Curbside Classic: 1971 Chevy C10 – Still Playing It Cool

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I’ve passed by this lovely specimen of a truck many times, but as we’ve been on a bit of a roll with the older pickups, now is the perfect time to write it up and present it to you fine folks.  As such simple, straightforward vehicles, writing about pickups presents somewhat of a challenge, but there’s genuine substance on display here, and I’d feel guilty not this one its due.

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The premise of psychiatry and therapy is that one cannot thrive when withholding so much from his or herself or from others.  And as we process the tortured history of many automobiles, both loved and hated, I can’t help but think that we as readers and enthusiasts undergo analysis of their character, often redeeming them.

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 That is very much not necessary with this truck, which suffers no tortured history from being marketed in a dishonest way or conceived to chase after an elusive demographic.  Nothing to share on the psychiatrist’s couch, and no image to maintain in front of friends, family or colleagues.  If it were a person, it would be described by peers as a straight shooter.  And in 350, 4×2 form, certainly not a jerk.  Just a reliable chap, never a day late or a dollar short.


That straightforward personality doesn’t mean a sacrifice in ambition.  I was surprised to learn, while reading about the C/10, that GM engineers decided to equip this truck, as well as its 1960 predecessor, with a coil sprung rear axle, located by two very long trailing arms and a Panhard Rod.  Combined with the double-wishbone front suspension which debuted on the previous Chevy truck, this was a much more sophisticated approach compared to building a truck than, say, Ford’s Twin-I beam.

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New for this generation were optional auxiliary springs, perhaps a tacit admission that the coils weren’t quite up to the job of carrying heavy loads.  The rear end of this truck does not appear to be sagging, but when you consider that the new-for-1971 B-body wagons and the 1973 C/10 reverted to leaf springs, its apparent that The General was done trying to make them work.  The newest Ram uses coils out back.  With almost five decades of development, and a five-link rear axle (two sets of trailing links plus a Panhard Rod), its likely to play out better than GM’s effort.  In the meantime, the latest Chevy and GMC trucks soldier on with leaf springs.


Suspension aside, the real distinguishing feature of the ’67-’72 trucks was their style, and fans know this generation “Glamor Era” pickups.   This basic body, introduced in 1967, was marketed as the Action Line and was meant to attract the growing number of buyers interested in trucks for personal use.  With more power assists and trim options, these trucks marked the beginning of the pickup’s transition from a strictly utilitarian machine to personal transportation, if not all-out status symbol.  The large pickup was far from reaching “brodozer” status in those days, though, so compared today’s frequently overdone offerings, this is a very honest, unpretentious device.

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Capitalizing on the personal use market meant adding things like padding on the dash, available air conditioning, and increasing the availability of V8 engines and automatic transmissions.  With its 350 V8 and deluxe trim package, this truck combined the second largest of five engine choices (the biggest being a 402 V8) with the model year’s most basic equipment level.  Even without the new-for-1971, top-of-the-line Cheyenne trim, it would seem that the original owner chose options liberally, because this truck also enjoys two-tone paint and an Turbo HydraMatic transmission.  It probably also has power steering, which was nothing to sneeze at in a big pickup at the time.

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In a vehicle this heavy, you don’t need to be a retiree to benefit from power steering.  In fact, it’s almost a requirement for daily use in a suburban environment, and it’d be impossible to make the transition from work truck to family-friendly, multipurpose transport without such assists.  The last car I can remember being sold sans power steering was the previous generation Kia Rio, but now it’s impossible to think of any without doing some research, and I don’t even know if any cars have been sold without power brakes in my lifetime.  Hopefully our commenters can clue me in on which car was the last to be sold without power assists in each respective case.

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While the grille marks this truck as either a 1971 or 1972, the rearview mirror being bolted to the top of the cab, rather than glued to the windshield, means it’s a 1971.  The rounded model which succeeded this body style came out in 1973 (and was also a style leader).  It’s easy to overlook, but the slow addition of creature comforts is at its beginning here, as the wood-tone trim on the door panel indicates.  The dashboard itself may look old and very basic, but updating in the rest of the cabin kept pace with changing demands.  The seat cover here is also period correct, even if it’s not as old as the truck itself, and offers a cheap way to replicate the ambience of the then-upmarket “Highlander” trim package.  If marketed effectively and sold in limited quantities, an upholstery pattern like this could successfully distinguish a small car offering today.  A very basic version of an Impreza with exposed steel wheels and a durable weave like this could convince me to sign on the dotted line (just saying).

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The cassette deck in the dash and these mudflaps suggest that this truck received some updates during the latter half of the ’80s and if sales of the most recent Silverado are any indication, most Chevy dealers would love to return to the “Heartbeat” era.  While the slogan emblazoned on this mudflap is a good fifteen years newer than the truck it’s attached to, it’s nevertheless a fitting reminder of its cultural significance.  I wish all the Curbside Classics I encounter could have the dignity of this most American of vehicles.

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