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 barebones affairs built to get the job done and sold to customers who honestly weren't expected to use them as daily drivers.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2018/07/17/spreading-the-luv-a-brief-history-of-detroits-mini-trucks


My first “car” was a ‘76 Chevy LUV (basic / non-Mikado), light blue with a black bench seat interior. At 6’ 2", it was a tight fit, but I was young and didn’t really realize how cramped it really was, LOL!
Was a good little truck, but quite anemic (typical for the time though). I do remember I was able to squeal the tires on demand though …by mashing the brake pedal and locking up the front brakes :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:


My first truck was a 1977 LUV. However, my father and I pulled the 4 and dropped in a Buick 3.8 and TH350 automatic. I wish I still had that little truck!


@GrandPrix67 - That sounds like a pretty potent combination. I bet it moved out alright!


The article states that Chevrolet kept the same 1.8L engine throughout the LUV’s production run is partially correct. With the advent of the 2nd generation re-style around 1981, the LUV could also be had with an Isuzu-built 4-cyl diesel. I know because the company I worked for back then bought about 6 of them to use as light-delivery vehicles, and I wrote the check.


I have been into all these mini trucks my whole life. I always wanted a D-50 and the square body Mazda, they look great lowered. But since I work for Toyota almost my entire life I choose to stay with Toyota. But they are great trucks. I wish they stayed the way they were! IMG_4554|690x460


I used to pass a Dodge dealer on my way home from work in 1980. They had a couple of neat mini-pickups with the exhaust run straight up behind the cab.One day I stopped to check them out. There was no window sticker. I saw a salesman walking across the lot and asked him how much they were. He didn’t even slow down. He just said “That depends on what you’re going to trade in.” I told him I wasn’t going to trade and asked again what one of the pickups cost. He repeated “That depends on what you’re going to trade in.” and sped up to get away from me. I can’t recall seeing any of them on the road after that. Dodge obviously didn’t want to sell any of them and I always wondered why.


My first “car” was a mini truck… and I still have it 38 years later!
1979 Ford Courier - I kept because of all the times I heard my Dad say he wished he still had his first car when I was growing up!


@defillis - Interesting note. Was that Isuzu diesel a good powerplant for the light pickup?


It’s been a long time, but if I remember correctly the LUV diesels had a lot of miles put on them and I believe they were fairly trouble-free.


I checked with a friend who I worked with back then who was closer to the operations end of the business and he confirmed that the LUV diesels were very good trucks for our light delivery service. When the diesel LUV went out of production we bought two diesel VW Rabbit-style pickup trucks, and the drivers all preferred the LUV over the VW. A couple years later when the LUV’s were retired with nearly 300,000 miles on some units, GM put the same Isuzu 4-cyl diesel in Chevy S-10’s and we bought those as replacements.


Wow. that is impressive. I tend to not hold diesel tech from that timeframe very high, unless it was overbuilt and agricultural. I guess it might be time for me to rethink that.


Yep, I own a little 40,000 mile Isuzu diesel and transmission from 1982 out of an Isuzu Pup. I’m just looking for the right little truck body to put it in. Somebody will probably buy the engine from me before I find a truck though! Love these little trucks!


When I was 20 years younger, I had the usual disdain for anything “imported” even if it did wear a Mopar badge. What changed my mind was a short stint at Mopar City in Illinois (Mopar only salvage yard and engine/chassis shop). A local donated a well rusted and very tired “Ford Ranger” to us to add to our scrap pile. Since it ran halfway decently and it was “free”, we tuned it up and used it as the “yard truck” for a while. Since it was a Ford (really a Mazda) and we were all Mopar fanatics, we’d beat the absolute snot out of that truck (firing it up in -10* weather and flooring it and popping the clutch to see how long that it’d spin the tires in the snow across the salvage yard roads… Racing and “speed shifting” it across the neighbor’s 5 acre field in the fall when the crops were in… driving at speed across said fields in the snow, mud, and hard pan ruts in the summer… And I’ll swear that WE invented “drifting”… ) and it never complained a bit and it never, ever broke anything. Ever.
After owning a BUNCH of Mopar muscle cars over the years, and a handful of troublesome Dakotas, our very first brand new vehicle purchase was… a 2004 Toyota Tundra. After 250,000 trouble free miles it got totaled, so I purchased a 2006 Tundra that now has over 230,000 miles on it… LOVE those Japanese trucks!!!