A new-for-1971 Cheyenne premium trim package raised Chevy pickup interior style and comfort to new levels – to the delight of buyers seeking a spiffy truck to tow their recreational equipment. Photo: GM Media Archive.
Chevy Trucks: America’s Great Aspirational Vehicle
Sixteen years ago, when my father was called home, I inherited his 1987 Chevy Silverado. In those days, trucks were much different, and hardly comparable now in terms of performance, capability, and luxury. Trucks today are simply miles ahead, but my father’s ’87 and its characteristics (or quirks) I recall fondly.
The big gauges with the orange needles, the radio’s silver buttons, and the fuel tank switch – it had two gas tanks, one on each side of the truck – were hallmarks of the interior. I would reach under the seat and pull the big bench forward to get right up close to the wheel.
I can still feel the steering wheel in my hand.
The first time my father let me drive was right after I passed my driver’s license test. By “right after” I mean like walking out of the courthouse, just got the certificate, and dad drops the keys into my hands.
“You’re serious,” I asked, wondering what had gotten into my father.
“It’s time you learn,” he said.
“You sure about this,” I asked again.
“We’re headed straight home, I don’t see the harm,” he reassured me.
Indeed I got us home safely, after running a stop sign and nearly causing an accident. My father yelled something about brakes but I froze and kept right on going. If that other car had not been blaring its horn, I might have been able to make out what my father was saying.
A portion of work today is spent as a Product Specialist on Chevrolet’s National Truck Team. In so many aspects, it’s a dream job, especially since I grew up with a Chevy truck and nearly gave my father a heart attack in one. My close friends and family razz me since I started my automotive career with Ford, but at the end of the day, being on Chevy’s National Truck Team is nothing short of amazing.
Product specialist work in the automotive industry is an interesting endeavor. The schedule is demanding, the hours are long, and the learning curve is intense. You rarely see home, living on airplanes and in hotel rooms. On longer programs, you can lose track of days, even forget what city you are in. However, if you make it through, you know your corresponding vehicles inside and out. You become a living, breathing representation of that automaker and the people you meet, be it at a trade show or race event, see you accordingly.
Much of your job revolves around being able to communicate, but on Chevy’s truck team, there is one remarkable exception: you listen more than you speak.
What you run into is people like me: guys who, while admiring the new High Country, tell you about how they drove their father’s Chevy truck a few days after the funeral and their life was never the same. They tell you about all the trailers they haul with their old 454, or how their Duramax (often affectionately called “Dirty Max”) outshines every truck on the road.
These same folks will tell you how they got married in a Chevy truck, how they trust it to take their kids to school, and how when they punch the clock on a Friday afternoon, they pile the family in and hit the lake for the weekend. If you ever wonder where country musicians get their inspiration, look no further than these experiences, so many of them had with a Chevy truck.
Tools Versus Toys
Every once in awhile, I find myself pulled into discussions over which vehicles are the most desirable. In other words, what are the vehicles people aspire to own. There are the usual entries on the list: Porsche, Ferrari, Bugatti, Mercedes-AMG, Lykan HyperSport. The latter is for when you have a few million bucks collecting dust.
To be fair, I love performance cars and have long admired Ferrari. At the same time I was growing up with a Chevy truck in the driveway, there were Ferrari posters on my wall. It’s not that I don’t like Ferrari or any of the other vehicles that often arise in the “dream cars” discussion, but rather how those cars are presented: as soulless entities that somehow represent the pinnacle of happiness.
To be completely honest, I always cringe during these conversations. When someone is proclaiming a Lamborghini as the ultimate vehicle, it’s a tremendous curve ball to suggest the comparatively humble Chevy Silverado. Unlike the cars that often surface on these lists, Chevy trucks are tools more than toys, and they are much more attainable.
Sometimes, it’s the young working class who reflect why Chevy trucks are the greatest aspirational vehicles. Many don’t have their dream Silverado yet, but when they visit our displays, you can see it in their eyes and hear it in their voice. They believe that day is getting closer, and when they get there, a portion of their lives will be complete.
On the 2016 Luke Bryan Farm Tour, one man explained why the day he buys a new Chevy truck will be the day he’s “made it.” This now humble farmer returned to his family’s cattle operation two years ago after pursuing “empty promises and false hopes.”
“You couldn’t tell me nothing then, and I swore I’d never come back,” he said. “I did what I wanted and low and behold, didn’t get nothing of what I wanted.”
His vision today involves seeing the family business he long rejected to a successful future. A new Chevy Silverado represents that future come true. Until then, he was making due with the four other Chevy trucks his family had on the farm.
At the Minnesota State Fair, there was a family with a son on the spectrum for autism enjoying our display. As I was getting to know them, his parents lamented at how the school system sweeps their boy under the rug. Come to find out, their son has incredible competencies for mathematics, science, and technology, and much to their disbelief, has read every book they have given him on the subjects in record time.
“He doesn’t get it from my side of the family,” theorized his father. “I can’t balance a checkbook without a calculator and my parents were no better.”
I suggested his son consider three things: an engineering degree, a necktie, and keeping us on staff when my colleagues and I are working for him.
His father started to cry, explaining how his son draws trucks on a sketch pad and of all the vehicles on the road, Chevys are his favorite. Their main reason for visiting the fair was so their son could admire all the trucks on display. Indeed he did, and I would be privileged enough to share that moment with them. I didn’t say anything about the new Chevy trucks; not one engine or chassis specification left my mouth, but rather, I spent the time comforting frustrated parents who believe their son will one day design Chevy trucks.
They just wanted the rest of the world to believe it too.
Calling Ol’ Lonely
At Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa, was the lingering disillusion and disdain of Maytag’s disappearance from the community. Many of the residents looked at Chevy as a shining example of American longevity, ingenuity, and ultimately, survival. The Newton citizens I met on this cloudy July Saturday told story after story of how Maytag was once the same.
One particular father, a former Maytag employee, stood with his son admiring the trucks.
“Oh he definitely wants one someday but he’s saving for college first; not gonna end up like his old man,” he said. “When he graduates, he can put a big Hawkeyes decal on the back window.”
To this father, his son acquiring a Chevy truck meant things would somehow be okay. With a college degree, he would have a chance and with that chance, a sense of American identity would flow back into their lives. It would return the purpose and accomplishment wiped away by Whirlpool’s announcement one fateful day in 2006.
“I have some choice words for them,” the father told me, gritting his teeth. “I’m a church going man but I still have some words in mind.”
When you are around something for a period of time, it’s easy to miss certain things. It’s not that you mean to, it’s just sometimes how it goes. One rainy evening at the Topsfield Fair, I had finished talking with someone in detail about every product specification imaginable on a red Silverado 1500 we had on display. We covered gear ratios and how they relate to towing capacity, and how direct injection and variable valve timing work. We went into detail on the truck’s high-strength steel frame and even found time to discuss the removable tie-down hooks in the bed.
I shook hands, wished them well, and pulled up my hood. By now, it was really coming down. I felt good. Like I knew absolutely everything about Chevy trucks. As I turned around, I saw a small boy, maybe five or six, standing at the front of the truck, staring up at the hood. His mother, a young twenty something girl, a few feet back, the day’s event program serving as her shield from the cold rain.
“What do you think, Jacob,” she asked, looking at me, shivering but smiling.
“Chevy trucks are big,” came his reply.
“Now, how did I miss that,” I thought.
Carl Anthony is Managing Editor of Automoblog and resides in Detroit, Michigan.