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Chevrolet K5 Blazer

K51 The presence, purpose, and acceptability of sport-utility vehicles have long been a controversial subject here at Car Lust, spurring some of the fiercest debate this normally placid site has ever seen. We even have an SUV Throwdown post and discussion thread in which we tried to confine all of the endless, circular, unproductive debate about whether SUVs represent wonderful utility, repugnant overindulgance, or simply more extroverted but less useful minivans. This post is not an invitation to reopen that argument, and if you feel yourself compelled to refight it, please do so in that old discussion thread.

However, I will say that I prefer my SUVs to follow the Jeep Wagoneer, International Scout, and Ford Bronco vein--rough, tough, impervious, and inexorable. I figure that if I'm going to have a vehicle with the compromises of a truck (heavy and with a high center of gravity), that I may as well have the benefits as well, namely the easy ability to go off-road, to tow a boat or a brace of snowmobiles, and to swallow enough gear to support a platoon of soldiers. Such a truck needs rugged body-on-frame construction, a bellowing V-8, and nothing extraneous to snag or to break.

At one time, it wasn't difficult to find trucks like this; they were the natural, motorized replacements for mountain goats, draft horses, and burros. They were as capable and basic as tractors, because customers needed maximum functionality for minimum cost. It's one of the brilliant ironies of design that this emphasis on function over form helped sculpt trucks that were fantastic to look at--their basic, elemental designs were as direct and forceful as Chuck Norris' fists. These are the trucks that created the rough-and-tumble image on which today's fancy and expensive SUVs are trading.

The Chevy K5 Blazer was one of those original workhorses. The K5 Blazer, not to be confused with the compact S-10-based Blazer, was essentially a shortened Chevy full-size pickup truck with a back seat and a removable top. The result was a truck big enough to carry a family and their camping equipment, and it was capable of getting them there without drama. In short, it was the perfect truck for making adventures and creating memories.

K52 The K5 Blazer came into existence in 1969 and was produced alongside the contemporary Chevy full-size trucks until the slicker Chevy Tahoe replaced it in 1995. The earlier K5s are certainly more elemental than the late K5s, but even the K5s produced in the late 1980s made capable workhorses.

In fact, the K5 sums up much of what I liked about the bigger GM products of the 1970s and 1980s. The full-size Chevy trucks were dependable, durable, faithful, and great to look at - and they carried the usual array of tractable and powerful Chevy gas and diesel engines. Given the wide array of available Chevrolet engines, I'm sure a hot-rodder could even make a 4WD K5 into a brutal and stealthy drag-racer--like a bigger, blunter GMC Syclone.

K53 Beyond that, K5 Blazers have always held a special place in my heart. My father had a white K5 Blazer as a company car when he was working in forestry in Oregon in the early 1980s, and as a result the white K5 has always stuck in my mind as the quintessential go-anywhere adventure machine. Some people envision adventures that take place in Jeep Wranglers or Land Rovers. In my imagination, my adventure takes place with a white K5 figuring as my sidekick. It doesn't matter how grim the situation looks; my K5 and the gear I have strapped to the roof can get me through.

It's getting difficult to find pristine, untouched K5s nowadays. Many have been retired from daily driver status and have been turned into jacked-up off-road specials or hunting vehicles. While I wish more of these trucks were being kept in their original state, I'm glad that at least these trucks are still fulfilling their original function--delivering enjoyment and disregarding the challenges of terrain or conditions.

The first and third images are from About.com. The second is from AmericanDreamCars.com.

--Chris H.

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This is one truck that they should bring back and sell as-is. Simple, reliable, V8-powered with a sculpted, rugged good look that's missing from today's mommy-mobile SUV's and cupholder-infested pickups. The only thing they should add to the package is some chip resistant undercoating.

I fully agree, Jed. As much as many people hate to admit it, there is a market for this type of vehicle. If Ford and GM went retro like they have with the muscle cars, and brought back utilitarian-looking and functional Broncos and Blazers respectively that followed the Hafner formula, they would sell extremely well.

