In need of a compact pickup to fight sales of import trucks, Chevrolet turned to Japanese partner Isuzu for help and, in 1972, debuted the Chevrolet LUV in dealer showrooms nationwide. Once a common sight on American roads, Chevy LUVs (Light Utility Vehicles) have all but disappeared from the automotive landscape, making this 1977 Mighty Mike / Mikado edition, a one-owner truck with just over 13,000 miles, stand out from the herd. On April 21, it crosses the block in a no-reserve sale, part of Worldwide Auctioneers’ Texas Classic auction.
None of the domestic Big Three automakers predicted the rise in demand for imported compact pickups, which began on the West Coast in the late 1960s, but quickly spread inward to other parts of the country. From a buyer’s perspective, the vehicles were cheap — a 1969 Toyota pickup carried a list price of $1,795, while the least expensive Chevy C-10 of the day stickered for $2,570, or 43-percent more — and rugged enough for light commercial use. As trucks went, their small size and light weight made them entertaining (or perhaps more accurately, entertaining enough) to drive, particularly when the purchase price was factored in.
Chevrolet realized it needed a compact truck of its own, but developing an all-new model would take time and money while rivals eroded more potential sales with each passing year. The quickest way to market, then, was to sell a vehicle that already existed outside the United States — in this case, Isuzu’s half-ton Faster pickup. Instead of redesigning the truck to match the styling of Chevy’s full-size lineup, GM simply imported unbadged Isuzus without beds, to avoid the “chicken tax” tariff. Once on these shores, the pickups received beds, along with LUV branding.
Power for the initial LUV pickups, launched as 1972 models, came from a 1.8-liter (110.8-cu.in.) four-cylinder engine, rated at 75 horsepower and mated exclusively to a four-speed manual transmission. The trucks used a ladder frame, with a 102.4-inch wheelbase carrying a two-person cab and a 73-inch bed, which required dropping the tailgate to haul full sheets of plywood or drywall. With just 39.4 inches between the rear wheelwells, such cargo had to sit atop the flat wheel tubs.
On the plus side, the bed sides and rear gate were equipped with convenient hooks to secure cargo, and the LUV’s torsion bar independent front suspension delivered a ride smoother than rival trucks with a solid front axle. Out back, the setup consisted of a live axle and leaf springs, while four-wheel drum brakes were mounted in all four corners.
In its debut year, Chevrolet sold over 21,000 LUV pickups, thanks in part to the truck’s affordable $2,200 sticker price. Word spread in its second year on the market, and sales topped 39,400 units with virtually no changes — new headlamp bezels aside — to the design. The 1974 model year saw the introduction of the Mikado appearance package, with bold plaid seat upholstery and door cards, color-matched carpeting and seat belts, a three-spoke steering wheel, a leather-grain urethane shift knob (on manual transmission models), a brighter dome lamp with door switches, a dual-note horn, and Mikado exterior badging.
The first mechanical changes of any significance came for the 1976 model year, when the 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine received a bump in output to 80 horsepower (thanks in part to a new carburetor), a three-speed automatic transmission joined the option list, and front disc brakes replaced drums. The fuel tank grew in capacity from 7 to 13 gallons, too, addressing complaints about limited range from early Chevrolet LUV buyers.
Two years later, Chevrolet debuted a long-bed version of the LUV, equipped with a 90-inch bed and riding upon a 117.9-inch wheelbase. The following year, 1979, four-wheel drive became an available option, and Chevrolet LUV sales peaked at 100,192 units. Sales began to slide in 1980, and a second-generation LUV, launched in 1981, did little to prevent the erosion of sales. In 1981, Chevrolet sold 61,724 LUV pickups, but by 1982, the truck’s final year on the market, this number plunged to 22,304, barely higher than the quantity sold in 1972, the year the LUV debuted.
Chevrolet’s own compact pickup, the S-10, debuted in the fall of 1981 as a 1982 model. By then, the imported LUV pickup had served its purpose, and despite design updates, felt dated and unpolished compared to the competition. In 1981, Isuzu began to sell its compact pickup directly to U.S. consumers (as the P’up), and the no-frills hauler remained a low-cost option for buyers through the 1988 model year. Subsequent Isuzu pickups (no longer called P’ups) were built in Lafayette, Indiana, and – somewhat ironically – in 1996, the Japanese brand began selling the Hombre pickup, a rebadged Chevrolet S-10.
The Chevrolet LUV to be offered in Texas comes from the collection of Pamela and Eugene Knies, and features both the Mikado trim package and the “Mighty Mike” exterior appearance package (side stripes, “Mighty Mike” lettering, hood stripes, and a tailgate stripe). In the same family since new, the low-mileage truck shows no evidence of rust, making it perhaps one of the finest examples remaining on the planet. Offered at no reserve, the LUV represents both an affordable entry into the old-car hobby and a time capsule straight back to the decade of disco, mood rings, and pet rocks.
Worldwide Auctioneers’ Texas Classic sale takes place at the Arlington Convention Center in Arlington, Texas. For additional details, visit Worldwide-Auctioneers.com.