Chevrolet Blazer 1969-1972 – the right recipe
4×4 vehicles are not new. But the Blazer changed the way they were designed with an approach that still influences the SUV market today.
Until 1960, if you wanted what wasn’t yet called a 4WD sport utility, you had to go for a Jeep CJ. Point. Then, the International Harvester company (founded in 1902) presented the Scout for the 1961 vintage, a vehicle as capable as the CJ but a little less rustic, with a little more comfort and space. The idea of a 4×4 accessible to all was slowly beginning to take hold. It wasn’t until 1966 that Ford released the Bronco, also based on a specific platform, with a wheelbase of 92 inches (2.34 meters).
If it comes standard with a 170 cubic inch (2.8 liter) 6-cylinder, the Bronco can also receive a 289 cf (4.7 liter) V8. We were starting to talk about power. After a strong start (23,776 units) in the first year, sales remained subdued throughout the vehicle’s career (peaking in 1974 at 25,824 units). With three American models offered in the same market segment (not counting British and Japanese imports), General Motors could no longer turn a blind eye.
Necessity makes law
In fact, behind the scenes, the company has been evaluating different projects for several years. In the early 1960s, Ed Cole, then general manager of Chevrolet, met Vic Hickey, who had built a small 4×4 with a Chevrolet Corvair engine called the Trailblazer. Impressed by the gizmo, Cole bought the rights to the vehicle as well as the name and hired Hickey at GM. After the launch of the Scout, Chevrolet began working on a similar model, called the Blazer: specific bodywork, folding windshield (initially) and removable roof. The project will go quite far and was due to be launched for the 1967 vintage. It will eventually be canceled at the last minute by accountants, who did not believe in its profitability. But the brand management doesn’t want to let go, so we will have to find a new approach.
Salvation will come in the new Chevrolet pickup trucks, introduced for the 1967 model year and featuring sleeker styling than the models they replace. It was Paul Hitch, chief engineer of Chevrolet trucks from 1966 to 1972, who came up with the idea of using them as a basis instead of developing a specific vehicle. He simply suggests shortening them (from 115 to 104 inches of wheelbase, or 2.67 meters) and installing a removable roof, like on the competitors. This is a proposition accountants love: a quick project with little engineering and a small tooling budget.
All in one
The Blazer was introduced to the press in January 1969, after the start of the model year, and arrived in dealerships in April 1969. Chevrolet described it as “the new way to go almost anywhere.” The catalog adds, “You’ll call it a second car, a To collect, a multi-purpose machine, all in one vehicle”. For marketing, Chevrolet relies on two aspects. First, it’s bigger than its competitors Ford, International and Jeep. Secondly, it offers more options: air conditioning, power steering and brakes, tinted windows and luxury wheel covers.
Off-road enthusiasts can also add beefed up suspension, a shortened rear axle ratio, limited slip differential, extra battery, heater block or more robust alternators and cooling systems. Finally, there’s the CST package (for Custom Sport Trucks) which includes special moldings, chrome hubcaps and bumpers as well as bucket seats, center console and cigarette lighter. But be warned, the Blazer is far from basic luxury – the passenger seat, rear seat and fiberglass roof (or a soft top) are also optional!
Technically, the Blazer therefore uses the chassis of the K10 vans, with the gas tank located between the rails (rather than being behind the seat). The entry-level engine is a 250 bhp (4.1-litre) 6-cylinder that develops 155 bhp. Optional V8s are 307 (5.0 liters, 200 horsepower) or 350 cubic inches (5.7 liters, 255 horsepower). The 3-speed manual transmission is standard (except on the 350 pc) while you can opt for an SM465 4-speed manual or a TH350 3-speed automatic. All Blazers have all-wheel drive. The front axle is a Dana 44 while the rear axle is a Chevrolet 12 bolt. Depending on transmission choice, the transfer box is either a Dana 20 (3-speed, manual) or an NP205 (SM465 and TH350).
Due to a late-to-vintage release, Chevrolet only sells 4,935 Blazers. But GM believes there is a good streak.
The 1970 vintage saw two major innovations: the launch of the GMC Jimmy (which is just a Blazer with a two-piece grille) and a 2WD variant. The latter inherits the axles of two-wheel drive vans (independent front suspension and coil springs at the 4 corners instead of leaf springs). However, it will never be popular with buyers. Otherwise the changes are in the details with, among other things, a slightly redesigned grille. Sales totaled 12,512 copies (of which only 985 were 4x2s).
Also for 1971 there were no great innovations: new grille with square motifs, direction indicators integrated in the bumper, disc brakes at the front, new drum brakes at the rear, switch to the use of unleaded petrol (with a consequent decrease in 10 horsepower for the 6-cylinder and 5 horsepower for the 350 hp, but none for the 307 hp). Despite a 67-day strike in the fall of 1970, 18,497 units of the Blazer were still produced (of which only 1,277 were 4x2s).
The American auto industry switched to net horsepower for the 1972 vintage and the figures displayed were henceforth 110 horsepower for the 250hp, 135hp for the 307hp, and 175hp for the 350hp. In January 1972 the Highlander Plaid aesthetic package was added (CST and fiber roof options required). This spring, Chevrolet is introducing sticker sets for its SUVs (including the Vega and El Camino) called Mod Bods. Four different versions are available for the Blazer. Although this is the last year of this generation, sales have exploded to 47,623 copies (of which only 3,357 are 4x2s). But that’s nothing, because the next model, produced from 1973 to 1991, will experience even greater success.
The contest follows
Born from the need to produce a low-cost development vehicle, Paul Hitch’s idea served as a model for all the SUVs that followed in the 1970s. Jeep launched the Wagoneer-based Cherokee in 1974. In the same year Dodge will introduce the Ramcharger and the Plymouth the Trail Duster based on the D100 pickup truck. Finally, Ford would introduce the second generation Bronco in 1978 based on the F-Series. The seeds of the 1990s SUV revolution were thus planted.