The Chevrolet Silverado. It’s a nameplate that has graced countless job sites, roads, and driveways since its introduction in 1999. Through all that time, this truck has garnered a reputation for durability, versatility, and reliability that the new 2021 Chevy Silverado 1500 carries on with pride. With a 13,300 lbs maximum towing capacity and up to 2,280 lbs of payload, the current Silverado 1500 offers flexibility that will be appreciated by anyone in the market for a truck.
Chevy has maintained a steady march of progress with this long-lived nameplate, slowly building on technology and the changing attitudes and expectations of customers in the truck market. While it may look quite a bit different from its earliest incarnations, the 2021 model builds upon the Silverado legacy that all started way back in 1975. Except, hang on, didn’t you just read that the name was introduced just before the start of the new millennium? Well, there may be more to this storied vehicle than you may have realized…
The Start of a Legend
The Silverado name first appeared in 1975 as the highest trim level available on Chevy’s lineup of full-size trucks. It replaced the short-lived Cheyenne Super trim level and offered such luxuries as an insulated headliner and simulated “tiger wood grain” appliques, along with the choice of replacing the standard bench seat with vinyl trimmed buckets and a center console. Today, some of these features may seem a bit basic to our modern sensibilities, and it might be hard to picture any vehicle not having these options as standard equipment.
However, at the time, they were revolutionary and the first step to letting pickup trucks be more than vehicles for work. They could be, as they are today, used for any normal automotive activity. From picking up the kids to picking up a load of sheetrock, the luxury-oriented Silverado trim was the first sign of things to come in the world of trucks from Chevy. While the unique wood trim is no more (such a pity!), the new Silverado includes leather bucket seats and unique rear seatback storage options that buyers back in 1975 could only dream of.
Out on Its Own
The Silverado nameplate would become its very own model in 1999, replacing the venerable C/K series. (Interesting fact, Chevy continued to use C/K designations internally to refer to the Silverado). The truck featured a brand-new body with sweeping curves to replace the handsome, yet dated, boxy design of the outgoing models. They came in three distinct cab styles, which would carry onto the rest of Chevy’s truck line going forward. Those were the standard two-door regular cab, the larger extended cab, and the four-door crew cab. The crew cab is currently, and has been for many years, the most popular type of truck sold in the United States.
The Silverado 1500 was originally graced with three engine choices, all of which were based on GM’s ever-popular small block V8. Those were the 4.3-liter V6 (effectively a 5.7-liter V8 missing two cylinders), the rugged 4.3-liter V8, and the massive (for the time) 5.3-liter V8. You might be surprised to learn that the 2021 Chevy Silverado 1500 still offers two of these engines in its incredible lineup. Yes, the 4.3-liter V6 and 4.3-liter V8 are still chugging along nearly 22 years later! However, it should be noted that while the engines still exist, they have been properly updated and modernized to be competitive in today’s truck market.
Starting in 2003, the Silverado 1500 and its GMC counterpart would get a new high-performance model added to the lineup. The Silverado SS package was offered for only three years and featured a standard 1500 with an extended cab, larger chrome wheels, and a High Output version of Chevy’s 6.0-liter V8. The transmission was the standard four-speed (introduced with the original Silverado to replace the sturdy but dated Turbo Hydramatic three-speed), and rear gearing was reduced to a 4.10 ratio. All of this combined to make a road-ripping version of the truck that had long since been a household name.
The original SS made 345 horsepower, and while that’s still quite respectable, the base model 5.3-liter V8 for the 2021 Silverado 1500 makes a hair more at 355 horsepower. Engine technology has come so far in just 18 years! Even the 2021 Silverado’s smallest engine offered, a 2.7-liter inline-four with a turbocharger makes 310 horsepower. Long gone is the four-speed transmission used by the first generation, and in its place can be had a six-speed, eight-speed, or even ten-speed unit. All of this makes for a powerful and efficient truck, thanks to the constant design evolution Chevy has strived for.
Speaking of efficiency, that’s where things really get interesting. In 2004, just one year after the SS hit the market, Chevy introduced a mild-hybrid version of the Silverado. It used a small electric motor housed in the rear of the transmission that allowed the accessories and starter motor to be run off the electric motor. When the truck came to a full stop, the gasoline engine would shut down, and the smaller motor would use the combined effort of the three extra conventional car batteries contained under the rear seat to kick the engine back to life once the driver’s foot was removed from the brake pedal.
While not quite the modern hybrid technology one might be used to, it offered this version of the truck greater fuel economy than was seen at the time from most full-size trucks. However, the hybrid, which lasted from 2004 to 2008, still only made 17 MPG combined. The 2021 Silverado can make that same 17 MPG combined with its base V6 engine, all without the addition of any extra electric motor. The most efficient option is the 3.0-liter Duramax turbo-diesel, which makes an incredible 27 MPG combined.
Here and Now
The Silverado has stood as an enduring symbol in the truck market thanks to the ability of the designers to adapt to the changing needs of its audience. While buyers of the C/K Silverado trim in 1975 could expect to be getting what was essentially the same basic truck Chevy had been offering for decades, just with some extra features that made it much more appealing to the average person used to driving a contemporary sedan of the time, buyers in 1999 expected more from their truck. Chevy delivered, with an all-new body (without the aerodynamics of a brick), newer and more powerful engine choices, smoother transmissions, and more creature comforts.
Buyers of the modern 2021 Chevy Silverado 1500 expect features that owners of the first-generation trucks couldn’t even conceive of. Things like the ability to connect a smartphone to your truck’s infotainment system, collision warning systems, and multiple USB ports for charging electronics. The pickup truck has gone from being something used mostly for work to being many families’ only vehicle, needing to fill the roles of hauler of both family and things, mobile office and hotel room, and job site standby. The Silverado has and will continue to be all these things and more for the people that need them, grown and shaped by standing on the shoulders of giants. The next time you see one, stop and consider the massive amount of time and effort that went into its creation.
Silverado. It’s more than a name – it’s a legacy.