Truck Of A Lifetime: Thirty Years With My ’70 Chevy C10 – Not Always Smooth Sailing

Reading Paul’s 30th anniversary with his ’66 F100 was a treat and sparked memories of my long term relationship with my ’70 C10, owned from 1976 to 2006. I was working for a VW dealership in Hollywood, Ca. and my co-worker told me I needed to sell my ’66 VW Fastback I was driving at the time and buy his truck. The Fastback was my replacement car after the buggered Sport Bug was sold. I bought the VW  for $600 with a rebuilt longblock that was not installed. After I got it running, the car was in great original condition with about 60k miles on it, but I had in high school owned a ’65 C10, and this truck was offered to me for only $1000 with around 60k miles on it. I sold the VW for $1000 and bought his truck which he had owned it since new.

It was a base longbed, 307 V8, 3 on tree, armstrong steering and non power drum brakes. It had the custom upgrade, which gave it chrome around the windshield and back glass, along with chrome front bumper. Also had oil pressure, temp and amp gauges, the third and final option was heavy duty rear coil springs. The paint job was peeling in typical GM fashion, and the cloth seat had a tear, but the body was straight and the truck ran well. When I drove it home the first night, it stalled out on Barham Road by the Hollywood Bowel. Raising the hood revealed a pinhole leak in a heater hose that was directly squirting the distributor, drowning out the ignition! Not off to a good start, but a little tape and drying out the inside of the cap got me home. At U Pull I found shoulder belts off a ’68 Opel Kadette that matched the lap belts, since the Chevy had mounting points I installed these and a center lap belt as well.

I drove it daily for 4 years with the intention of getting a VW as daily once gas reached the crazy price of $1.00 a gallon! In 1979 gas hit the magic number, and it was a now weekend and hauling only machine, or a backup when the VW was down. I found another ’66 VW Fastback in ’79 for $300 with the engine in a box, and rope towed it home with the Chevy and the VW”s seller steering the engineless car to my house.

By this time I was working in Santa Monica, and rebuilt the VW’s engine in the dealerships shop, when finished the engine came home in the back of the truck and was installed over the weekend, this was the end of daily driving for the truck.

the Kensill trailer after I sold it

I had a ’69 Kenskill 19ft travel trailer that I bought in 1980, I rented it out in the backyard of the house I was renting. it was my first land lord experience; my landlord wasn’t thrilled about this and raised my rent a little, but I still came out ahead. In 1985 I moved to Santa Maria for a job, and decided to live in the trailer at a KOA.

By this time the truck had about 90k miles on it, and one day when I started it the engine developed a deep knock. I thought it was the bearings but a mechanic at work noticed the knock was actually the timing chain slapping the cover. The fiber gears were worn, so new steel gears and  chain, along with a rebuilt waterpump since it was off, fixed the issue. The  3 speed transmission was replaced by me with a 4 speed Saginaw and Hurst floor shifter as well; towing was useless going uphill with the huge gap between second and third, the extra gear made all the difference climbing hills. Instead of being stuck in second at 30 MPH, the same hill in 3rd was good for 45-50 MPH, and better engine braking as well.

Fast forward to 1989, a new girlfriend and I decided to move to Washington state where parents and friends had recently moved; we were getting burnt out on LA, so we hitched up the trailer and headed north. By the time I got over the Grapevine, the engine developed a miss and lost some power, but we pressed on. Every time we stopped for gas, I would hear a strange gurgling sound under the bed of the truck. By the time we reached Shasta, I noticed the front of the trailer was covered in oil, pulled into a rest stop and heard the same gurgling noise.

in 1995

I had blown out the original muffler by turning off the ignition going down steep hills and scaring the drivers going up the hill by turning the key back on as they passed by, and after amusing my friends, like Paul, I blew out the muffler, blowing the seam wide open. I had a muffler shop install a glasspack, and the tailpipe on our trip had broken right next to the diff pumpkin, and hot exhaust was blasting on the diff, boiling out the gear oil; this explained the gurgling sound. I rigged an auto parts store flex exhaust pipe away from the pumpkin, and refilled the diff with 140wt gear oil. It was noisy, but got us to Washington.

By the time we arrived the engine was missing badly as well. Three exhaust valves were burnt; unleaded fuel had destroyed the valve seats. I think Paul’s newer engine in his ’66 probably has hardened seats for unleaded gas since he has had no valve problems, unlike me. I found a shop that did the whole valve job for $400, and found a rear end at a u pull for $100 that I changed myself; this got the truck running well once again.

