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1979 Chevrolet K30 Cheyenne - Backward Glances

Posted in Features on June 25, 2014
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Photographers: Jim Allen Collection

When the 1979 Chevy trucks debuted, it was only the third year for the K30 1-ton 4x4. The 1979 Chevy K30 line in particular followed a market trend toward moving the 1-ton 4x4 into the mainstream. RV’ers were getting more serious with their equipment, and a ¾-ton simply wasn’t enough beef for many.

The 1979 Chevy K30 trucks came as a regular-cab longbed (131.5-inch wheelbase) or the Bonus Cab/Crew Cab (164.5-inch wheelbase), which were two terms for their four-door trucks. What’s the difference? The Crew Cab came with a rear seat and the Bonus Cab didn’t. The K30 GVW ranged from the base 8,600 pounds, 9,200 pounds (SRW), and 10,000 pounds (DRW).

The base engine in the 1979 Chevy K30 was the venerable 292ci (4.8L) inline-six (except in California, where the 350ci V-8 was the base), backed up by the Saginaw SM465 four-speed and a married NP205 T-case. Axles were a Dana 60 up front, a full-float 14-bolt in back, and standard 4.56:1 cogs (4.11:1 for the V-8s). If you got the 10,000-pound GVW dually, you got a Dana 70 rear axle. No matter which, you could opt for an automatic (TH350 for the I-6, TH400 for V-8s), which also gave you full-time 4WD (whether you wanted it or not) in the form of the now generally-sneered-at NP203 T-case.

Going up the engine food-chain, the legendary 350ci (5.7L) V-8 was next -- an option that cost you an extra $435 at list price. You had the choice of the four-speed manual or the automatic, again getting the NP203 with the slushbox. At the top for 4x4s was the 400ci (6.6L) small-block V-8, which only came with the automatic and the full-time NP203 T-case. The ’79 model year was the last gasp of the full-time craze in GM pickups due to the mileage and power losses.

The signature two-tone paint that had carried Chevy through the 1970s, in this case Cordova Brown and Santa Fe Tan, was about to fade away for the 1980s. There were three versions of the two-tone. The Conventional Two-Tone, which was simply a light-colored cab roof, the Special Two-Tone, which is shown here, and the Deluxe Two-Tone, which combined the Conventional and the Special.

As a side note, the engine and GVW combos changed after 1979 due to catalytic converter requirements. As of 1979, any truck above an 8,500-pound GVW didn’t need cats. Those old pellet-style GM cats really cut into the power output, and a hard-working truck could really heat them up too -- sometimes even roasting the floorboards in the process. Plus, the cats cost an honest 10hp (at least) with a V-8. The K20s took the hardest hit in 1979, having a base GVW of 6,800 and optional rates of 7,500 and 8,400 pounds. For 1980, Chevy gave the top GVW K20 an 8,600-pound rating, and the base K30 GVW was bumped to 9,200 for the SRW trucks. That 8,600 GVW K20 truck didn’t have all the beef of the K30 (most notably the Dana 60 front axle) but it did bring that K20 out of the cat requirement. GM still had a lower GVW K20 that required cats. Unfortunately for K20 buyers, they couldn’t get the 400ci V-8 after 1979, but K30 buyers could. It wasn’t until 1981 that a big-block was made optional for K30 4x4s.

In the realm of trim packages, there were four to choose from. The base level was Custom Deluxe. You could order some goodies a la carte, but the base trim left you with the “numbutt special” bench seats, black rubber floor coverings, painted bumper, and little else. Next up was the Scottsdale ($318), which gave you a better seat, color-keyed rubber floor covering, a headliner, upgraded interior trim panels, some bright trim, a chrome bumper, lighter, dome light, and a few more little goodies.