My grandpa had one of these in the late 80s/early 90s, when I just started driving. My uncle got it when it was released from service as a company vehicle for the oil drilling company, and sold it to my grandpa. It all white, just like Chris H's was, and itwas high-mileage, as oilfield vehicles often are. However, because it was a fleet vehicle destined for remote and desolate locations, it had been maintained very well by the drilling company. Grandpa didn't drive it much; he was getting older and his need for a big truck was starting to go away. In fact, it was the last truck-type vehicle of any kind he ever owned. I'm not a huge GM person, but Grandpa was, and this vehicle darn near converted me. It was great to drive, hauled everything I needed hauled during my college years (you know, when you're moving crap around all the time because that's the way it goes). Here in Oklahoma, everyone I knew wanted to buy it from me...I got at least 2-3 offers a week.

I remember one time in particular...we had gone down to the little place Grandma and Grandpa had at Lake Texoma. We had gone out on the beach for some reason and got stuck in some loose sand. I was driving and Grandma was with me. Now, Grandma is the worrying kind, and any time something bad starts to happen, she just falls apart with worry. I calmly got out, locked the front hubs, put it in 4WD Low, and easily pulled us out. This was doubly gratifying as we passed a Jeep CJ stuck 20 feet from us, who had managed to dig himself a huge hole with his tires and had actually gotten his bumpers hung up on softer sand so he couldn't get himself out.

I think these trucks are the original modern SUV. About 20 years ago I was on a rescue squad, and these were the vehicles of choice for that service. Their only true drawback was their width... too wide to get on some forest trails, etc.

Yes, please bring these back! The metal in early 1970s pickups was rubbish, however that's been fixed now. But spartan, washable interiors and only one cupholder per passenger would be a welcome change.

I kinda think they wouldn't sell very well, or at least not enough to make any kind of profit. Yes, there are retro muscle cars running around, but those are only retro *looking*; under the skin they're still as modern as anything else. Once you start throwing on the sound insulation, the safety equipment, and everything else that people are used to in even the most modest econobox, it's not the same thing anymore.

I still like the smaller versions, the Jeep CJs, Bronco (original), Bronco II, S-10-based, etc., but then I'm not hauling around kids either.

This is what a real sport utility vehicle is supposed to be about - off road work - not some candy-ass-luxocruiserwannabee. I'm guessing that a return to the good old days of rough tough trucks would scare off a lot of current days suv-owners... and that would not be a bad thing. Heck if you took the cup-holders away from them they'd probably start squealing. ;)

I think part of the "problem" with these vehicles in a modern market is that modern trucks have most of the utility of these vehicles now. Most trucks sold these days in the US, for example, already have a back seat. Consequently, you could get something that would match the driving characteristics, off-road ability, and passenger utility of an old-school K5 off the lot now - it just wouldn't have a covered rear. That, of course, could also be fixed with some aftermarket changes.

I do think there's something to be said for a simple street legal go-anywhere machine. However, if you're looking to create a basic, low-frills model, you're probably better off channeling a Suzuki Samurai than a K5 - the kind of people into "low frills" these days aren't into V-8s, and the kind of people into V-8s these days aren't into "low frills". That said, a Samurai is at least as capable off-road as a K5; it's just a little slower.

IIRC, one of the Nissan or Mitsubishi models from a few years ago was like that and marketed more to the younger set. The name escapes me at the moment. Had the funny angled window, I think.

Anthony, are you thinking of the Xterra? That was marketed towards the youth EXTREME SPORTS segment, and it sold quite well.

That was it. If memory serves, it was more or less a smaller, stripped down and cheaper truck-based 4X4/SUV. I remember the reviews saying it was better for real off-roading than the basic "family" SUVs and pretty spartan. Seems like it's been migrating upwards ever since though.

At least where I live, a lot of SUVs are bought as family haulers that can get through a lake effect blizzard. We don't usually get more than three or four good close-the-schools snowstorms a year, but when we get one, the 4WD and ground clearance do come in handy.

Cookie, this was my reasoning when I bought my 08 Sequoia. I live outside of Portland, OR, and for about 3-4 weeks every year we get significant ice and snow, and we live on a hill that can only be accessed in these conditions with a true four wheel drive. We also frequently carry (haul?) extra family members and visitors, and need the third row seat. Twenty or thirty years ago I probably would have gone with a Wagoneer or Suburban.

