Chevrolet Blazer 1969-1972: the right recipe

4×4 vehicles are nothing new. But the Blazer changed the way they were designed in an approach that still influences the SUV market today.

Until 1960, if you wanted what was not yet called a 4WD sport utility, you had to ride a Jeep CJ. Point. Then the International Harvester company (founded in 1902) presented for the 1961 vintage the Scout, a vehicle as capable as the CJ but a little less rustic, with less comfort and space. The idea of ​​a 4×4 accessible to all slowly began to gain ground. Only in 1966 did Ford launch the Bronco, also based on a specific platform, with a wheelbase of 92 inches (2.34 meters).

Photo: Chevy

While 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 started talking about power. After a good start (23,776 units) in the first year, sales remained weak throughout the car’s career (peaking in 1974 at 25,824 units). With three American models offered in the same market segment (not counting English and Japanese imports), General Motors could no longer turn a blind eye.

Necessity makes law

In fact, behind the scenes, the corporation has been evaluating various 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 named the Trailblazer. Impressed with the gear, Cole bought the rights to the car as well as the name and hired Hickey at GM. After the launch of the Scout, Chevrolet began work on a similar model, called the Blazer: specific bodywork, a folding windshield (at first) and a removable roof. The project will go far and will be launched for the 1967 vintage. It was finally canceled at the last minute by accountants, who did not believe in its profitability. But brand management does not want to let go, so we have to find a new strategy.

Photo: Chevy

Safety was coming to the new Chevrolet pickups, which were introduced to the market for the 1967 model year and were endowed with more elegant styling than the models they replaced. Paul Hitch, chief engineer of Chevrolet trucks from 1966 to 1972, came up with the idea of ​​using them as a base rather than building 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 those of competitors. That’s a proposition accountants love: a quick project with little engineering and a small tooling budget.

All in one

The Blazer was shown to the press in January 1969, after the start of the model year, and arrived at dealerships in April 1969. Chevrolet described it as “the new way to go almost anywhere”. The catalog added: “You would call it a second car, a pick up, an all-purpose machine, all in one vehicle”. For marketing, Chevrolet relies on two aspects. First, it is larger than its competitors from Ford, International and Jeep. Second, it offers more options: air conditioning, power steering and brakes, tinted windows and luxury wheel covers.

Photo: Chevy

Off-road enthusiasts can also add reinforced suspensions, shortened axle ratios, limited-slip differentials, additional batteries, block heaters or beefier alternators and cooling systems. Finally, there’s the CST package (for the Custom Sport Truck) which includes special moldings, chrome hubcaps and bumpers as well as bucket seats, center console and lighter. But beware, the Blazer is far from the main luxury: the passenger seat, the rear seat and the fiberglass roof (or a canvas top) are also options!

On the technical side, the Blazer therefore uses the chassis of the K10 vans, where the gas tank is placed between the rails (instead of behind the seat). The entry-level engine is a 250 hp (4.1 liter) 6-cylinder generating 155 horsepower. Optional V8s are 307 (5.0 liters, 200 horsepower) or 350 cubic inches (5.7 liters, 255 horsepower). A 3-speed manual transmission is standard (except for the 350 pc) while it is possible to opt for a 4-speed manual SM465 or 3-speed automatic TH350. All Blazers come with 4WD. The front axle is a Dana 44 while the rear axle is a Chevrolet 12 bolt. Depending on the gearbox selected, the transfer case can be a Dana 20 (3-speed, manual) or an NP205 (SM465 and TH350).

Due to a late marketing in the vintage, Chevrolet sold only 4,935 Blazers. But GM feels that there is a good root.

Exponential growth

The 1970 vintage saw two major new features: the launch of the GMC Jimmy (which was just a Blazer with a two-piece grille) and a 2WD variant. The latter inherits the axles of the 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 consumers. For the rest, the changes are in detail with, among other things, a slightly redesigned grid. Sales totaled 12,512 copies (including only 985 4x2s).

Image: GMC

There were also no major changes for 1971: new grille with square pattern, indicators integrated into the bumper, disc brakes at the front, new drum brakes at the rear, switch to using unleaded fuel (resulting in a 10 horsepower drop -horses for the 6-cylinder and 5 horsepower for 350 hp, but none for 307 hp). Despite a 67-day strike in the fall of 1970, the Blazer was still produced at 18,497 units (including only 1,277 4x2s).

The American auto industry switched to net horsepower for the 1972 vintage and the figures shown were henceforth 110 horsepower for 250 hp, 135 horsepower for 307 hp and 175 horsepower for 350 hp. In January 1972, the Highlander Plaid aesthetic package was added (CST and fiber roof options required). In the spring, Chevrolet introduced sticker sets for its SUVs (including the Vega and El Camino) called Mod Bods. Four different versions are available for the Blazer. Although this was the last year of this generation, sales exploded to 47,623 copies (including only 3,357 4×2). But it was nothing, because the next model, produced from 1973 to 1991, would experience greater success.

Image: GMC

Competition follows

Born out of the need to produce a vehicle at low development costs, Paul Hitch’s idea served as the model for all SUVs that followed in the 1970s. Jeep launched the Wagoneer-based Cherokee in 1974. That same year, the Dodge’s Ramcharger and Plymouth’s Trail Duster based on the D100 pickup truck. Finally, Ford would introduce the second generation Bronco in 1978 based on the F-Series. Then the seeds of the SUV revolution of the 90s were planted.

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