Today, full-size pickups are the perennial best-sellers for Ford, Chevrolet and FCA. In the 1970s, the sedan and station wagon still ruled supreme, and as Chevrolet demonstrated with its Isuzu-built Light Utility Vehicle (LUV), compact pickups represented a sensible and affordable alternative for new drivers (or two-car families).
The Chevrolet LUV was launched in 1972, born of necessity to stem the loss of segment sales to brands like Toyota and Datsun. Compact import pickups had exploded in popularity by the early 1970s, thanks in part to their low price (a 1969 Toyota pickup sold for $1,795, while the cheapest full-size Chevy pickup was $2,570), functionality, and fuel-sipping nature. They didn’t drive like full-size trucks, either, which likely helped boost their popularity among younger buyers.
As this pair of magazine ads from 1978 illustrates, “compact” hardly translated to inadequate. As demonstrated, the standard six-foot bed was large enough to hold a dirt bike or other small motorcycle, while the 7.5-foot bed gave enough capacity to haul a full-size vintage Indian bagger. Affordable didn’t mean “bland,” either, as the optional “Mighty Mike”exterior graphics demonstrated, and a “Mikado” interior package added nicer upholstery, matching door cars, a carpeted floor and a vinyl-wrapped steering wheel.
Counting passengers and cargo, the big-bed LUV carried up to 1,635 pounds of payload, while the six-foot bed still handled loads up to 1,125 pounds. The wheelbase on the 7.5-foot bed was stretched to 117.9-inches, while the standard-bed LUV rode on a 102.4-inch wheelbase. The sole engine choice in 1978 was a 110.8-cu.in. (1.8-liter) four-cylinder, fed by a one-barrel carburetor and rated at 80 horsepower and 95 pound-feet of torque.
A four-speed manual was the standard transmission, but a three-speed automatic was an available option beginning in 1976. The LUV wasn’t rated for towing, but its buyers didn’t seem to care, especially as fuel prices climbed higher. Equipped with the manual, the LUV delivered a claimed 34 miles per gallon highway and 24 MPG city, though California models were rated lower, at 30 MPG highway and 22 MPG city.
Underneath the steel bed was a traditional ladder-type steel frame, and a live rear axle hung from leaf springs. Up front, an independent torsion bar suspension also received an anti-roll bar for added stability, while the braking system consisted of rear drums and front discs. For 1979, four-wheel drive became an available option, boosting LUV sales to their peak of 100,192 units.
A restyled, longer-wheelbase LUV appeared on the market for the 1981 model year, but by then the model’s days were numbered. The Chevrolet S-10 pickup – the first domestically built compact among the Detroit Big Three – arrived in time for the 1982 model year, and by 1983, LUV sales were limited to 1982 carry-overs.