Spreading the LUV: A brief history of Detroit’s mini-trucks

It might be hard to imagine, given the current, cutthroat state of the pickup truck segment, but there was once a time when these task-focused haulers were largely an afterthought to the bean counters in Detroit. Fifty years ago, before King Ranches and Longhorns lined their interiors with enough leather to reach from Lansing to Laredo, trucks were bare-bones affairs built to get the job done and sold to customers who honestly weren’t expected to use them as daily drivers.

This 1962 Datsun 320 pickup is the first of what we now call mini-pickups.

An even more hands-off approach was applied to the burgeoning compact-truck scene, which caught the Big Three completely off-guard at the beginning of the 1970s. General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler had essentially ignored the small pickups being imported by Toyota and Datsun throughout the previous decade, blissfully ignorant of the fact that a growing cohort of buyers was willing to take a chance on a “foreign” brand if it meant an easy-to-drive truck that offered decent practicality and a low purchase price. In fact, it’s safe to say that Datsun (now Nissan) carved out its first important foothold in America by way of its 320/520 series of mini-trucks.

Scrambling to capture a demographic they hadn’t even known existed, Michigan’s best minds had to come up with a compromise, and quickly, until they could marshal the resources required to develop their own homegrown trucks. The result was a series of captive imports rebadged to battle the best that Japan had to offer … with the best that Japan had to offer. Each automaker was able to avoid the egregious 25-percent “Chicken Tax” by importing its rigs in chassis cab configuration for final assembly stateside. Let’s take a look at the trio of mini-trucks fielded by Detroit for that awkward 10-year stretch that lasted right up until the likes of the Ranger and S10 took over the reins.

Did you know that you could get a Chevy LUV with 4×4 and a diesel engine?

GM’s ace in the hole when it came to dealing with the nascent mini-truck madness was that it owned a sizable chunk of Isuzu. After a few terse phone calls, Chevrolet had its first compact truck ready to go, sent across the Pacific in droves to America where it would receive both the Bowtie and the unusual “LUV” badge, an acronym for Light Utility Vehicle. The LUV was as basic as you could get when it appeared in 1972, offering a 1.8-liter, 75-horsepower, four-cylinder engine; four-speed manual gearbox; and 88 lb-ft of shrub-pulling torque. With a 102.4-inch wheelbase and 1400 pounds of cargo capacity, Isuzu’s finest was a paragon of pint-sized practicality… read more >

LUV Truck 1972 Vintage Men’s T-Shirt

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