Curbside Classic: 1960 – 1980 Chevrolet Tilt Cab Truck – Never As Popular As The Ford C-Series Thanks To A Near Deadly Sin

We’ve had several articles on the near-immortal Ford C-Series tilt cab trucks, built from 1957 until 1990. But we’ve never featured its direct competitor, the Chevrolet (and GMC) steel tilt cab trucks, which were quite similar in concept. The obvious reason is that they’re hard to find anymore, as they never sold as well as the Ford, nor for as many years. Why?

Because Chevrolet (and GMC) shot themselves in the foot by making torsion bar IFS standard across their whole line of trucks in 1960. Not surprisingly, there were some significant issues with that, and the IFS was gone by 1963. But by that time, the damage had been done.

The Ford C series tilt cab just really nailed it. The combination of airy and roomy mid-century styling combined with Ford’s solid drive trains, augmented later by diesels from various manufacturers hit the sweet spot. And undoubtedly its aggressive pricing made a big difference, as it was significantly less expensive than the competition.

Medium sized COE trucks had of course been around for decades, but the White 3000 of the early ’50s redefined it, by pioneering the tilt cab, as well as one set well ahead of the front axle. It dominated the segment in the ’50s, but Ford seems to have pretty much stolen it away, with supporting help from International.

The Chevy and GMC steel tilt cabs arrived three years later, at a time when GM was also making an aggressive push in the medium and HD truck market. That rather backfired with their very innovative 1959 GMC “crackerbox” DLR-8000, which had a number of very innovative features including IFS, air ride, lightweight frames and aluminum cabs.

GM seriously stubbed its toes on their new 1960 light and medium trucks, which all had torsion bar IFS, which turned out to be more maintenance intensive and was abandoned in 1963 for a conventional solid front axle and leaf springs.

The Chevy and GMC steel tilt cabs arrived in 1960, obviously designed to compete with the Ford. Same basic design, dimensions and applications.

The big difference was the torsion bar IFS, as was used on all Chevrolet and GMC trucks in 1960, and through 1962. It’s quite clear that issues arose; reading through the engineering details of the 1961 and 1962 models one finds several references to changes in the suspension, strengthening various elements and such. The forces of braking on it were apparently an issue, as well as others. In 1962, already the heaviest duty models were available with an optional solid axle front end, and in 1963, the whole line reverted to that, except the light duty 10-30 series, which received a new coil spring IFS.

 

One thing is for certain: these were better styled trucks, unlike the rather spartan “crackerbox”.  I’ve even managed to find a styling clay that’s from 1958, by which time the GM designers had plenty of time to check out the Ford C Series.

We should note two things here: the V6 badge predicts the appearance of the GMC 60 degree V6 engine. And that this clay is of the “tall” version of the tilt cab, as evidenced by the additional filler below the grille and the deeper fenders.

This 1960 GMC brochure shows both versions of the new tilt cab: low (in the back row), and tall, in the front row. A bit of digging confirms that the taller DD 6V-71 diesel engines required the taller cab.

 

The tall cab (and diesels) was not used on the Chevy tilt cabs in the early years. But then that was pretty typical of the times, as GMC was positioned as the heavier duty specialist within the GM truck family, although that changed in 1968, when GMC Truck essentially took over Chevrolet’s medium and HD design and production, consolidating them. After that point, the only difference was essentially in their badging.

Here’s a tall Chevy tilt cab from 1965, after the DD 6V-71 became available.

As can be seen, there were a few changes to the grille and other details over the years. This is an early version, with twin headlights. The lower control arms of the IFS are quite clearly visible.

Power trains were rather limited to start with. The low capacity T60 could be had with the typical Chevy gas truck engines of the time: the 261 CID six, and the 160 hp 283 V8. You may wonder about a six in these trucks, but the 261 actually had a net hp rating than the 283, and decidedly more torque. It makes one wonder why they bothered with the 283. By 1962, the stouter 327 replaced it.

T70 models had a 170 hp 348 V8, and T80’s had 230 hp version of the 348.

In 1962, the first diesel engines were made available, the DD 6V-53N, with 195 hp. And in 1963, the Toro-Flow V6 and V8 diesels joined the line, as well as the little DD 4-53.

The Chevrolet 366 and 427 V8s were commonly seen in these in the mid-late ’60s. And after the consolidation with GMC in 1968, the HD gas engines were typically the GMC V6s, with Chevy V8s in the lower weight class, starting with the 350V8. There were so many changes over the years, that it would be difficult to list all of the power trains over the two decades.

In its final year, 1980, engine choices were quite limited, to just three Chevy V8s: the 350, 366 and 427. Sales by this time were very modest.

In their day, these were used in a wide variety of settings, and this one even sports a sleeper cab.

This the state of the art in 1962 for car carriers.

Regional distribution was a prime application.

Southern Pacific used both the GMC crackerbox and the steel tilt cabs for their freight services. Makes for a graphic representation of their respective heights.

This example I found is a 65 Series. It must be a ’75 or up model, as in that was the year the engine offerings reverted back to Chevy V8s, and no longer the GMC 60 degree V6s.

As to its engine, it’s quite easy to make out the wide valve covers of the Chevy big block; this would be the “tall deck” 366, a smaller bore version of the 427. It developed a rep for being a tough engine, and powered untold number of school buses and other medium-duty Chevy trucks well into the 1990s.

As to its transmission, I assume it’s the typical 5 speed with a two speed axle. I seem to remember comments that the shift linkage in these was far from ideal. FWIW, the first two years had a cable linkage, and that was changed for a rod-type linkage in 1962, so presumably the original was even worse.

A view of the other side of the cab. Room for two, in a pinch?

Pennington Crossarm provides custom services for the lumber industry, including dry kilns, planing, custom sawing, etc., so this truck has hauled some lumber in its day.

And as a bit of a double treat, it’s sitting here at this automotive service shop next to a Chevy B-box wagon, one I’m familiar with as it lives not far from me and is still a daily driver.

I’m assuming this truck is here for some service too, and will soon be back to work.