GM created a 44 with the K5 Blazer that not only joined, but also changed, the SUV segment. The Rugged, Full-Size Chevrolet K5 Blazer’s History The Chevrolet K5 Blazer was born into that sport-utility vacuum.
With it, GM created a 44 that was both a direct response to and distinct from the existing SUV lineup. The main distinction was in size: Unlike its competitors, the Blazer was based on the automaker’s popular full-size pickup truck. This cost-cutting measure enabled it to enter the market quickly while also outperforming its competitors.
Chevrolet had been producing the Carryall/Suburban—a large, truck-based wagon—since the mid-1930s. Despite being available with four-wheel drive, the Suburban didn’t have the same “Let’s go exploring” image as Ford’s and Jeep’s smaller offerings, and as a result, the Suburban spoke to a different demographic.
In 1969, however, Chevrolet went all-out with the K5 Blazer to outperform its competitors in order to attract more youthful buyers. Chevy offered two significant advantages by basing the K5 on the existing short-box K10 pickup. First, thanks to its plus-size proportions, the cabin provided plenty of cargo space and interior space. Second, the wider track and longer wheelbase smoothed the ride on the road.
K5 Blazer: Styling
In terms of styling and equipment, the K5 Blazer was little different from the pickups (or now-three-door Suburban) of the same era, which had been redesigned two years before. Of course, there was one notable exception: The first-generation Blazer had a completely removable hardtop that exposed only the windshield from its soap-bar silhouette. A soft top was also available with the truck, and base model Blazers didn’t even come with a roof or passenger seating at first. The driver had the only available seat!
Mechanically, the K5 Blazer was mechanically equivalent to the pickup, with first-generation trucks offering 250 (110 horsepower) and 292 (125 horsepower) cubic-inch straight-six engines, as well as 307 (135 horsepower) and 350 (170 horsepower) cubic-inch small-block V-8s.
Shifting duties were handled by three-speed automatics, a rare luxury in the SUV world at the time, or four-speed manual gearboxes. The automatic had an NP-205 part-time four-wheel-drive transfer case, while the manual had a Dana 20. A few years later, rear-wheel-drive models with independent front suspension were added to the lineup. This improved the handling of the topless Blazer’s wet-noodle chassis.
The Chevrolet K5 Blazer was an instant hit, and it didn’t take long for the vehicle to dominate SUV sales. In 1970, GMC introduced the Jimmy, their own version of the Blazer. Except for a few cosmetic differences, the two models were nearly identical. Buyers were immediately drawn to the two sport-utilities’ combination of functionality, comfort, and style.
The Chevrolet K5 Blazer
This forced Ford and Jeep to scramble to catch up, and forced Dodge to rush development of its own competitor, the Ramcharger, which would debut in the middle of the decade. Yearly sales had increased tenfold by the end of the first-generation Blazer’s production.
Because the K5 Blazer was so closely linked to the development of Chevy’s full-size pickup, changes were afoot after only a few years of production. The new platform, which debuted in 1973 for both vehicles, was larger, featured a slightly more rounded take on the “box” look, and provided significantly more daily comfort. It was also safer and stronger, with suspension that would see the Blazer through to the early 1990s.
From 1973 to 1975, the Blazer occupied a “sweet spot” in which it retained the original model’s full-convertible design while using the modernized drivetrain and chassis of the next-generation truck. The removable roof of the 1976 K5 was transformed into a fiberglass shell above the rear passengers that could be unclipped and stowed in the garage while the front two occupants remained safely encased beneath a full-cab roofline. This design change lasted the remainder of the Blazer’s production run.
Although both six-cylinder engines were discontinued by 1984, a 175 horsepower 400 cubic inch V-8 was available until 1980, and GM briefly experimented with diesel from 1982 to 1987. Transmission options eventually expanded to include a four-speed automatic, while four-wheel drive systems saw a steady stream of updates, including a shift-on-the-fly system available throughout the 1980s. Dana axles were phased out entirely by the end of the 1970s in favor of GM’s 10- and 12-bolt corporate axles.
When Chevrolet reintroduced the Blazer in 2019, not everyone was thrilled to see the classic 4×4 model name on a midsize crossover utility vehicle.
However, there is now a way to purchase a new K5-style Blazer. Well, nearly new.
For the past few years, Flat Out Autos of Jonesboro, Ark., has been converting 2015-2020 Chevrolet Tahoe trucks into K5 lookalikes with custom bodywork styled after the originals.
The two-tone builds cost around $70,000 on top of a donor truck, but purists will notice one major difference: they have four doors instead of two.
That problem has now been resolved, as the shop has produced a two-door model that required a little more work than simply swapping body panels.
The prototype was built using a 2018 Z71 Tahoe with its wheelbase reduced by about eight inches, rear doors removed, and extended rear quarter windows added from an old Blazer to keep the proportions correct, according to the company’s owner, Rob Hester.