Next up was the Cheyenne ($481), which added to the Scottsdale by including carpets, upgraded interior trim, a bit more exterior trim, and a better steering wheel. Top of the line was the Silverado ($657), which added to the Cheyenne by including a different look, the gauge package in a “Deluxe” dash, and even more and different exterior trim. All the prices given are for a Fleetside truck with the bench seat. The bucket seat packages were optional, and the Stepside truck packages were a little different.

The truck you see here is a one-owner 1979 Chevy K30 Cheyenne, originally from California. It’s a nicely equipped truck, with a 400 V-8, automatic, 4.10:1 axle ratio, auxiliary fuel tank, A/C, special two-tone paint, and a sliding rear window. It’s only showing about 42,000 original miles and was used by the owner to haul a fifth-wheel travel trailer. It’s another gem from Brian Steinbrook’s inventory of fine vintage 4x4s.

This K30 rolled off the line in January of 1979. It’s well equipped with the 400ci V-8 ($605), TH400 automatic ($385), engine oil cooler ($91), HD transmission cooler ($45), auxiliary fuel tank ($162), Cheyenne package ($481), special twotone paint ($196), A/C ($574), rear step bumper ($80), camper mirrors ($71), sliding rear window ($84), gauge package ($29), front towhooks ($30), tinted glass ($34), tilt steering column ($78), 9.50-16.5D off-road tires with matching spare and wheel carrier ($237), California emissions ($55), and a snazzy chrome grille ($29). Power steering and brakes were included with the K30. With a base suggested retail price of $7,997 plus the extras, this truck would have had a list price of $11,290 before the dickering began.

The Big Kahuna powerplant for the 1979 4x4s was the 400ci small-block V-8. Sorry, no 454 for you Four Wheeler guys. The 400 out-horsepowered the 350 by 25 and out-torqued it by 40 lb-ft. At some point, the original owner installed a dual exhaust system, which likely made towing his ffth-wheel a bit easier. Dual exhaust was still on the options list for the K30 in ’79 ($39), but not in California where this truck was purchased. The last year for the 400 in trucks was 1980.

The Cheyenne interior was a nice place to work by 1970s standards. This truck is unusual with a genuine radio delete: a radio is not listed on the build sheet and it has a radio delete plate. The interior color was called Camel Tan, and this is the Custom vinyl bench seat. Buckets with a center console was optional, as was a Custom Cloth. A total of five colors were available.

The 1979 Chevy K30 had the dubious honor of being the last year for the full-time NP203 four-wheel-drive system. It really wasn’t a horrible setup, nor particularly weak. It just cut into fuel economy and soaked up power. This NP203 likely has an aftermarket part-time conversion, judging by the locking hubs up front.

There weren’t many differences between the 8,400-pound GVW K20 and the 8,600-pound GVW K30, but the Dana 60 was one of them. The Dana 44, or 10-bolt front (both were seen in 1979) were rated for 3,800 pounds, but the D60 was rated at 4,500 pounds. The high GVW K20 had the same front spring rates as the 8,600-pound K30, but the K30 had stronger rear springs, plus auxiliaries.

1979 Chevrolet K30 Cheyenne
Owner: Brian Steinbrook
Estimated value: $9,000
Engine: 400ci V-8
Power (hp): 185 @ 3,600 rpm
Torque (lb-ft): 300 @ 2,400 rpm
Bore & stroke (in): 4.126 x 3.75
Comp. ratio: 8.2:1
Transmission: TH400 automatic
Transfer case: NP203, full-time
Front axle: Dana 60
Rear axle: GM 10.5-in 14-bolt
Axle ratio: 4.10:1
Tires: 9.50-16.5D (orig.)
L x W x H (in): 212.1 x 79.6 x 74.7
Wheelbase (in): 131.5
GVW (lbs): 8,600
Curb weight (lbs): 5,464
Fuel capacity (gal): 20 (main), 20 (aux.)
Min. grd. clearance (in): 7.8
Approach angle (deg): N/A
Departure angle (deg): N/A
Ramp breakover (deg): N/A


Steiny’s Classic 4x4 Trucks

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