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'73-'87 Chevrolet Spotter's Guide

Passenger Side View
Drew Hardin
| Contributor
Posted October 2, 2002
Photographers: The Primedia Archives

Fifteen Years of Hot Ones

Step By Step

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  • ’73 K10 stepside (converted to 3/4-ton).

  • ’76 K10 Fleetside.

  • ’79 stepside (C10 body on 4WD frame).

If you’re looking for a great buy in a used Chevy 4x4 pickup, chances are you’ll be looking for a truck built between 1973 and 1987. What’s so special about these years? In a nutshell, these trucks are plentiful, relatively cheap to buy, and simple to modify.

They all sit on leaf-spring/solid-axle suspensions, which are easy to lift with aftermarket kits. Many of them were built using sturdy, geardriven NP205 transfer cases, which are bulletproof in even the most demanding off-road situations. And the powertrain options—including 20 different engine configurations—contain the basic building blocks for high-performance powertrains: the 350ci small-block V-8, 454ci big-block V-8, and TH350 and TH400 transmissions.

The trucks are damn good looking, too, with square-shouldered fenders and upright grilles. These Chevys were built in a time when trucks were still considered work vehicles; when aerodynamics wasn’t an issue, but brute hauling power was; and when ergonomics was a function of aircraft cockpits, not truck cabs. Of course, a lot has changed since then. The oil embargoes of the late ’70s altered our fuel consumption priorities, evidence of which you can see in this story’s powertrain charts. Truck usage patterns also shifted, as more people found that trucks fit their lifestyle, not just their work-style.

As a result of these changes, the trucks that debuted in mid-1987, the current generation of K-trucks, are aerodynamic, fuel-efficient models of responsibility and civility. Which takes us back to the question we posed in our first paragraph.

It would take a book to describe in full detail all the variations of trucks Chevy built into pickups during this decade and a half. Since we don’t have that kind of space, we combed through dozens of sources, interviewed experts in a number of fields, and distilled all that information into this fullsize 4x4 Bow Tie guide. Sorry, there is no Blazer, Suburban, or S-series info here.

Our sources didn’t always agree as to what component was available when, and some of the research material was vague, so you may find discrepencies as you come across examples of these trucks. For example, there was one ordering code—MX1—for both the TH350 and TH400 automatic trannies during some years.

Those quirks aside, we think you’ll find this guide a valuable tool to determine what you want in a buildup project, or what you’re looking at when truck shopping. To get you started, let’s take a quick look at some of the changes that took place during this 15-year span. Information on drivetrain components (engines, transmissions, transfer cases, axles, and axle ratios) is contained under separate headings.

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