A Century in the Making: The History of the Silverado

April 6th, 2022 by

A dark blue 2018 Chevy Silverado 1500 Z71 Centennial Edition is shown passing a light blue 1972 C10 at a set of traffic lights.

Chevy trucks are on a whole different level from other vehicles, and the announcement of the upcoming Silverado EV has people more excited than ever by Chevy’s class-leading capability. Chevy does many things well, but the brand seems to have a special knack (and love) for its trucks, especially the Silverado. As your Chevy dealer in Minot, we want to do more than sell you vehicles; we want to educate you on those vehicles. Today we are going to have some fun and take a look at the history of the Silverado. A vehicle does not become as acclaimed as the Silverado without many years leading up to it, so let’s go back to the beginning.

The Very First Chevy Truck

It all began in 1911 when acclaimed racer Louis Chevrolet and General Motors founder William C. Durant founded Chevrolet. The two men shared a mission to provide highly-performing vehicles, high in durability and high in value. Seven years after its origin, Chevy reached new heights and merged with General Motors to become a division within GM; but, more importantly to our study today, 1918 is the year that Chevy debuted its first truck, the Chevrolet One-Ton. This truck had functionality (and affordability) at the forefront. The One-Ton paved the way for the infamous pickup bed with its work platform that resembled a desk more than a pickup bed. Offering two versions, between the cowl and chassis model or an express body with or without an eight-post curtain top, drivers could customize their experience.

With a 3.6-liter OHV 4-cylinder engine (which took up 224 cubic inches of space), the One-Ton could reach a whopping 36 horsepower. The upcoming Chevy Silverado EV is set to cruise at 660 horsepower. How’s that for progress? But, before we get to the future, we have to keep walking through the past.

A white 1973 Chevy C30 is shown from the side parked in front of a corn field.

The Middle Years

After Chevy proved itself to be a highly-capable producer of trucks, it moved into the Delivery industry in 1929 with the International Series AC Light Delivery. Although it had slightly smaller dimensions than the One-Ton, it proved to be a great vehicle for industrial use. Its functional chassis provided the foundation for all kinds of work activities and could even be used as a dump truck! The Light Delivery was the first truck in the industry to use an OHV 6-cylinder engine, which helped it top its predecessor at 46 horsepower and 125 pounds-feet of torque. This then-exciting truck had a starting MSRP of a whole $400. This was a pretty penny at the time, seeing as the average household income was only $1,582 per year. So, buying this truck would have left you with just over $1,000 for the rest of the year.

Almost a whole decade later is when we start to see the origins of the Silverado more vividly with the 1938 Chevy Half-Ton. This vehicle, which weighed only half of its predecessor’s weight, had style and design in focus. With a newly-designed face in its vertical grille, new front bumper, and swept fenders, the Half-Ton had drivers gearing up for the 1940s in style. The newly-formed Chevy Art and Color department had proven itself with the Half-Ton, and it also performed very well for its day at 78 horsepower and 170 pounds-feet of torque with the 3.5-liter I-6 engine. The half-ton would have been yours for no more than $592.

As the world recovered from the devastation of World War II, Chevrolet made significant advancements in producing civilian vehicles, notably with the 3100 Series beginning in 1947 and the 3124 Series Cameo Carrier starting in 1955. The company began gearing up for the Silverado in 1967 when the C/K10 series began refining features that would someday become staples of the Silverado. Aside from having comfort and convenience at the forefront, just as the Silverado does today, the C/K10 series offered small and big block V8 engines. Engines that today are able to make the Silverado perform at the truly astonishing heights of its performance specs. Having adjusted to a post-war economy with the 3100 Series in ‘47, which went for slightly over $1,000, the C/K10 series continued the upward trend and crossed the threshold into the $2,000 range.

In 1973, Chevy released the C30 One-Ton, considered by many to be the first modern heavy-duty pickup truck, but it certainly would not be the last. Of course, it wouldn’t be; we haven’t even gotten to the Silverado nameplate yet. With rounded exterior lines to improve aerodynamics, the C30 paved the way for the square body that would come to be a trademark of pickup design. This was the first Chevy truck with a Crew Cab, and it provided seating for up to six. Now we’re starting to feel closer to home. The C30 far exceeded its predecessor in price, coming in at an MSRP of $4,388.

Chevy further developed the C/K series in the late-eighties, adding the new Insta-Trac system, which allowed rivers to shift in and out of 4-wheel drive, even at high speeds. Additionally, all of the trucks in this fourth-generation C/K series were equipped with independent front suspensions. These advancements came at a cost, though, as this new series skyrocketed to $12,747, an increase of over 800 from its predecessor.

The Silverado

At last, the moment is here when we arrive at the first-ever Silverado 1500. The year is 1999, and as the world gears up for an all-new millennium, Chevrolet gears up for an all-new truck, one that would change the brand forever. This was not the very first appearance of the Silverado; that was in 1975. This was the year that the Silverado became its own stand-alone model. Not only did it stand alone, but the Silverado stood out with the addition of the new GMT800 platform, which gave it a more muscular appearance while increasing aerodynamics. If you thought the $800 increase in the ’80s was a lot, then you’ll be shocked to hear that the ‘99 Silverado 1500 saw an increase in the price of almost $20,000, coming in at $31,384. The industry was entering a new era, and the Silverado proved this to be so by its engineering. With the introduction of a whole new line of Vortec V8 engines, the 1990 Silverado 1500 could reach up to 270 horsepower. By today’s standards, this wasn’t much, but it was at the time, which shows how far we’ve come in 23 short years.

The Silverado 1500 decided to stay for a while, as is proven by the fact that it remains on the market today. The 2007 Silverado 1500 ushered in a second generation for the model, being built on the GMT900 platform and improving the vehicle’s aerodynamic capabilities. Over the course of the next decade, the Silverado would continue to advance, innovate, and exceed.

In 2018, Chevy celebrated 100 years of truck excellency with the Centennial Edition Silverado, which made significant and exciting advancements in the vehicle; this is still an outstanding Silverado by today’s standards and is one of the best Silverados to purchase used! The Silverado is far from retirement; this year, Chevy debuts the all-new Silverado ZR2, making the already-excellent truck a true off-roader by way of a brand-new and exclusive design. You’ve never seen a Silverado like the ZR2. The Silverado has a bright future ahead of it with the upcoming Silverado EV; this will be the most powerful Silverado to date, and the innovation behind this first-ever electric Silverado will have you in awe. The Silverado keeps getting better.

A blue 2024 Chevy Silverado EV RST is shown descending a trail after leaving a Chevy dealer in Minot.

100 Years Ago

100 years ago, Chevy was making excellent trucks and today they continue to do so. That is not an easy thing to accomplish, nor is it a coincidence; Chevy’s dedication to innovation, creativity, and excellence is proven in its vehicles, and the Silverado stands out among them all. Whether you’re looking at the past, the present, or the future of the Silverado, you will find a vehicle with years of practice behind it.