Modern standards have made it clear that the usefulness of a truck bed trumps nearly all other creature-comfort designs. Whether you use it every day or six times a year, doesn’t matter. It’s interesting though, most of the people committed to purchasing a truck won’t look twice at a model if it isn’t hooked up with four-wheel drive. Too bad, because those pickups are generally harboring some pretty powerful drivetrains under their hoods; drivetrains that are desirable to hot rodders who also see the usefulness of a bed out back, leading to a modified rig that can perform on both fronts. The Chevy C10 is the perfect example of this type of vehicle. And since we have a few C10 build profiles coming up, we figured what better time to unpack this platform and what makes it so special?
Know Your Roots
Like baseball and apple pie, pickup trucks are a staple of American culture—especially Chevys. Right now, you can’t drive more than a few miles without seeing one. Chances are it isn’t even a new model, given the badge’s reputation for durability and longevity. It’s a reputation Chevy’s been building for over 100 years.
Chevy began its long history with truck manufacturing in 1918, with its One-Ton or “Ton-Truck” pickup. Built to compete with Ford’s TT pickup, it packed a 2.8L inline four-cylinder engine putting out a walloping 36 horsepower. In fact, the model was only sold as a chassis; customers installed the cab and body themselves. (Talk about DIY…)
While the Chevy C10 didn’t make an appearance until the 1960s, there were plenty of capable forefathers laying the groundwork for this hot rodders’ darling to take form. The “Cast Iron Wonder” came in 1929, introducing the first-ever overhead valve six-cylinder engine. The 30s saw improvements in factory production and consumer choice. (No more build-your-own Chevys.) And by the end of the Great Depression, design became a major playing card. The badge started to take shape in both form and function, developing a signature style and putting out nearly 80-hp.
The years of WWII taught everyone some hard lessons about strength and durability, and by the time peace returned, Chevy was pumping out some of the most capable and best-selling trucks in America. The coveted Chevy small block made its debut in the Task Force platform of the late ’50s, along with a 12-volt electrical system and some creature comforts.
And then finally in 1960 when America entered a defining new era, so did Chevy with the release of the C10.
A Star is Born 1960-1966
In 1959, the Chevy C/K series was introduced for the 1960 model year. The “C” designating two-wheel drive and the “K,” four-wheel drive, while the numbers 10, 20, and 30 referred to half-ton, three-fourths ton, and one-ton versions.
Side note: Some online forums suggest the “C” stood for “Conventional” or that the shape of the letter points towards two rear wheels, while a “K” points to four wheels. However, since the internet cannot agree on anything, I called the GM Heritage hotline. After making a semi-disgruntled representative laugh for asking what he must have thought was a pretty stupid question, I can confirm that the “C” and “K” do not in fact stand for any specific word.
Regardless, the C10 (or half-ton, two-wheel drive truck) was a banger straight outta the gate. It stepped onto the scene with unprecedented muscular features and an independent front suspension that improved handling. It was also the first generation of Chevy trucks to feature a more well-known small block: the 327. This paired with the Powerglide 2-speed transmission certainly made these a platform that was not only fun to drive, but also exceptionally well-suited to performance mods.
A New Wave 1967-1972
For 1967, the C10 received a genetic overhaul, morphing into a true performance platform with serious potential. Marking the second generation of the Chevy C/K trucks, the “Action Line” models rocked a much sportier appearance, a body style that now is most commonly associated with the C10 name. They sat lower to the ground, with a new exterior design that included a double-walled steel pickup box, more integrated fender and hood, and clean and simple grille. Most iterations received coil-spring trailing arm rear suspensions to further improve ride quality, and offered customers a wide variety of engine options, including the Chevy Big Block V8.
Running from 1967 to 1972, this generation saw a few pivotal changes aside from progressive cosmetic updates. The 327 was dropped in 1969 in favor of the 350. In 1970, the C10 got longer and wider, and interestingly, saw the 396 label being used for a new, enlarged 402 CID engine.
Behind these powerplants were the infamous Muncie 4-speed manual transmissions and the THM-350 and THM-400 automatics. With the engine and transmission options, you can truly see the relations between the C10 and the muscle cars of the era coming to light. With beefy drivetrains, great suspensions, and a long production life, is it any wonder hot rodders love this platform so much?
