Curbside Classic: 1972 Chevrolet C-10 – The Justified and Ancient Highwayman

My recent cheeky essay comparing a newer GMC crew cab pickup, along with a fairly recent Dodge Ram, to an early ’90s Dodge was quite intentional.  Not only did it show the hyperbole often used to describe the physical size of new pickups is primarily just that, it also seemed like a good warm-up for writing about this 1972 Chevrolet C-10.  Sometimes one needs to prime the well to extract some creativity for other uses.

Inspiration did indeed hit; well, at least it formed itself into something coherent.  This old C-10 has been moldering on my hard drive for entirely too long.  That’s sad given this is my favorite Chevrolet pickup of all time.

Long ago Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, and Johnny Cash sang the ultimate country song.  Unlike the stereotypical country song about grandma getting hit by a train after leaving a tavern while carrying her handmade quilt home from prison, The Highwayman was much deeper.  Truly, how many country songs, or songs of any genre, are about reincarnation?  For this generation of Chevrolet pickup, the one that is worked, refurbished, worked more, then refurbished again, often swapping owners with every iteration and having a different purpose each time, it seemed rather appropriate.

This old Chevrolet was eagerly awaiting another new owner back in 2013, preferably someone who had $6,000 in cash.  While there is abundant exaggeration in regard to newer pickups, particularly crew cabs it seems, the assertion of them often looking hyper-aggressive does have validity.  The 1972 C-10 is rather the antithesis of this contention as it has one of the friendliest faces ever for a pickup.  Looking at it just makes a person feel better about everything.

Another 1972 C-10, in a darker shade of factory applied red, most likely what Chevrolet called “Crimson Red”, plays into this perception.  My grandfather Albert purchased one new and it was around for my first six to seven years.  But we’ll come back to that.

Model year 1966 had served as a sort of transition year between generations of bow-tie haulers.  That final year of the prior generation saw the new availability of a three-speed Turbo Hydramatic transmission, the 250 cubic inch six replacing the old 230 six, and the 327 cubic inch V8 complementing the 283.

The ante was upped the following year.

For 1967, a lot of new components found their way onto the C-10.  While in retrospect some of these are almost laughably simple, such as a dual reservoir master cylinder and a padded dashboard, this was a huge step forward.  This all new body helped pull Chevrolet pickups into a more modern era of safety and drivability.  Chevrolet was even touting having an all steel bed floor for the first time – although a wood floor was still available.

The difference between the new 1967 models and the old 1966 models was almost as shocking as country legend Tammy Wynette singing a dance song in 1991.  It was a vastly different presentation while still possessing the familiarity of the proven, Chevrolet voice.

Chevrolet’s introduction of these pickups coincided with Ford also releasing a brand new pickup.  The pickup wars of today are nothing new as they have been going on for decades.  Perusing brochures for both brands also shows the typical sales propaganda of both, which of course means subtle denigration of the other.

For instance, when Chevrolet redesigned the front of their pickups for 1971, they also went to five-lug wheels (down one from the long-standing six lug wheels) with disc brakes being standard across the line.  Conversely, Ford’s 1971 brochure talks about big-truck style drum brakes that require less effort than discs when not equipped with power assist.  Hedging their bets, Ford does have nominal mention of disc brakes being available.  Chevrolet went all in and was the better for it.

Under the hood, Chevrolet made available a 402 cubic inch (6.6 liter) V8 in 1970 after the 396 being used in 1969; Ford had been offering the 390 for several years, so it seemed like a natural.  On the small end, Chevrolet introduced the 307 into the pickup product line for 1968 with Ford following suit with the 302 soon thereafter.

Tit-for-tat and all that.  Yet one of the biggest differences that can be discerned between the otherwise identical 1971 and 1972 C-10 lies within the cab.  For 1971 the rearview mirror was bolted to the roof of the cab; for 1972 it was glued to the windshield.  Those are some pretty heady differences.

So this makes our featured pickup a 1972.  Well, at this point it could be a modified 1971, but we’ll call it a 1972.  With the rate at which these old Chevrolet pickups are reincarnated this rig could be a delightful combination of both years.

This means I really don’t know if my grandfather Albert’s old C-10 was a 1971 or 1972 as I wasn’t paying attention to such fine details as mirror mounting points at age five.  Odds are he would have wanted to space vehicle purchases a couple years apart, as he had also purchased a new 1970 Impala, but he also once replaced both of his vehicles within ten days time.  So it could be either way.

