In the early 1970s, the Chevrolet LUV (Light Utility Vehicle) also known as the Chevy Luv, was GM’s answer to the rising popularity of Japanese trucks in the United States. Although the Chevy Luv was a rebadged Isuzu Faster pickup truck, it quickly established itself as a popular option in its class. From 1972 through 1982, Chevrolet sold more than half a million of these little trucks.
Like any pickup back then, the Chevy Luv has solid rear axle on leaf springs in the back, unequal length A-arms up front and all of it (102.4-inch wheelbase) hangin off a ladder frame. Brakes were drums all around and the steering was based on a recirculating ball system.
The only engine was a 1.8-liter, 75 horsepower (@5,000 rpm), SOHC inline four-cylinder that made 88 lbs-feet of torque (@3,000 rpm). A four-speed manual transmission that only fed the rear axle (with 14-inch wheels) was the only transmission available.
Over time, mild increases in power and capacity, along with trim changes, including the popular ‘Mikado’ (meaning: Emperor of Japan) trim upgrades were usurped by the massive changes of adding a three-speed automatic transmission in 1976, bigger bed options in 1978 and four-wheel drive (4WD) in 1979. The 4WD system was one of the few available on a small truck with an independent front suspension. This gave the Chevy Luv 4WD some of the best performing charactics in its class.
Still, it was painfully slow. It lacked an extra cab and it could not match the popularity of the Japanese competitors from Nissan and Toyota. Now, competitors from Dodge/Mitsubishi, Ford/Mazda and even its partner Isuzu were about to make significant changes.
The second generation came along in 1980 and the Chevy Luv was completely re-skinned in flat,”aerodynamic” sheet-metal. Power was still down and demand faded quickly. Finally, in 1982, the Chevy Luv was replaced by the Chevrolet S10.
Isuzu continued to offer pickup trucks under their own name, including the P’up, in the United States. Eventually, Isuzu used Chevrolet’s S10 (GMT325) platform for its replacement pickup truck for the P’up in the US, the Hombre.
Many small pickup aficionados agree that the first generation Chevy Luv was very attractive and, even after its demise, people found out that you could (fairly easily) swap a 350cid V8 with its tiny 1.8. It made for an awesome drag racer. There are still adaptor kits available, which is terrifying and awesome at the same time.
Today’s small trucks are actually much bigger. Will we ever see new compact pickup trucks on our roads again?