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Chevrolet K5 Blazer History: Full-Size Fore Father

January 11, 2023
Chevrolet K5 Blazer History: Full-Size Fore Father

Take a look around today and you’ll see a sea of SUV sameness in every parking lot in America, but back in the late 1960s, things were different. Very different.

Domestic car companies like General Motors ruled American roads, and Detroit Iron was flying out of dealer lots and into the hands of enthusiasts everywhere. We all know about the muscle car wars of the 1960s and early 1970s, but what many don’t know is that there was an equally intense battle shaping up for a completely different kind of vehicle: the SUV. Ford introduced their compact Bronco in 1966 to compete with International Harvester Scout and Jeep CJ and all of these vehicles offered a bare-bones experience, relatively compact dimensions (especially compared to today’s vehicles), and the ability to remove the top, or part of it.

Despite the fact that General Motors was very familiar with the concept of an SUV, thanks to their iconic Suburban, they still didn’t have a smaller, lifestyle-driven SUV that could latch onto the hearts of red-blooded Americans. That didn’t last for long. In 1969, even though they were a little late to the party, GM’s first K5 Blazer was born. It instantly stood out from every other SUV and brought big-time space and capability to the table when other SUVs were small and bare bones.

At Velocity, we love to break the mold and come at existing challenges in new ways, and that’s exactly why we love the K5 Blazer. Unlike the latest Blazer, the classic Blazer broke the SUV mold, just like we break the mold every day by creating one-of-a-kind luxury vehicles. Our true passion is bringing the energy and nostalgia of the past together with the advanced engineering and luxury of the future. Turns out, our customers love the classic Blazer too. So much so, that we’re expanding our Signature Series lineup to meet demand in 2023 with around 70 vintage K5 Blazers in the works.

Let’s take a deep dive into the history of the K5 Blazer and see how General Motors created an icon.

First SUV Developed Alongside A Truck

GM based its first classic Blazer SUV on its K-10 pickup truck and it was designed right alongside it.

Save for a few old-school holdouts like the Toyota 4Runner, and Jeep Wrangler, today’s modern SUVs are not based on trucks, but on cars. This has obvious benefits for consumers, but at the end of the day, most unibody SUVs are nothing more than an appliance. To us, and our clients, there’s just nothing quite like the feeling of a truck-based, body-on-frame SUV that brims with character, and attitude, along with offering true off-road capabilities. The Chevrolet Blazer K5 offered all of those things, and so much more.

When Ford developed the first Bronco in 1966, they started with a completely clean-sheet design that was designed specifically for the Bronco and shared its roots with nothing else on the road. The same goes for both the Jeep CJ and International Scout; they were conceived of and designed to stand out on their own. This is exactly where General Motors flipped the script, and it’s a trick that large manufacturers have been doing ever since.

If your mind isn’t blown, it should be, because platform sharing is now the way that all automotive manufacturers bring cars to market and GM was at the forefront of this trend way back in 1969.

First Generation: Action Line Roots (1969-1972)

Chevrolet K5 Blazer History: Full-Size Fore Father

For all-out off-road enthusiasts, the classic Ford Bronco, IH Scout, and Jeep CJ offered plenty of cool factor and advanced capabilities, but they were not great to live with on a daily basis thanks to their compact size and unrefined chassis. The modern Honda CR-V, one of the best-selling compact SUVs in America, dwarfs the classic Bronco by over 30 inches in length while offering the same width! General Motors aimed to change all that with the K5 Blazer by basing the entire vehicle on the “Action Line” K10 short-bed truck, which was redesigned for 1967.

At 177 inches in length, and offering a gigantic 104-inch wheelbase, the first Chevrolet Blazer was much larger than any of the vehicles it was designed to compete with and it had a chassis that was designed for a mass market, not a niche one. This meant that the classic Blazer enjoyed the stellar ride and handling of the C/K trucks, along with a much more spacious interior. Plus, GM could make way more units, at a much lower cost. Sound like a formula that’s been a hit ever since? We think so too.

First-generation Chevy K5 Blazers offered one body style with two doors and a standard liftgate in the rear, just like a truck. Much like the classic Ford Bronco, the first K5 blazer offered the option to either completely remove the reinforced fiberglass top, or leave it on for a more traditional SUV level of functionality. Although the first generation was barebones by today’s standards, it was still much more comfortable and larger than competing vehicles.

