The joy of old trucks


There was once a time when the word “Truck” designated a vehicle that was defined by doing work. Somewhere along the way to suburbia and middle age  Americans forgot the simple joy of basic trucks, and went down the path of making them expensive, complicated, difficult to work on, and devoid of sensory experience. There is an aviation analogy of how we went from enjoying a J-3 as a great plane to discovering that a $200k euro-912 gps LSA is only a better experience in the eyes of an AOPA editor.


I got my drivers license in 1978, although I have owned a number of Chevrolet Corvairs and two 1960s Buicks, the majority of my driving has been in Chevy and GMC trucks.  I have never owned an import, nor have I ever owned a new car or truck. Between payments, insurance and service I never had, perhaps a saved $250k. Not really a lot spread over all those years,  but I would argue the reward was the self reliance.

In 38 years of driving, I have only called a tow truck once. I have plenty of friends who always bought new, swore by import quality, never drove stuff after it was 5 years old, all because they “need something reliable” , and I am pretty sure these guys always had triple A and used it at least every other year. 


For what it’s worth, I have caused exactly one accident since 1978. In 1992 I side swiped a parked car. I have been a passenger in a few others, but I have not even scraped another car in a parking lot, in spite of these trucks having no modern ‘safety ‘ features. Avoiding accidents has a lot more to do with the driver than the vehicle, but you could never explain that in s society where very few people ever see things as their fault. .



Above, the suburbans dash after the western tour. Remember when a truck could be its own log book, tool box and trash can?  We have given up more than we have received, and that is the essential message of simplicity.



Above, my ’59 GMC making a practice run at the actual Englishtown NJ drag strip in 1984. It was geared so low it hit terminal velocity (57 mph) in 600′. It ran 23.35 seconds in the quarter mile. Don’t laugh, it beat a stock Super Beetle that day. I used the truck  to recycle cars during the period of astronomically high scrap prices in 1983-84.


Below is a selected list of  my old fleet. The number in parentheses is how old the truck was when I got it, followed by the price I paid. The second line is engine, trams and axle ratio.


It’s ironic that people couldn’t understand why I drove a 17 year old truck in high school, and today my suburban is 23 years old, my pick up is 30, and my Corvair Convertible is 50 this year. It is a hard day when you suddenly realize you have become that “crazy old man with antique cars” you remember from your home town. 


59 GMC wrecker (23) $400 

235 six, Muncie 420 4 speed, 5.57

Driven 40k, traded for Thermoquad carb.


64 K-10 suburban (19) $600

283 v-8, Muncie 420 4 speed, 3.73

Driven 20k, sold for $600


65 C-10 fleet side (17) $400

283 v-8, Muncie 420 4 speed, 3.73

Driven 75k , sold for $450. 


77 Gmc K-2500 (6) $1,500

350 v-8, THM-350 auto , 4.11

Driven 100k, sold in parts.


83 GMC S-15 4wd (3) $4,500

2.8L v-6 , BW T-5 five speed, 3.42

Driven 200k, sold for $400.


86 GMC C-1500 blue (13) $1,600

350 v-8, THM-400 auto , 3.73

Driven from 160k to 300k, scrapped.


86 Chevy C-30 white (21) $2,450

350 v-8, THM-400 auto, 4.11

Driven 70k, being converted to 3-53t


86 Chevy C-20 red (26) $2,000

350 v-8, NV-4500 five speed, 3.42

Driven 60k, still in service


93 Chevy S-10 4wd, 4dr. (13) $1,300

4.3 v-6, 4L60E auto, 3.42

Driven 40k, given away on I-95 , 12/24


93 Chevy C-1500 suburban (20) $1,700

350 v-8, 4L60E auto, 3.42

Driven 55K, still in service



9 Replies to “The joy of old trucks”

  1. Here, here! I have been driving a truck as my personal vehicle for 30 years. I’ve been fortunate enough that I have been able to afford to indulge my preference to buy new, but unlike the friends that you mentioned, I keep mine until they are worn out. I drove my first truck for 14 yrs and the next one for 12 yrs. The 3rd one is only 4 yrs old now. I keep getting calls and emails from the dealership where I bought it offering to give me a great trade-in value and a good deal on a new one; and I keep telling them that this one is just barely broke in and I intend to keep it for another 8 to 10 yrs at least. When I bought this last one, I almost walked out of there with my old truck because the finance guy keep trying to add a couple thousand dollars more for interior & exterior protective coatings. He couldn’t understand when I told him “It’s a truck! It is supposed to get scratched up and dirty!”