The early Xterra was quite utilitarian, my first stepmother had one when I was a kid. The big complaint (and my dad worked at the Nissan plant where they were built) was that it was underpowered, and it was; even with the V6 the engine had to work hard to move it, resulting in lousy fuel economy.

So far as the Blazers go, though I don't want/need one, I do respect them for their simplicity and utility. Even the early (box shaped) S-10 Blazers are useful in their own way, and seem to be fairly durable, judging by their relative ubiquity. By contrast, my mother owns a Trailblazer, and I don't have much positive to say about it. It's been reliable, and is quite powerful (It would've been interesting had GM stuffed the atlas six into a sedan.), but (It's the 2WD model) it's atrocious in anything even approaching off-road conditions. It's easier to get stuck (meaning, don't even try to move it on muddy ground) than my '91 Accord, which irritates me coming from a vehicle harboring offroad pretensions. It goes without saying that the fuel economy and handling suck. I suppose the 4WD model is better offroad. Basically, unlike the K-5 Blazer, it has all the drawbacks of a truck with few of the benefits.

degenerate1991: Small world! I used to work at the Nissan Smyrna plant in Corporate Communications. Please ask your dad when he started there... we may know each other!

I recall when the Explorer became a popular new trend. All I could think was "all that is... A Blazer with some luxury crap an it is less capable off road". "people are nto even using them for what there use is".
So it is a trend to have a flag ship Blazer? WTF? lame.

These are real work horses for people actually use them for there purpose.
When there is one all fancy and clean that is not even used for the intended purpose, that is just "lame" and pointless.

I love the full size Bronco, K5 Blazer, Ramcharger SUV era as well as the vehicles. Many argue over which of the three is better, but I love to see any of them. Of the three, the K5 seems less common than the Bronco, but more so than the RC's. I have an 87 RC myself, and it can handle some brutal terrain.

Dad started there in '02, IIRC correctly; if not, then '03. He was in maintenance, and didn't work in Smyrna most of the time (I did get to see the plant during one of the corporate "family days" though, pretty cool.) except shutdowns. Most of the time, he was in the Decherd engine plant; I don't recall if they built VG V6s that were in the Xterra there or not, but I know they built the VQs. He went his separate way with Nissan eventually (got paid better for a traveling job), but still owns the car he bought when he worked there, an '04 Sentra Spec V (funny, since he's a pretty big guy). The '03 he first bought was a dud, and he just traded it in after he got tired of Roberts Nissan in Murfreesboro. Those cars are good for getting speeding tickets in...let's just say I know from personal experience.

This car is now seen rarely but it was perfect for a family.It was the perfect car for the adventures and memories.My grand father had such a car at that time.It was really superb.

Thanks, Degenerate1991. I was at NMMC from 1982-1986... eons ago LOL.

I agree on almost all points, but I bet the 292 worked well in the Blazer, not sure about the "requirement" of a V-8. Heck, a lot of fun could be had with a slant six Trail Duster, as long as you weren't trying to go 75 on the highway!

My family and I have been huge K5 fans for a long time. We've had a total of 4, 2 for my dad, 1 for me, 1 for my brother. My brother's is still running, albeit barely. Simple, rugged, fun to drive, just enough power to have fun. Great memories.

It is in no way practical for my life and family now, but it's the one vehicle I would still want, regardless of circumstances.

I owned a '77 Chevy Suburban several years ago, when I had a band traveling around the country. It was equipped with the 454 and towing accessories, but no 4wd. Strictly highway hauler. That engine was magnificent at it's job. We had 5-7 people, their luggage and a tandem axle U-Haul trailer loaded up with about 4,000lbs of music gear and that Chevy big block didn't mind at all. Through the Appalachian Mountains I was passing people uphill all day long, no problem. I miss the sound of those dual glass packs, too.

Seems to me that for off-road applications, you couldn't beat a late '70s-early '80s K5 with a great 454 big block. Torque on tap endlessly.

I have a 1977 K5 Blazer 4x4 with 26k original miles for sale... Special ordered with 400 Small Block.

RUST FREE.... Never driven in winter.. garaged...

Do you have any pictures of the 77 k5? I might be interested. Where are you located?

Good read. Thanks for the submission.

I'm really enjoying this site so far :D

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