Chevrolet K5 Blazer History: Full-Size Fore Father

Inside, owners could choose to have everything from a single driver’s seat to a full five-person configuration with room in the back for gear. Options included unheard-of SUV things like air conditioning, power steering, power brakes, and various upgrades to the suspension and engine. GM was going for both the family buyers and the enthusiasts, and it was changing the game right before the industry’s eyes.

Under the skin, the first-generation K5 Blazer rolled on a ladder-frame style chassis plucked from the C/K line of trucks. Thanks to alligator-jaw cross members, the chassis was built to take the abuse of driving off-road. Tapered leaf springs sat at all corners and offered a relatively smooth ride, especially for the era, while hydraulic brakes were also standard. Under the hood, enthusiasts could stick with the standard 250 cubic-inch straight six, or upgrade to the 307 cubic-inch V8 or the iconic 350 small block.

Transmission choices were also unique for the K5, thanks to a choice of a standard 3-speed manual, an upgraded 4-speed manual with granny gear, or a 3-speed Turbo-Hydramatic. Yes, the tougher-than-nails Blazer could be ordered with a 3-speed automatic transmission. Four-wheel drive was standard, and an upgraded low-range transfer case was optional.

GMC released its own version of the Blazer, the GMC Jimmy, in 1970. While mechanically identical, it did have a few styling changes that set it apart from the Blazer.

Second Generation: Long Running Success (1973-1991)

Chevrolet K5 Blazer History: Full-Size Fore Father

As fantastic as the first-generation Chevrolet K5 Blazer was, the second-generation really hammered home the mission of the Blazer as a full-size SUV that could do everything. Known as the “Rounded Line” at GM and “Square Body” to aficionados, this new generation of Blazer offered a familiar GM look with a subtle rounding to all the styling lines. More glass with more headroom brought airiness to the interior, which was also completely redesigned to be more comfortable and luxurious than ever before.

In a bid to grab more high-end buyers, GM needed to add some luxury to the game, and the most luxurious version of the second-generation K5 Blazer was the Cheyenne. Color-keyed carpets matched the high-end vinyl on the seats, and additional sound dampening helped keep things quiet. Even the standard “Custom” trim brought way more style and sophistication to the Chevy Blazer’s utilitarian interior with features like full instrumentation, optional air-conditioning, a tilt steering column, and AM/FM stereo. Top options included the hard top and an all-new soft top that could be easily opened, just like a Jeep CJ.

Chevrolet made big, big changes to the Blazer’s chassis and suspension for the 1973 redesign. While the ladder-style frame stuck around, GM put considerable developmental effort into refining the Blazer to work like a truck but ride like a car. Unlike the first generation, GM offered a two-wheel drive version of the Blazer in 1973. Two-wheel drive blazers offered a coil-spring front suspension, along with a set of tapered-leaf springs in the rear and a smaller turning circle for easier maneuverability in the city. Four-wheel drive versions got super tough tapered springs all the way around. Front disc brakes and finned rear-drum brakes were standard for all K5 models.

Another game-changer for the second-generation K5 Blazer was the four-wheel drive systems that underpinned certain models. Six-cylinder and manual-equipped Blazers continued to offer a standard, selectable four-wheel drive system that required user input. Automatic-equipped, V8-powered Blazers traded the selectable 4×4 system for a full-time four-wheel drive system. Yes, that’s right the 1973 Blazer had a full-time, all-wheel drive system that moved power around to slipping wheels, just like a modern vehicle.

Chevrolet K5 Blazer History: Full-Size Fore Father

Chevrolet began to pitch the Blazer as an outdoor enthusiast’s truck for 1973, which again, is something that brands like Ford, Subaru, and Toyota do today! In a first for GM, they proudly declared a 6000-pound tow rating for the Blazer in all its marketing and offered a rooftop cargo basket to carry the rest of your gear out to the site as optional equipment. Owners who optioned in the hardtop even got a tailgate with a window that could be rolled up or down for easy ventilation or for loading.

Engine options, at least initially, were identical to the first-generation Blazer. As time passed, the Blazer evolved but never really changed from the original model which was such an abashed success for Chevrolet.

