There’s a long and historic legacy behind Chevy pickup trucks, dating back more than a century. From basic delivery to heavy-duty hauling, from commercial use to off-road racing, from professional circuit racing to everyday driving, it’s time to take a walk back through time to rank some of the most iconic Chevy trucks throughout the illustrious history of the brand. Chevrolet has been manufacturing trucks for years, and some of their creations deserve some extra attention. So let’s give it to them, and get into this list!
No. 5: 1970 El Camino
It wouldn’t be a top-five list without a wild card entry like this one. There’s always that one item that just stands out from the others, and the El Camino is that entry on this list. It’s the sort of vehicle that leaves people asking, “What is it? Is it a car? A truck? A train?!” The El Camino is one of those unique monsters that just seemed to catch on thanks to its odd look and dual personality throughout its short lifespan on the market.
The earlier generations made it seem like it was a truck that got stuck in a car’s body, but the later generations seemed more like a muscle car pretending to barely dress-up as a truck. You can clearly see that the 1959 El Camino is a completely different beast from the mid-1960s outing, which – at the top end of the trim line – carried a beefy 396 cubic inch 6.5-liter V8 that pumped out an impressive 375 hp.
However, the 1960s El Camino line could best be described as muscle in the front and business in the back. The rear was clearly more truck-like than the first generation of El Caminos.
It was the 1970s iteration of the El Camino that really captured the heart of the car community, though, because the truck-like rear was further visually refined to match the town-car front end. Under the hood, however, a few trims of the El Camino rocked a massive 454 cubic inch 7.4-liter V8 that produced an incomprehensibly loaded 450 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque. It was like a power pickup in a partial-passenger car body.
The bizarre experiment of combining these two disparate elements together actually seemed to work, and sales for the early 1970s El Camino proved to be quite fortuitous for GM.
No. 4: 2003 Chevy SSR
Alright, maybe I fibbed a little about the El Camino being the wild card. In fact, the El Camino making the list as an iconic Chevy truck isn’t just expected but somewhat mandatory in most circles. The Chevy SSR, however? Well, let’s just say that’s a real wild card entry.
The relatively modern vehicle certainly veers more on the side of being iconic rather than classic. This particular amalgamation of a crossover and hybrid attempted to marry a sports sedan with a compact pickup truck, and this miniature vehicular Frankenstein on four wheels was the result. I can’t say if it’s better or worse than some of the other GM concept cars themed around the El Camino’s crossover appeal, but there was something infectious about the Chevy SSR’s short-lived but visually explosive design.
The SSR only lasted from 2003 to 2006 before falling victim to GM’s financial cutbacks, but it was a unique, modern take on a classic design from the Tri-Five era of Chevy trucks, which is actually kind of cool when you think about it. Many other popular classic designs taken from the yesteryears and creatively refurbished for contemporary markets actually managed to catch on, but it just wasn’t meant to be for the Chevy SSR, despite the vehicle itself topping out with an impressive Corvette-tier 6.0-liter V8 that produced up to 400 hp on a manual transmission and 400 lb-ft of torque.
It certainly isn’t iconic because it was a big seller, but because it was one of GM’s more outlandish concepts. But this outlandish concept seemed to have found a small but dedicated niche who enjoys the futuristic-retro design and moderate performance output by the final model year release of this oddly fascinating but forlorn truck-hybrid.
No. 3: 1955 Chevy Task Force
Now we’re getting into the top three where these iconic classics feel a little more familiar. The 1955 Chevy Task Force is an easy in for this list. While the Chevy Advanced Design may have helped with a lot of the inspiration for descendants of certain Chevy truck brands, it was the Chevy Task Force that really helped define trucking during the Tri-Five era between the mid and late 1950s.
The 1955 Chevy Task Force, in particular, introduced such an iconic and classic look that it’s hard not to think about it once you see it. The pickup truck set the mold for the template of classic Americana trucks, sporting the beloved wrap-around windshield, bulbous bonnet, and hooded circular headlights. The entire design was quite a departure from the previous generation of Chevy pickups.
The indented bed around the rear fenders was a fairly striking design choice, but it helped come together thanks to so many other elements having such a strong visual appeal. The under-the-hood offerings weren’t bad for its time either, with the top of the line offering from that year sporting a 265 cubic inch V8 that produced 132 hp and 249 lb-ft of torque.
The Chevy Task Force is still a gorgeous truck of any era and is certainly marked as one of the most iconic and classic Chevy trucks ever made.
No. 2: 1970s Chevy C/K
One of the Chevy classics that has been gaining more attention and reverence within the truck community in recent times has been the early 1970 renditions of the Chevy C/K pickup truck. The C/K line of pickups occupied the half-ton category that instantly became a favorite among truck drivers, and was also responsible for eventually birthing the Silverado into its own Chevy brand.
The 1973 redesign for the boxy cab and squared away body helped separate the C-series from the rest of the competition. It was a design that would also help propel the popularity of the truck throughout the ’70s and ’80s, frequently landing variants of the Chevy C/K in popular media.
It’s hard to pick just one year of the C/K series as the most iconic and classic representation of Chevy since each of the outings during the third generation offered something a little bit different. While the 1973 redesign made the C10 stand out from other pickups on the market, improved safety features during the mid-70s helped make those particular trucks much safer to drive than earlier variants. The late ’70s K20 series made the C/K brand synonymous with off-road ruggedness, while the highly customizable late ’70s C20 series made it perfect for hauling and towing.
More than anything, the variety and mid-sized power of the Chevy C/K throughout the 1970s – coupled with the redesign that helped bring the Chevy trucks into the modern era – is probably the best quality of the series and why so many truck enthusiasts are seeking out variants of the brand to customize and modernize to their liking.
No. 1: 1994 Chevy S10 ZR2
There’s no way the subject of classic Chevy trucks can be brought up without bringing up the Chevy S10, and in particular, the ZR2 off-road package. It’s tough to pick just one year for this glorious combination of compact convenience and explosive off-road capabilities.
The Chevy S10 itself was a decently-lived pickup from the early 1980s through the 1990s, ending its run just after the turn of the millennium. The compact pickup didn’t have a whole lot of gusto under the hood, topping out with just a 4.3-liter V6 on the upper-end of the trims, but it did pack a superpower that makes it such an iconic Chevy truck and a classic pickup to boot: the ZR2 package.
It almost seems like sacrilege to bring up the Chevy S10 without bringing up the off-road overhaul known as the ZR2. This package was introduced with the second-generation S10 in 1994 and included a much wider track, a ladder frame, dramatically increased ground clearance, sturdier axles, Bilstein shocks, 31-inch all-terrain tires, fender flares, a rear track bar, and a modified differential.
The results were an uncanny compact that could tackle off-road terrain like it was nobody’s business. All of these features made the S10 look and feel like a completely different pickup: a sturdy, off-road, rugged compact with a mean devil-may-care streak. This popular package remained in production until the S10 was discontinued in 2004 to make room for the new Chevy Colorado.
The S10 ZR2 may not be the most popular classic Chevy truck out there, but just about anyone who eyes a used Chevy S10 from bygone eras is almost universally told by truck enthusiasts to seek out the ZR2 edition. It has this great, simplified look in what could best be described as the off-road bulldog of pickup trucks, which perfectly exemplifies why it made the top of this list.