Muscle cars have plenty of room to offer under the hood for engine swaps and modifications, but the C10 takes it to the next level. These trucks can swallow the biggest engines and the biggest mods with almost no problem. Even big headers and blowers run into minor clearance issues. Below you can see some fine examples of C10 street trucks and the sheer playground of potential mods they offer builders.
Scot Rods Garage
There are plenty of great C-10 builds on the web, but this one really helps back up our argument. This is a second gen C10 with the front clip missing. That puny-looking engine in there is actually a Chevy Small Block V8. And despite the name, these engines are FAR from small, which just goes to show how much room these trucks have to offer under the hood.
C10addiction: Brandon Radloff’s C10
The previous setup showcases how well a mild-built small block fits. In terms of performance though, a mild build won’t always cut it and builders won’t always rely on the Small Block platform. This particular build shows that even with a modern engine built to the hilt, there are very few fitment issues in terms of dimensions.
Corey Jones Designs
Without a doubt the C10 has much more to offer than just room under the hood. This is a prime example of the looks and style they bring to the table. As we know, appearance is all part of the game when it comes to the world of street cars and trucks. And while these trucks wear their rust well, we have to say they sure do clean up nice.
Chino Jr 1978 Blown C10
Sure, the C10 does soak up standard performance mods very well, but this YouTuber shows that you really need to try to run out of room. This Small Block Chevy is topped with a roots style blower, and with the right cowl induction or hood scoop, these components won’t have to peer outside of the engine bay. But yes, this is a third generation C10, which is just as well because it’s time we wrap up the history on this epic model.
The Third Generation 1973-1987
1973 marked the beginning of the end of GM trucks that would actually be labeled C10. There is a lot of love for the 1973-1980 C10s, with awesome builds like the 1974 Roadkill Muscle Truck being responsible for a portion of that following. Despite the fact that the 454 was made available along with all of GM’s other powertrain goodies, these trucks suffered from emissions standards. This makes finding the ideal hot rod truck a little difficult, as builders who need to abide by these standards will have to familiarize themselves with what trucks need what equipment.
Remember, just because you have to work around emissions doesn’t mean all hope is lost. Camshafts, cylinder heads, headers, and even intake manifolds may be used as long as they don’t interfere or delete any of the factory emissions equipment. Check out this helpful page for a comprehensive list of requirements and recommendations for late-gen C10s and emissions.
In 1981, the platform got a face. When we look back at the evolution of GM trucks we can see that this is when the C10 started looking more like the modern Silverado. Don’t be fooled into thinking this diminishes their street truck potential, though. Until the end of the C10, these trucks were fitted with all of the great engine sizes with the legendary Chevrolet potential.
The 1986 model year was actually the true final year to be branded with the C10 badge. This is because come 1987, GM introduced the R/V series, a new nomenclature for the C/K that was used to usher in an entirely new line of full-size pickups.
There’s a New Kid in Town
The final years of the renamed C/K series, ran into the era of the Chevy Silverado. Technically, the C10 ended in 1987 with the name change, but the C1500 was a final form of these muscular trucks. In these final years, Chevy dropped the C1500 454SS on the world. Available only in Onyx Black with a garnet red interior, this model packed a 7.4L V8, pushing out 230-hp and 385 lb ft of torque. This move not only showed that Chevy recognized the performance value of 2-wheel drive trucks, but also that the automaker saw the value in dropping a legendary big block under the hood for buyers. It’s a strange transition, as the 454 would disappear in these final days and GM would only pair the 1500 with a 5.3 L V8. This perhaps feeds into the stigma that trucks may only be desirable as 4×4 utility vehicles.
So aside from our undying love for the Chevy C10, where does this model stand among the public? Well, if you were to take a look at C10s for sale, you’d find that in prime condition these trucks run well over the $20K mark. Maybe not as valuable as Chevelles or Camaros of the era, but they certainly have their following. And why wouldn’t they? Traditional C10s remained in production for nearly 30 years, essentially conceiving one of the best-selling trucks in American history. They’ve persisted with confidence, capability, excellent styling, and indisputably kickass drivetrains. Oh, and did we mention that truck bed is pretty useful as well?