Chevrolet may not have always been the innovator, but it certainly knew what the buying public wanted most of the time. Chevrolet did not introduce the world to the four-wheel drive truck (or 4×4 as it later became to be called), but it sure knew how to package one the buying public wanted. After World War II, Jeep was the only game in town for four-wheel drive and off-road capability. The open air two-door CJ series was Jeep’s off-road staple. International Harvester noticed the steady increasing Jeep CJ series sales and decided it wanted in so it released the 1961 Scout – a two-door open air four-wheel drive truck. The Scout was bigger than the Jeep CJ and ended up starting a new segment; the short-wheel base two-door full-size SUV. Ford soon followed suit and released the 1966 Bronco. Reception of the Bronco was very good and sales were good. Chevrolet waited another three years before releasing its open air four-wheel drive 1969 Blazer.
The introduction of the Blazer for 1969 was not just another new vehicle introduction for Chevrolet. It was the introduction of a new trend. By the late-1970s and through the 1980s the Blazer which Chevrolet had code named the K5 Blazer, had become a status symbol. The Blazer was not only revered in rural environments but also in Suburban and urban environments. During this time it was popular for owners to modify their Blazers with lift kits, big tires, and other off-road accessories.
The 1969 Blazer was built on GM’s shortened wheel-base full-size pickup truck platform. The ride was pickup truck quality. For 1969 the Blazer came standard with a part-time four-wheel drive system which meant the front suspension was a solid front axle design. Changing from two-wheel to four-wheel drive in this system seems caveman in comparison to what most modern SUV drivers are used to. The system required the driver to leave the vehicle and twist the front hubs on the front wheels (this is referred to as locking the front hubs) to engage four-wheel drive. In all current four-wheel drive SUVs the systems used are either full-time four-wheel drive or a part-time four-wheel drive system that locks the hubs with a push of a button or pull of a shifter/lever. Driving these original four-wheel drive systems makes you appreciate the four-wheel drive innovations over the last few decades. Imagine driving home on a snowy night and having to find a place to pull over to get out of the truck to lock the hubs – not a pleasant thought.
In 1970 the Blazer would come standard with a two-wheel drive which would have an independent front suspension. From this point forward the part-time four wheel drive system would be optional on the Blazer. It was a smart change on Chevrolet’s part because it expanded the Blazer’s appeal to those who had no need for off-road capabilities. As the years progressed many of the buyers were buying the Blazer because it was a hip status symbol or was a reasonably sized utility vehicle. This did not mean the Blazer was not capable off-road when equipped with four-wheel drive, but rather most latter Blazer model owners rarely if ever drove them on an unpaved road.
The Blazer had a modern look for 1969; though it was a boxy shape it was stylish. The basic overall shape of the Blazer would not change through its life (even with a name change to “Tahoe” in 1995) however periodically Chevrolet would slightly update the exterior styling usually around the same time its pickup truck brothers (which it shared the full-size GM truck platform with) would get a styling change. The 1969 Ford Bronco and 1969 International Harvester Scout looked ancient compared to the 1969 Blazer. It would take Ford until 1978 to finally update the Bronco an exterior design modern enough to match the Blazer’s design. The Scout on the other hand would continue with 1960s type of exterior styling (with only slight updates) until 1980 (which would be its last model year).
The interior of the 1969 Blazer was modern for a truck back in the day; it was borrowed from Chevrolet’s full-size pickup. Chevrolet’s full-size pickup had been updated for 1968 so the interior on the Blazer was fairly fresh. Compared to the average 1969 car, the interior was Spartan in nature. Unlike today, these were the days when most SUVs did not have the creature comforts of cars. However there were such options as air conditioning, power brakes, and power steering available so the Blazer could be considered civilized.
The Blazer could be ordered with seating for four people. However since Chevrolet was also marketing the Blazer as a utility vehicle it could be ordered with seating from one to four people. Yes that’s right a person could order a Blazer with only one seat, though not many were ordered this way. With the standard full length fiberglass top off, the Blazer if equipped without rear seats could easily act as a short bed pickup truck. And even with or without rear seats when the fiberglass top was off, the ultimate in open air driving could be enjoyed by all passengers. These were the days before safety roll bars so with the top off visibility was great. And if a Blazer owner did not want to remove the heavy fiberglass hardtop (which usually took at least two people to remove) to enjoy some open air excitement, Chevrolet offered a convertible soft top that could be ordered through any of its dealerships but was not a factory option.
Standard were 15 inch wheels which were available in 5, 5.5, and 6 inch widths. Various size 15 inch tires were available on the Blazer. If a Blazer owner added aftermarket modifications, the wheels and tires were the first to be upgraded. The overall shape and high ground clearance of the Blazer made it look so good with a set of wide 15 inch wheels and oversized tires.
Chevrolet back in 1969 had a whole range of high-performance V8 engines, the most potent of these were the (big block) 396 and 427 CID V8s. Unfortunately these engines were not available on the Blazer. Fortunately Chevy’s powerful 255 horsepower small block 350 CID 4 bbl. V8 was available. Acceleration was brisk with the 350 V8 especially when equipped with the 4-speed manual transmission. When this combo was equipped with Chevy’s optional Positraction rear axle, it could almost fool a driver into believing he or she was driving a muscle car. If you have problems visualizing this, bear in mind that the Blazer had light curb weight of 2947 lbs. If a buyer did not want the 350, a small-block 307 CID V8 was also available and a 250 CID straight six was standard. And no matter what engine was ordered, the mileage range between gas fill-ups was very good with the standard 23.5 gallon gas tank. There were three transmissions available: a 3-speed manual, 4-speed manual, and TH350 3-speed automatic transmission. Front and rear axle gear ratios consisted of a standard 3.73 or optional 3.07.
The 1969 Blazer production total was 4,935 units which by today’s standards would be considered paltry or limited production. However back in 1969 when most people never heard the word “four-wheel drive,” these numbers were not bad. It’s a shame that more did partake in the 1969 Blazer especially considering its low $2,852 base price. If you will excuse the pun, the 1969 Blazer was a true trail blazer. The Blazer’s production numbers would skyrocket as the years would progress and it would also acclimated buyers to the full-size SUV. Unfortunately it did such a good job of this, that once the four-door Tahoe was introduced the Blazer’s successor the two-door Tahoe bit the dust a few years later. The Blazer may be long gone but its spirit lives on in every new large SUV currently on the market. If the original Blazer had never been, the modern full-size SUVs would surely not exist.
Written contents in this article – © 2010 Pete Dunton – All Rights Reserved