Vehicle manufacturers often offer special editions of their cars. This so-called specialness could be the addition of performance equipment, a different paint job, or any other number of things. Sometimes, these vehicles are a little too blasé to really be considered special, but every once in a while, masterpieces are born. For its part, Chevy has had a number of greatest hits over the years, and I’ve taken the liberty of compiling my personal favorites. Special editions of vehicles are rare by nature due to the low numbers they’re usually produced in, so the chances of them popping up at your local used Chevy dealer are low. If they do, I’ll be first in line with check in hand, but in a perfect world, these special editions would make a comeback. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time Chevy has drawn inspiration from the past (hello, new Blazer).
Chevy K10 Spirit of ’76 Edition
To celebrate the United States of America’s 200th birthday, Chevy released the K10 Spirit of ’76, a pickup that captures all the patriotism of Uncle Sam riding a bald eagle. Most of these apple-pie-slinging trucks were produced in white, but some were a little bit extra with a tri-color paint job done up with a very ’70s light blue base and red, white, and blue striping down the sides. There’s Spirit of ’76 badging on the door, and (also very ’70s) wood paneling can be found in several different spots. The fun doesn’t stop there – the pickup’s interior stays true to the flag, with red, white, and blue stripes on the seats and blue carpeting.
Why should it come back: Is it just me, or do all pickups look the same? Manufacturers favor aggressive styling for their trucks, but I just want something pastel, sans bulky grille and menacing fascia. I’m a big fan of the aesthetic of vintage trucks and would love to see something modern that captures the Spirit.
Chevy Blazer Chalet
Classic Chevy Blazers already look dynamite, but the special edition Chevy Blazer Chalet, produced from 1976 to 1977, is the stuff overlanding dreams are made of. It’s not your dad’s RV nor your crunchy friend’s Jeep + tent combo; instead, the Chalet takes a typical topless Blazer and bolts a camper onto the back. Functionally, it lands somewhere between an RV and a pickup with a slide-in camper. There’s full access to the camper from the cab, but the Chalet is less bulky than an RV, with actual off-roading capability thanks to its Blazer bones. It’s not just a powerhouse of adventure either; the Blazer Chalet looks good, too. The use of browns and oranges gives the vehicle an earthy look.
Why it should come back: Van Life is having a moment right now but is largely limited to Chevy Express-type vans that aren’t going to be capable of varied terrains. More and more folks are drawn to a nomadic life that a livable vehicle can offer. There’s room in the market for this sort of thing and something with more capability and style than what’s currently available.
Chevy El Camino Royal Knight
The El Camino Royal Knight had an interesting run. Initially debuting in 1978 as “Black Knight,” production promptly ceased due to GM being sued for copyright issues. No matter, they quickly rebranded to “Royal Knight” and carried on the following year. These El Caminos give off serious Knights of Camelot vibes, with their old-timey lettering and a pair of huge fire-breathing dragons decal on the El Camino’s bountiful hood. None of it should work, but it does.
Why it should come back: Racing stripes and the blacked-out look are cool, but I’m tired of seeing them doing the majority of the heavy lifting on appearance package offerings across different models and manufacturers alike. The Royal Knight was borderline gaudy, but whoever was behind the design seemed to have an understanding of what the El Camino could and could not pull off. Appearance packages designed with the essence of the vehicle in mind seem to be a dying breed. I want to see something that pushes the envelope like the Royal Knight did.
Callaway Twin Turbo Chevy Corvette
Callaway Cars Inc. is a specialty vehicle manufacturer that specializes in the design of high-performance packages for cars, pickups, and SUVs. They’ve had a long and fruitful relationship with Chevy, from which the Callaway Twin Turbo Corvette materialized. From 1987 to 1991, the special edition Callaway Twin Turbo Corvette was available for purchase by consumers directly from select dealerships, warranty-backed and everything. When buyers checked a particular box in their order form, their factory Corvettes would be shipped to Callaway to get stripped down and built back up with upgraded parts, including a pair of turbochargers. Upgrading to this package bought you 382 hp and 562 lb-ft of torque. In 1988, the extra-special Corvette Callaway SledgeHammer came to fruition, the vehicle that remains one of Chevy’s most powerful to this day with its twin-turbocharged V8 that gets 898 horsepower and 772 lb-ft of torque.
Why it should come back: Special editions so often mean just appearance packages. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I can appreciate a good-looking car. However, I can also appreciate a special edition that comes with 100 extra horsepower or so.
Chevy Tracker ZR2
Chevy’s ZR2 package is getting a lot of buzz right now, with the all-new Silverado ZR2 making its debut for 2022. Today, it’s a true off-roading package, including an upgraded suspension, boosted ground clearance, and a 6.2 liter V8. When the Chevy Tracker got the ZR2 badge, it was more of an appearance package. It had 4WD and a front skid plate, but that was pretty much it in terms of functionality. As far as appearance packages go, it was a decent one. It got “ZR2” scrawled on the door in a wild scrawl, and the yellow, 2-door option with a soft top looked the part of an off-roading vehicle, even if it didn’t have the power to back it up.
Why it should come back: Although it didn’t amount to much during the Tracker’s time, these days, the ZR2 name means something. Currently, it’s strictly reserved for the Colorado and Silverado. In fact, Chevy seems to focus all of its performance prowess on its pickups, Corvettes, and Camaros. A high-powered SUV is missing from their lineup. They keep it pretty mundane, albeit affordable. Now imagine the possibilities if the Tracker ZR2 aesthetic was paired with modern ZR2 performance and at the price point of Chevy’s SUV. I think the Trailblazer is just begging for ZR2 badging, don’t you?
The Current State of Special Edition Chevy’s
When compared to the special editions of days past, modern offerings seem a little banal. Which isn’t to say Chevy’s special editions are all racing stripes and black accents. One of their most solid options is the Colorado ZR2 Bison, which upgrades stock skid plates, fender flares, etc., to AEV parts. The Silverado RealTree’s smattering of camo on the bed isn’t half bad, either, but I think Chevy can do better. Instead of recycling the same special editions across several different models, I’d love to see something that feels thoughtful and unique to that specific vehicle, something new brought to the table. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be new. Bringing back one of the aforementioned special edition Chevys would suit me just fine.