Looking Back At 50 Years Of The Chevrolet Blazer

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Charting its rise from convertible SUV to electric crossover.

Recently, we attended the reveal for the all-new electric Chevrolet Blazer. The new vehicle rolled out as a slick-looking, battery-powered, high-tech suburban crossover. That's a far cry from the Blazer's origins as a full-sized truck-based SUV. Inevitably, people are complaining, but since its introduction in 1969, the Blazer has already been through numerous radical changes, including the current petrol-powered generation. That leads us into an interesting history of the Blazer that starts at the end of the 1960s as a bare-bones, shortened, convertible version of the Chevy full-size pickup truck of the time.


1969-1972: First Generation

The International Harvester Scout arrived as an off-road SUV in 1961 and was followed by the first generation Ford Bronco in 1965. Chevrolet didn't panic to rush something out to compete immediately. Instead, the brand worked out what made the Harvester Scout vehicles compelling to customers and inspired Ford to bring out a rival. The Harvester Scout used the Jeep CJ (Civilian Jeep) for its inspiration, then Ford leveled the concept up with independent coil-sprung front suspension and interior creature comforts.

Chevrolet's engineers took a long, hard look at the vehicles and realized they were still relatively basic, and realized that its own K10 platform trucks could be shortened to create a new platform for the SUV. That left the Chevrolet K5 Blazer longer (up to 180 inches to the Bronco's 151) and wider (79 inches to the Bronco's 68.5) than its rivals, which wasn't ideal for hardcore off-roaders but made it more useful for just about everybody else wanting an SUV. The term SUV didn't exist yet, so the first Blazer was amusingly advertised as a "car/truck combination."


As the Blazer was based on a ladder-frame truck, it had an open-top body, giving Chevrolet the opportunity to create different body styles and passenger configurations. The first generation had four engine options made up of two inline six-cylinder lumps and two V8s, the largest of which was 5.7 liters in capacity. A three-speed manual was the base transmission, or customers could opt for a four-speed all-synchromesh manual or a three-speed Turbo Hydramatic automatic. Chevy sold 4,935 Blazers in its first year and quickly started to outsell its competitors.


1973-1991: Second Generation

The original Blazer only ran for four years before being replaced by a second K5-based generation, which then ran for almost 20 years. The redesign and update were extensive, and the first-generation engines carried over with more options for power added. At the top of the engine options were a 6.6-liter petrol V8 and a 6.2-liter Detroit Diesel V8. A four-speed manual was the base transmission with two three-speed and two four-speed automatics available. The rear hatch glass and tailgate were made into a single unit that allowed the glass to be retracted inside the tailgate using either a hand crank or an electric motor. Rear-wheel-drive models were available, but 4x4 models eclipsed them sales. While not the most exciting vehicle in the world, the second-generation Blazer continued to sell well and was even sold abroad towards the end of its life - including in Japan and the UK as right-hand-drive models.


1983–1994: Chevrolet S-10 Blazer

While the second generation K5 was in production, Chevrolet released the smaller Chevrolet S-10 Blazer as a two-door model. The S-10 Blazer didn't have a removable hardtop and was 14.5 inches shorter and 14.9 inches narrower than the K5. Four-door versions with a 6.5-inch longer wagon body were added to the lineup in 1991 and, just to make life awkward for historians, 1984-1988 derivatives with four-wheel drive were called the T-10 Blazer, and the GMC version was the T-15 Jimmy. An 83-horsepower four-cylinder engine supplied power in the base model, with the largest engines available through the first generation being V6s. The S10 Blazer then introduced the Tahoe and Sport trim packages.


1991–1994: Third Generation

For the third-generation Blazer, GM had moved all of its large SUVs to the GMT400 platform. As a result, it became more comfortable and the longest Blazer so far at 187.7 inches. The main engine was a 5.7-liter gas-powered V8 and either a four-speed automatic or a five-speed manual transmission. The 6.2-liter Detroit Diesel V8 was optional but could only be bought with the four-speed automatic. It's a short generation of Blazer because Chevrolet did something weird and relaunched the SUV in 1995 as the Tahoe while adding a longer wheelbase and a four-door wagon version. At the same time, the S-10 Blazer was rebadged, quite simply, as the Blazer.


1995-2005: Fourth-Generation Blazer/Second-Gen S10

The S10 Blazer was now just the Blazer, but it carried on using the truck platform it was originally named after. The design became sleeker and more aerodynamic but wasn't too far from its predecessor in function. The wheelbase remained the same with two- and four-door versions available with a carryover in engine and transmission options. A couple of years in, 1997 became its most important update period with a conventional hatchback offered on four-door models over a split tailgate, a full-time four-wheel-drive system was introduced, and a ZR2 trim level arrived specifically for off-roading. The ZR2 upgrade was only available on the two-door model with four-wheel-drive, but it wasn't the only upgraded model offered. In 2001, Chevrolet introduced the sporty-looking Blazer Xtreme, which featured lowered suspension, unique wheels, and a body kit.

As the Blazer wound down for 2005, only two-door models were available to the general public, and the four-door model was exclusive to fleet buyers. The Chevy Equinox, on its unibody platform and front-wheel drivetrain, was introduced to replace the Blazer for people that just wanted the everyday utility, while customers who wanted a traditional SUV were left with the larger TrailBlazer. The Trailblazer was originally a trim level for the Blazer, but from 2001, Chevy turned it into a full model.


2019-Present: Return As A Crossover

It wouldn't be right to call the Blazer crossover a new generation as it is an entirely new vehicle that is far removed from its truck-based roots. In 2018 for the 2019 model year, Chevrolet brought the nameplate back to serve the mid-size market. Brand loyalists were appalled as the Blazer had nothing in common with the classic versions. It's front-wheel drive, on a unibody frame, and there's not a V8 in sight, let alone a manual transmission. The nine-speed automatic transmission is shared with the Malibu, and the most potent engine is a 308-hp V6. The new Blazer and its modern styling has done its job for Chevrolet, though, and sold well with 94,599 units sold in 2020. As of the time of writing, Chevrolet doesn't have a shorter body-on-frame SUV to go toe-to-toe with Ford's Bronco. Instead, it seems that Chevy is looking to the future.


2022: Chevrolet Blazer EV Revealed

Here in 2022, Chevy showed off the upcoming Blazer EV at an unveiling event in Los Angeles, and it's a looker. It's also another crossover and aimed at capturing a nice chunk of the burgeoning plug-in electric market. Its appearance is sleek and upmarket, and Chevy says it will have a range of up to 320 miles on a full charge using its Ultium Platform. Topping the range will be a Blazer SS model with 557 horsepower. Unusually, it can be had with front-, rear-, or all-wheel drive depending on the trim.

Chevrolet also announced that a Police Pursuit Vehicle (PPV) would also be offered, and based on the SS model. That should give the Mustang Mach-E a run for its money as it's already found itself in police service around the country.

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