K5 Blazer Model Year Changes

Chevrolet K5 Blazer History: Full-Size Fore Father

Chevrolet made very few changes to the core elements of the K5 Blazer from 1973 to 1981. In 1975, GM offered an upgraded 400 cubic-inch V8 and a few more color choices, but other than that, there were very few changes to the truck. 1975 spelled the end of the full-convertible treatment, and Chevrolet opted for a more conventional (and stable) half-cab design for the next 16 years.

The biggest changes to the Blazer came in 1981, with the introduction of a thoroughly refreshed blazer lineup. Stying was moved away from the single headlights of the square body to the iconic double-stack setup that would be on every GM truck and full-size SUV until the early 1990s. Yet, still, the bones of the Blazer were from 1973, and it soldiered on with the same basic chassis design, with a few small tweaks to increase refinement.

One of the biggest changes for 1981 was under the hood. The same straight-six could be ordered in all K5 Blazers through 1984, but a brand new 307 (5.0-liter) powered the vast majority of K5 Blazers. GM’s iconic 5.7-liter, fuel-injected V8 appeared in 1986. Interestingly, a naturally aspirated Detroit Diesel engine would also become an option in 1982, although it was typically ordered for military duty, it was found in civilian versions as well.

K5 Chevrolet Blazer / GMC Jimmy Engines

ENGINE YEARS POWER TORQUE
250 cu in (4.1L) I6 1969-1978

1979-1984

105 hp

130 hp

185 lb-ft

210 lb-ft

305 cu in (5.0L) V8 1981-1986 160 hp 135 lb ft
350 cu in (5.7L) V8 1969-1986

1981-1986

1987-1999

160 hp

160 hp

210 hp

275 lb ft

260 lb ft

300 lb ft

400 cu in (6.6L) V8 1975-1980 185 hp 300 lb ft
379 cu in (6.2L) Detroit Diesel V8 1982-1991 135 hp 240 lb ft

The Last Of The Old School Blazers and Mini-Blazers

As the ’80s rolled into the ‘90s, the appetite for full-size, two-door SUVs was quickly waning in favor of smaller, more compact SUVs with four-doors.

GM’s own S10 Blazer hit the market in 1983 and was garnering nearly three times the sales of its larger Blazer cousin. Since GM had already rolled out its latest GMT400 platform truck in 1988, it was logical to just build another full-size Blazer but it took full three years to come to light. Internal reports indicated that top brass at GM wanted to kill the full-size Blazer altogether, especially since the S-10 Blazer was doing so well. Nonetheless, the Blazer was eventually brought back to the market, but it was a far cry from the classic Blazer and Jimmy.

The classic K5 designation was gone, and the larger Blazer was simply referred to as the “full-size Blazer”. In addition to the loss of the K5 name, the full-size Blazer was only sold as a two-door, hardtop SUV without the ability to change into a convertible. GM’s 5.7-liter V8 was the sole engine option, along with a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic. Thanks to the old-school four-wheel drive system, and punchy engines, the Blazer was well-liked among off-road enthusiasts but failed to sell in any meaningful way.

The Blazer was renamed the Chevrolet Tahoe in 1995, and by 1996, it was completely gone.

Velocity Restorations Reinvents The K5 Blazer

Since the demise of the Blazer in 1995, Chevrolet has brought the Blazer back as a pseudo-sporty SUV, but let’s all be honest here, it’s nowhere near as cool as the K5 or even the 1990s full-size Blazer. In fact, it completely lacks all the attitude, capability, and nostalgic design that made the original K5 Blazer such an incredible rig. Luckily for Blazer aficionados the world over, Velocity Restorations is proud to bend the lines of what a classic K5 Blazer can be.

Chevrolet K5 Blazer History: Full-Size Fore Father

For 2023, Velocity is proud to announce that we are expanding our Signature Series Lineup to include the K5 Chevrolet Blazer. That’s right, the same craftsmanship, and bespoke luxury that we build into classic Ford Broncos and Ford F-Series trucks is being reimagined for the K5. Beautiful, hand-built interiors, modern powertrains with thundering V8 power, and plenty of hand-built Velocity touches will adorn each and every K5 that rolls out of our state-of-the-art facility.

Stay tuned in the coming months for more information on how you can relive the past without compromising the present behind the wheel of a Velocity Signature Series K5.

 

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