and there were a lot of things competing for a spot in my memory. But almost everything I can remember about the S10 is lined with a tint of innocence and bright-eyed idealism. When they broke the windows, I didn’t knew the stress that my parents felt. I just knew one day, by magic, a window would appear. As I grew older and I started figuring things out a new perspective emerged. A darker one, but you knew that one already. Turns out it wasn’t a car or a truck, it was an experience.