Probably the most popular pickups ever produced are the '73-'87 Chevrolets. Classic styling and solid drivetrains are found in most of these rigs, and parts interchangeability is among the best of any vehicle line. Of course, these pickups do suffer from more than a few common maladies, but some years are better than others. In this story, we'll clue you in to what you should look for when buying one of these examples of honest American truck-building.
Engine Options The wide range of engines used is second only to the variations in compression and horsepower figures. In addition, not all engines were available in all of the weight ratings during all years. We've compiled a fairly comprehensive list of engines, but strange variations exist in the real world. As the EPA mandated better economy ratings and phased out leaded gasoline and California threw its regulations into the mix, compression ratios and power figures generally dropped, then started to rise as the technology improved to make these motors work almost as well as they used to. For instance, the lowly 305 of 1978 had a lame 8.4:1 compression ratio and is generally regarded as a poor performer. But by 1987, the little mill featured a 9.2:1 ratio, a 20hp gain, equally improved torque figures, and much better fuel economy.
The 305ci and 350ci small-blocks appear identical to the untrained eye, but the two or three stamped letters on the block in front of the passenger-side head above the water pump mounting can identify the displacement, but you may need a book that translates the code. If the motor is an '80-or-newer, the displacement is cast into the back of the block near the bellhousing mounting flange. The 350 is the 5.7L and the 305 is the 5.0L.