After GMC’s brutalist “crackerbox” tractors, its successor, the GMC Astro was a relief for sore eyes. Arguably the best designed big COE tractor of its era, the vaunted GM design Studios got it right this time.
Chevy wanted in on the action too, and got a version dubbed the Titan. The only difference was a change to the grille texture and of course the badging. This one sports the smaller grille of the original series, which I rather prefer.
When the Astro and Titan arrived in 1969, this was a whole new ball game in terms of big truck styling, which had generally been sorely neglected since the 1940s or so. Sure, there were some very handsome trucks, but they were so because of their intrinsic proportions more than actual professional styling. The Astro and Titan, as mundane as they may look now in hindsight, brought a whole new level of design considerations to these COEs, such as massive front windows and a high driver’s position that made visibility unparalleled. The dashboard was also designed for best sight lines, and had a very modern feel to it.
Compared to the odd-ball COEs from the 50s, mostly cobbled up by jacking up other cabs and the crackerbox brutalism of the new ’60s COES, this heralded a new era, and everyone in the industry had to invest in new modern cabs to keep up appearances.
The high driver’s position, ergonomic steering wheel angle and visibility is apparent in this shot.
Unlike its predecessors, the Astro/Titan only came with diesel engines. The base engine was the Detroit Diesel 6-71N, with the Detroit Diesel 8V-71 and Cummins N-Series diesels as options. In 1972, the Detroit Diesel 12V-71 became available as an option; though rarely ordered, the V12 engine would remain available through 1978.
Although Detroit Diesel had developed a gas-turbine version of the GMC Astro in the early 1970s, fuel-economy concerns would keep it out of production. In 1977, the Cummins KT450 and Caterpillar 3406 became options; the larger engines required the addition of a larger radiator. In 1979, the 6-71 was replaced by the 6V-92, making all available Detroit Diesel engines V-engines; the 6-71 was discontinued after 1980.
It appears that the much larger grille arrived in 1977 with the availability of the Cummins KT450 and Caterpillar 3406. I was not a big fan of that big new grille.
There were also some advanced aerodynamic versions, but we’ll get into those when we do the Astro by itself.
During this era, it had been decided to let Chevrolet trucks share the full range of HD lines that had once been the exclusive domain of GMC. But that strategy didn’t pan out, as it required Chevy truck dealers to be able to support a much wider range of trucks, with expanded facilities, parts and expertise. So in 1980, Chevy truck reverted to just the medium range, and the Titan and Bison and Bruin conventionals were dropped.
The GMC Astro continued through 1987, but in 1986, GM had already decided to exit the HD truck business, having entered a joint venture with Volvo, in which Volvo took an 85% controlling stake. That lead to White (owned by Volvo) designs replacing the Astro.