My initial impression, upon sliding onto the vinyl bench seat in the Spartan cabin, is that the steering wheel is so huge that it seems to belong in a ship. This turns out to be a plausible metaphor for the C-10. When driving the pickup, as with piloting a boat, everything has to be done with deliberation. The column shifter refuses to be rushed. Following closely in traffic is a definite no-no, because the drum brakes take their sweet time before biting and deceleration is never abrupt enough to snug me up against the less-than-confidence-inspiring lap belt. And with tiny 15-by-5.5-inch wheels and grip-challenged bias-ply tires, "brisk" and "cornering" are two words that don't belong in the same sentence. On the other hand, even with the smallest engine offered, this pickup has no trouble keeping up with traffic. Contrary to expectations, the ride is almost plush - thanks to soft coil springs all around - although the damping leaves a lot to be desired.
The interior is a study in minimalism, with a bare-metal dash and an instrument panel a fourth-grader could decipher. But Chevrolet recognized that pickups of this period were increasingly being used in the role played by today's SUVs, so it designed the first-gen C/K as a dual-purpose vehicle. (It's no coincidence that the popularity of travel trailers and camper shells skyrocketed during the truck's life cycle.) That meant plenty of creature comforts to choose from, not to mention two-tone paint, extra chrome, and panoramic windows.
Still, the C/K isn't trying to be a car or an urban fortress or a high-tech entertainment center. From start to finish of the model run, it was an honest truck that was comfortable with its essential truckness. AM radio, power steering, and power brakes were all optional, and factory-installed air-conditioning wasn't even offered until 1965. Peer under the hood and you'll find a carburetor and no electronics. "You can fix it with a crescent wrench and a screwdriver," Parker says.
In 1967, Chevrolet brought out a new generation of bolder, more sophisticated trucks, now known as the Glamour Pickups. The 1960-1966 models don't exude that kind of sex appeal. But if you're looking for a truck bargain that captures the American character at mid-century, the first of the Chevy C/K pickups belongs near the top of your shopping list.
3.8L OHV I-6, 125-140 hp, 220 lb-ft;
3.9L OHV I-6, 135 hp, 215-217 lb-ft;
4.1L OHV I-6, 155 hp, 235 lb-ft;
4.3L OHV I-6, 150 hp, 235 lb-ft;
4.8L OHV I-6, 165-170 hp, 275-280 lb-ft;
4.6L OHV V-8, 160-175 hp, 270-275 lb-ft;
5.4L OHV V-8, 220 hp, 320 lb-ft
3- or 4-speed manual
2- or 3-speed automatic
Rear- or 4-wheel
About 3 million
$2066 (1966 C-10 half-ton Fleetside)
They're relatively cheap, reasonably useful, and undeniably cool. They were built in such large numbers that there are still plenty of decent examples on the market, and you can find a vast supply of aftermarket parts and new-old-stock components. They're simple to work on and robust enough to last. Customization isn't frowned on in the truck world, which means you can upgrade to bigger and better wheels and tires, for instance, without being sneered at by collectors. And as drivers, these trucks don't beat you up, so you can look good without feeling miserable.