  2. Really enjoy my 54 Willys CJ3B. Its a great caveman vehicle to go with the Pietenpol.

  3. Last year my Honda Civic that I drove for 200,000 miles and two airlines died. It ran bad, had no AC, was in need of a paint job and would have cost almost $4000 to fix.
    I knew it was coming for some time and had been putting money away every month with the hope of getting one more year out of the Honda, but it wasn’t meant to be.

    On a 95 degree day I drove my bicycle to the Dodge dealership and picked out a new Ram 1500.
    Yes, you can spend a fortune on a new truck and get heated seats, proximity sensors, GPS navigation and so on. And if that’s what you’re into then; so-be-it. Hey, you only live once right.

    You can also spend 5 to 10 thousand less, as I did, and still get a really nice truck without all the bells and whistles that will last a very long time and if it breaks for any reason you just take it to the dealership and they fix it. It looks good, smells nice and they come with a bed-liner from the factory.

    I know from your posts that your into working on old vehicles, but I can tell you that the RAM is the nicest truck I’ve ever owned. Dodge has done a great job redesigning their pickups and some of the features are outstanding. My wife loves it, my kids love it and if I didn’t have to work today I might be polishing the chrome wheels.

    The Dodge was still crazy expensive and in ten years won’t be worth two cents to anyone but me, but if I may respectfully suggest: a new truck is a beautiful thing.

    My best to Grace and yourself. I won’t be able to make it to Brodhead this year but am going to try to sneak out to Oshkosh for a day or two. Hope to see you there.

    Safe travels,


    1. Lou, I have several friends who are devoted fans of late model Rams, with good reasons. I personally am very impressed with the gas mileage they can squeeze out of modern full size trucks, I always thought there was a Sound barrier/ hull speed at 17-18 mpg that full size gas trucks wouldn’t break, but friends tell me that dodges beat this handily. In ten years it will be worth a lot more than your thinking, full size trucks traditionally hold value much better than cars. There are many shades of simplicity in both planes and trucks. ww.

  4. Good for old trucks ! I paid a lot more for my German import. A 1989 VW DOKA (Vanagon truck) and it is definately used for work ! Id send you a pic of the corvair stuff I salvage if it would get printed

  5. 1981 Chevy C-10 (3) $4,500
    250 I6, Saginaw 3 speed (on the tree) 3.73
    55K sold to get out from under my payments

    1993 Chevy Silverado 1500 4wd (4) $10,000
    350 V8, 700 R4, 3.08
    25K redirected to probate estate

    1974 Chevy C-10 (22) $750
    350 V8, TH350, 2.52
    Traded with a Porche 944 for some property improvements

    1989 Dodge Ramcharger (10) $900
    318 V8, TF-727 Loadflite 3.08
    85K Committed suicide by backing itself across a busy road and coming to a halt in front of a bus.

    1989 Ford F150 (15) $750
    300 I6, M5OD Mazda 5-Speed Std., ?
    50K Sold for $450 with a smoked transmission. How does a manual smoke? Ans: uses auto trans fluid for gear oil. Thin oil + seal leak = no fluid = dead tranny.

    2000 Chevy Siverado 1500 Ext cab (6)$5,500
    265 V6, NV3500 5-Speed 3.73
    85K sold to a close friend

    2003 Dodge RAM 2500 (12) Mother-in-Law gift
    345 Hemi V8, 545RFE 5-speed auto, AAM 10.5 3.73
    Current Ride

    There was one embarrasing foray into import trucks…a Nissan with electrical problems. Not listed here because it does not fit into the “Joy of Old Trucks” theme. The Ford was great until one the it’s “better ideas” decided to kill itself. I like my Dodges…but my Chevy’s were the best.

    1. Guy, I think it is very funny that your Dodge chose death rather than be owned by a Chevy guy, and your ford tried to bleed itself to avoid working for you.

      1. That Ramcharger had a worn shifter pawl. I left it running while I ran into a bike shop to pick up a chain I had ordered. I got to the counter and the guy says: “what the hell is that guy doing?? he’s gonna…” just about that time I looked at the door only to see my Ramcharger complete a 180deg. turn on Aquarena Springs Boulevard and park itself on curb in front of a Texas State bus. I was one of those times in your life when you go through a blaze of emotions in a three minute time-frame. In this case it was in this order: Disbelief, Shock, Fear someone was gonna get hurt, fear some building was gonna get hurt, Fear someone on the bus would get hurt, relief that none of that actually happened, laughter when you realize just how absurd the situation was, and anger at myself for doing a such reckless thing.

  6. 83 GMC S-15 4wd (3) $4,500
    2.8L v-6 , BW T-5 five speed, 3.42
    Driven 200k, sold for $400.

    This HAS to be the one that had the rubber rat on the hood that squirted water. The one we drove to Zephyr Hills (ZERPHYLLIS!) to get your H1 engine rebuilt?

    At any rate, see you at Oshkosh!

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