Square isn’t elegant. It isn’t sexy. It’s like a block of granite: tough, hard-edged, a foundation for building things. Boxes are square. Most appliances are square. And once upon a time, trucks were square. In particular, the third-generation 1973-1987 Chevy C/K pickup truck came to be affectionately nicknamed the “square body truck.” Folks also sometimes applied that name to its GMC equivalent and to the full-size K5 Chevy Blazer and GMC Jimmy that were based on this series of trucks. A new design trend was born across the industry, although only the Chevy and GMC trucks continued to be called square bodies.
But then “the future” arrived, and trucks, like other vehicles, started to bend to fashion that was dictated as much by style and aerodynamics as it was by function. And there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that. Today’s trucks look great and come with functionality that yesteryear’s pickup owners could only dream of. But there’s just something special about those boxy trucks of yore. And as you’re searching for used trucks for sale, you might wonder if the square-body trucks are ever coming back.
In a way, they already have. As used trucks, they’re more popular than ever. As today’s pickup trucks frequently reach premium price territory, especially during a time of parts shortages leading to limited supply and a market that favors dealers, used truck shoppers are giving the square body Chevys and GMCs another look. So, let’s take a look at how it all began and what the future might bring.
The Birth of the Square Body
It’s ironic that these trucks became known for their squareness since Chevrolet actually referred to the redesigned ‘73 C/K pickup as the “Round-line.” This referred to some design elements that were indeed rounded on that year’s model, such as windshields that wrapped around to meet the A-pillars and provide an expansive glass area for better visibility. But the overall design effect was what struck the truck-loving public, and that was square.
From its boxy grille with squared-off headlight bezels through its businesslike bed, the ‘73 was all about right angles. There were other design touches that reinforced this image. For instance, the wheel arches had corners, albeit rounded-off corners. But compared to the perfectly round wheel arches on its 1972 predecessor, the visual impression was–you guessed it–square. And as the third-generation C/K pickup went through redesigns over the course of its fifteen-year model run, Chevy would lean into the truck’s square reputation with gusto.
For instance, in 1975, the grille, which had been recessed on ‘73 and ‘74 models, was moved forward to be flush with the front bodywork of the truck, emphasizing the front end’s brick-like squareness. In 1979, the hood was redesigned to raise it higher above the grille for a boxier appearance. In 1980, the Silverado trim level featured square headlights, although all other trims had traditional round headlights within their square bezels.
More Than Just a Boxy Face
The square-body truck’s popularity derived from more than just its rugged and professional appearance. Chevy consciously redesigned the third generation of the C/K to be more driver-friendly and useful in all roles, and not just on the job site or the ranch. To start with, the cab was roomier than its predecessor in almost every dimension. Chevy boasted that the cab featured “flow-through” ventilation for more comfort on those hot days. Meanwhile, extra insulation and weatherstripping made it a more comfortable place to be when the temperature dropped.
The ‘73 Chevy C/K lineup also offered creature comforts not seen in earlier generations of pickups. For instance, both AM radios and AM/FM radios were offered, along with other interior refinements. Chevy’s brochure for the new trucks bragged about these features, saying, “Luxurious new interior fabrics and appointments are enough to make many a passenger car seem ordinary by comparison.”
That might seem like an overstatement to modern readers, but those of us of a certain age can remember when passenger cars mostly came with vinyl seats that scorched your legs on summer days and felt like ice blocks in winter. Considering that, Chevy’s statement wasn’t an idle boast. Add in a refined suspension along with frame enhancements–both designed to improve ride comfort compared to the previous C/K pickup–and the ‘73 model became a viable everyday car as well as a workhorse.
What to Look For
If you’re considering buying a square-body Chevy, there are lots of variations to choose from. For instance, in addition to the basic pickup (known generically as a fleetside), this truck generation became available as a highly collectible stepside, renamed the Sportside in 1987. Its bulging rear quarter panels recalled the look of vintage pickups. Plus, this generation offered the first-ever crew cab on the one-ton C30 “Dually” model. This presaged today’s four-day pickups decades ahead of time.
In the 1973 model, the most collectible engine choice is probably the 454 V8, or what today would be referred to as 7.4 liters. Two other V8s were available, one a 5.0-liter and the other a 5.7-liter, along with two V6 options. As the years went by, additional V8 and V6 options became available, as well as an Oldsmobile 350 diesel V8 and a Detroit Diesel V8. But the big gas-powered V8s are undoubtedly the enthusiast’s favorites.
And don’t forget the Chevy K5 Blazer and GMC Jimmy passenger trucks, or what today we would call SUVs. They share a short wheelbase version of the third-generation C/K pickup platform and actually remained in production right through 1991, four years after the square body pickup had been replaced with a new generation. There was also a long-wheelbase Chevy/GMC Suburban version. So, if you want a square-body truck that’s a bit newer than the most recent pickup, they’re great options.
Could the Future Be Square?
We mentioned the growing popularity of the square-body truck in today’s used truck market. Because these trucks combine vintage appeal with relatively modern driving dynamics, they appeal to today’s buyers for more than just nostalgic reasons (although we’re sure nostalgia plays a big role, too). Plus, they’re easy to work on compared to today’s vehicles, making them viable work trucks and everyday drivers.
Chevy has noticed this surge in interest. In late 2022, it released a design study for the future of Chevy’s full-sized pickups. While the front end carries hints of the current Silverado, its overall design is distinctly boxy. Huge squared-off wheel arches and straight door lines definitely recall the square body trucks, although, in a nod to the modern pickup truck’s multi-role versatility, it’s a four-door. But its stance gives a lower and wider visual impression than the current Silverado, and very much like the square body truck.
Will it get produced? Well, it’s a design concept at this point and not a running model. That being said, the concept is drawing positive reactions. If the public makes its approval known, Chevy certainly will listen. At the very least, design elements may make their way into future generations of the Silverado or other Chevy pickups. What does it mean for the future? With classic retro design elements combined with modern technology and creature comforts, a reborn square body truck could become a nostalgic collectible for a new generation.