Recently, GN posed a question to CC readers as to which were some of our favorite designs from General Motors during the Irv Rybicki era. It didn’t take a lengthy scroll through the comments to find that many liked the looks of this generation of C/K pickup, built on the GMT400 and GMT480 platforms. I was in middle school when they made their debut close to thirty years ago, but I agree with those who stated the styling of these trucks still mostly holds up in present day.
When these trucks were new, I remember thinking their chances in the marketplace were diminished due to their looks that were so slick and modern. When I was growing up in Flint, Michigan between the 1970s through the early ’90s, pickup trucks, particularly Chevys and GMCs, were everywhere, and many of them functioned as actual work trucks and not merely as statements as more are in present day. My theory had been that these redesigned trucks looked too “pretty”, and thus would not be taken as seriously as the more square-rigged, outgoing models. The Ford F-150 was still blocky and purposeful-looking, and the Dodge Ram was in pretty much the same form as it had been since 1980 – the latter seeming like the cargo-hauling equivalent of your grandpa’s Dickies denim overalls.
The new C/K seemed like a styling coup – instantly a Chevrolet (or GMC), but smooth and aerodynamic-looking, with lines that also made sense. The Roger Smith years proved to be terrible for GM in terms of so many things: product, market share, quality, styling, and the direct, profoundly adverse effects that many of Mr. Smith’s decisions had on my hometown, as thousands of GM jobs in the Flint area were eliminated. I mention all of this mostly just to provide context in terms of my experience of these trucks when they first came out.
The new C/K proved to be a bright spot for GM during those years, performing and selling consistently well from its inception. Had I been preemptively preparing myself for its failure simply because of its great looks, the lackluster quality of many GM products of the day, or some combination thereof? I drove one of these trucks semi-regularly at work for a landscaping job when I was in my 20s, and I needn’t have worried, as that poverty-spec, dual-headlamped early version was indeed a capable, reliable workhorse.
Production of these C/K’s spanned just over a decade (with the eleven model years between 1988 and 1998), and there are still a ton of them on the road in mid-Michigan. I have absolutely no mechanical skills, but I’m willing to wager that many of these trucks remain in regular use due to their robust drivetrains, wide availability and affordability of parts, and easy fixability.
I spotted our featured example in the parking lot of the local Meijer superstore where my mom had done most of her grocery shopping in the 1980s. For those not familiar with Meijer, it is a one-stop mega-store originally based out of Michigan that sells everything from food to clothing, tires, sporting goods, toys – you name it. It was our then-local predecessor to Walmart that now has a presence in multiple states in the Midwest. Meijer was where I spent many hours when I was growing up, between periodic shopping trips with Mom, through my teenage years when I’d hit the “Purple Cow” bakery and ice cream counter for hot donuts late at night with my friends right before we’d head over to the discount cassette tape section to see what was in the cutout bins.
Seeing this lone Chevy pickup in the parking lot as I made a late-night run while on a summertime visit (how many of you have also ever traveled out of state, only to discover you had forgotten the toothpaste?) was an instant throwback. Many of the GM jobs may be long gone from the Flint area, but many of its employees and products here are still hard at work, as our featured 1500 still seemed to be. As The Police once sang, “When the world is running down, you make the best of what’s still around.” True that.
(Flint suburb) Burton, Michigan.
Thursday, August 15, 2013.
Related reading from Keith Thelen: COAL: 1998 Chevy C1500 – Saying Goodbye.