Both my job and girlfriend were gone by 1991. I had sold the Kenskill trailer and bought a 32ft ’76 Layton 5th wheel trailer, and installed a used 5th wheel hitch I found in the newspaper. It was a great design that had 2 side rails that mounted to the floor and wheel housings, so when the hitch was lifted out you still had full use of the bed.

I planned to move out of the trailer park and back to LA in ’91 I was out of money and had a job offer in a Reseda VW dealership. I took the truck to a RV repair shop and had the hitch mountings extended under the truck and welded to the frame, and had wiring installed in the bed for the brakes and lights on the ’32 ft 5th wheel. One thing I didn’t do was install overload springs, so the back of the truck rode almost to the rubber stops from the weight of the trailer.

in 1995

The 5th wheel towed nice, and the truck ran well heading south, but I noticed when using the turn signals the truck seemed to lurch in time with the blinkers. So I quit using the blinkers and all was well, at least until I got to the top of the Siskiyou Pass and started heading downhill. Shifted down to 3rd, was still picking up speed, and as I braked the pedal got rock hard and smoke started rolling off the trucks wheels. Holy Niedemeyer, the trailer brakes had failed!

But the newly rebuilt transmission stayed in gear, and down to second I went. The engine sounded like it was going to fly apart, but my speed was held to the flow of traffic, at least in the left lane. That is, until a lady in the right lane decided to pull in front of me. By this time I had both feet on the rock hard brake pedal and my hands were turning blue holding on to the wheel. I hit the horn and no sound; it had quit working. At the last second she saw me on her bumper and pulled back into the right lane. I rode all the way down the road in second, smoke rolling off the brakes and out the tailpipe a as the engine over revved like crazy. The next 20 minutes down the road to the bottom seemed more like 20 years!

with nephew in 1995

As the road flattened out, I pulled off the first exit into a gas station. As I walked around the truck and trailer, I found a flat tire on the trailer as well; thank God it was a tandem axle and the other tire held. The truck’s wiring was smoked, and the battery was dead. I put the trailer spare on, walked across the street and bought a new battery; the truck started and I was directed to a RV repair shop a few miles down the road and drove in. The guy was closing for the night but allowed me to park on his lot and plug in for the night.

He was super cool; he discovered the back of the trailer plug had been rubbing the tire because the truck sat so low and had oversize rear tires, shorting out the wiring for the brakes and lights. He repaired all the trailer wiring as I repaired the smoked wiring under the hood, along with a new alternator. The brakes had got so hot the springs lost all their tension, so I installed all new brakes springs on all four wheels as well. The trailer’s flat was due to the rim rusting out from the inside. I don’t remember the total cost, but it was not cheap when all was said and done. The engine had thrown 3 quarts of oil over revving down the hill but still ran well. Small block Chevy’s are tough old birds.

Around 1995 I moved my terminally ill sister (AIDS) and her son from San Diego to Washington to live with our parents with my truck and a U haul trailer, along with my ’85 Yamaha 700 Maxium motorcycle I brought along to get registered. I still had a Washington license and needed to have the motorcycle I bought in California inspected in Washington to get plates. Took a few nice rides up the mountain roads on the bike as well.

In ’97 the Chevy did its last long haul, towed my 3rd trailer (and home), a 29ft 1974 Pioneer 5th wheel from LA  to my rental house the parents found for me, then back to Napa with a u haul trailer to move my niece and her family up to Vancouver as well. Dad came along to follow in my car and her car during the moves. The truck ran flawlessly, but used a few quarts of oil. Wound up buying the rental house in ’98; still here today.

Early on I installed an electric fuel pump, and the pump would always fill the carb bowel right up and start the engine every time, even after sitting for weeks. In 2004 I bought a brand new Titan pickup; thought long and hard about restoring the old Chevy but knew to do it right would cost more than a new truck. The higher lift even with 2wd is a pain, but it’s comfortable, road trips are great and it has a back seat. The Chevy was starting to smoke and the steering was so loose a quarter turn of the wheel did nothing. It read 60k miles, in 30 years I put 100k miles on her, probably half were in the first 4 years as a daily driver. Sold it in 2006 for $1500, $500 more than I paid 30 years ago. I told the new owner to call me first if he ever sold it.

nephew in 1995

I probably rambled on way too long, but it was a great machine and served me well, although Paul’s Ford was more trouble free for sure. I went through probably at least four clutches, 3 alternators and 2 starters, Chief Auto Parts always honored the lifetime warranty on these parts! Had the radiator recored for $75.00 once, and replaced 2 heater cores. I still miss the old Chevy, would be 41 years now had I kept it. 12 MPG was all the Chevy averaged, about 7 MPG towing the trailers, best ever was 17 MPG at 55 MPH on a flat highway with the tailgate down and the right side mirror removed.