His C-10 was definitely used as intended by Chevrolet during the time of his ownership.

My grandfather worked at the cement plant in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, with his commute from south of nearby Scott City being exactly 10.5 miles (which also shows using an empty pickup for commuting duties isn’t a new phenomenon).  He always drove his pickup to work because he didn’t want to dirty up the car.  From what I can determine the ’72 C-10 was his first new pickup.  So while he intended to work it, he was still trying to be careful with it.  That didn’t work for long.

Grandpa tells stories about the awful things he and his coworkers did to each other.  One was to his cousin-in-law Richard, a devout Catholic.  Every Friday every person to be found would dump their bologna wrappers, chicken bones, and other land based meat evidence into a distracted Richard’s lunch bucket.  Then, as Grandpa has stated “Richard would get home and Lucy would open his lunch bucket.  She chewed his ass out every Friday as he never could convince her he hadn’t eaten all the stuff she found.  He finally got wise and dumped all the trash before he left work.  Then Lucy chewed his ass out for trying to hide his activities from her.”

This is the same Lucy who was sobbing onto my grandfather’s shoulder at my grandmother Violet’s funeral early last year.  To get rid of her, Grandpa (then 93) claimed a need to answer Mother Nature.  He lied, she left, he was happy.  He’s 95 now and still more mentally sharp than many people half his age.  Richard and Lucy are around Grandpa’s age and are still living in their home, unassisted.  I’ve lost count of the number of people in my extended family who are over age 90.  Of the bunch, Grandpa is the only one in assisted living and that’s by his choice.

I digress.

Anyway, a few days after Grandpa purchased his C-10, a bored and mean-spirited coworker drove a loader to the quarry side of the cement plant and got a bucket full of small, washed rock.  He then loaded the back of that C-10 to where the rock was level with the sides of the bed.

As Grandpa once said “I’d like to know who the bastard was that did such a thing while I pulled a double shift.  It was 12 hours before I had to be back to work and not wanting to blow the tires I drove home at 20 miles per hour.  Once I got home I jacked up the rear end before going to bed.  Then I had to unload the mess before going to work.  Well, the driveway was needing some gravel.”

There was another event in which details are sketchy and lips are still sealed but his C-10 played a crucial supporting role.  In fact, it seems to be one of the more taboo subjects in the family which makes it that much more tempting for discussion.

My mom’s younger brother Ron turned thirteen in late 1971.  At some point around that time my grandparents uncharacteristically bought a pony for Ron.  Given Grandpa’s philosophy of life by the mid-1980s would be “I don’t want anything that eats, sleeps, or poops – except your Grandma” this was quite a remarkable event.  However, this wasn’t just any pony.  This pony had been used in the sporadically popular industry of donkey basketball and was trained to stop suddenly about every fifteen steps.

I’ve never determined how they succeeded in acquiring such an animal nor have I determined why a pony was used in donkey basketball.  But it appears such was the case.

At any rate, it seems this pony was either profoundly dumb or quite suicidal as one day the unthinkable happened.  The pony decided to walk across the pond and, of course, he didn’t make it – perhaps he was fifteen steps in.  He was discovered floating aimlessly around the middle of the pond.  Extrication from the pond involved a jon-boat, a tow rope, and staying away from Grandpa.  Some parts of the story have been cleansed and greatly abridged over time, much to my chagrin.

Once the pony was out of the pond it was loaded into the bed of the C-10.  Of course, how one just loads a dead, wet pony, after pulling him up a hellacious hill from the pond toward the house has never been answered.  I’m suspecting a neighbor’s tractor was involved.

Soggy Pony needed to be disposed of in some fashion.  My educated guess is it involved a gully on or near some family property about five miles away.  Unloading likely involved dropping the tailgate, nailing the throttle in reverse, and standing on the brakes to achieve a sudden stop at the precipice of the gully.  It’s as good a guess as any knowing my grandfather as I do.  Even if Soggy Pony was disposed of in another fashion, I have little doubt the C-10 was involved.

And for hauling Soggy Pony to its final resting place, this C-10 would be a great and stylish tool for doing so.  It was also a great and stylish conveyance for hauling sail boat fuel during a commute plus hauling any number of other things.

That C-10 hung around until 1979.  But being a Chevrolet of this generation there is little doubt, as Johnny Cash sang, it would live to be around again, and again, and again, and again.

Found May 2013 in Hannibal, Missouri

Related Reading:

1971 Chevrolet C-10

1972 Chevrolet C-30 by PN