During the 1970s, Detroit’s “Big Three” auto manufacturers were surprised by how the small imported pickup trucks took the market by storm. They were so unprepared for such turn of events that their only way to respond immediately to the small pickup craze was to import trucks from Japanese automakers, rebadge them, and sell these trucks as their own. That’s how the Chevy LUV came to life.
General Motors didn’t like the idea of American youngsters getting used to acquiring and driving Datsuns and Toyotas, so its low-risk and low-cost response to the Japanese truck challenge was to acquire part of Isuzu Motors Ltd, buy trucks from it, outfit the trucks with Chevrolet badges, and slot them on the mini-truck segment. This new mini-truck was named LUV (an acronym for Light Utility Vehicle).
1972 - 1980: First-generation Chevy LUV
The first-generation LUV got a conventional engineering and rode on a 102.4-inch wheelbase. It was powered by a 1.8-liter SOHC inline four powertrain rated at 75hp and paired with a four-speed manual transmission. The LUV fared well in the market during its first year, selling 21,098 units. Though the 1973 LUV was basically a carry-over of the initially released unit (except for the reshaped bezels of the headlights), sales of this Chevy pickup increased and by the end of calendar year, dealers turned over 39,422 LUVs to customer’s hands.
There were slight changes for 1974 such as the transfer of the vertically oriented tail lamps from the truck’s rear bumper to the fenders. A new Mikado trim package was also offered. Although sales for the 1974 calendar year dropped, the 1975 Chevy LUV almost remained unchanged. For 1976, the three-speed automatic transmission matched with front disc brakes and revised trim helped improve the sales to 46,670 LUV trucks. Sales of the LUV rose again to 67,539 units for 1977 with the introduction of the new bed-less chassis cab variant as well as the revisions done in the carburetor, thus boosting the truck’s horsepower output.
The 1999 model year was marked by the addition of an optional four-wheel-drive system. That same year, Motor Trend magazine named the LUV as the second “Truck of the Year.”
1981 - 1982: Second-generation Chevy LUV
The 1981 LUV was redesigned up front to a point that it looked so generic and ordinary. Under the hood was the same 1.8-liter four cranking out 80 horsepower. Overall, the new LUV received minimal changes, making it a no match for its rival imports, so it wasn’t a surprise when sales dropped to 61,724 trucks by the end of the calendar year.
For its last year in the industry, the 1982 LUV was almost unchanged. Its replacement, the S-10, was already marketed alongside it, making LUV’s sales plummet to just 22,304 units. There were even LUVs that stayed on the dealer’s lots until 1983.