What's not to love about a truck called Luv? A lot, apparently. For the first decade of its life, the Chevy Luv sold at a decent clip. It was cheap, cheerful, and altogether a very useful little truck. But nothing stays the same forever. By the early 1980s, the Luv was considered out of date, slow, overpriced, and a poor substitute for the competition. Not even its affable name could save it. The Chevy Luv was sent to the great car heaven in the sky and Chevy drew a line under the whole debacle. But what exactly happened to make the Luv go from hero to zero in such a short space of time? What made us lose our love for the Luv?
A Bright Start
By the early 1970s, Japanese trucks were becoming ever more popular in the US. Determined to keep up with the competition, Chevy came up with the Light Utility Vehicle... Luv for short. Despite being nothing more than a rebadged Isuzu Faster pickup truck, it soon took off. As tfltruck.com explains, the first generation was typical of most pickups back then, with a solid rear axle on leaf springs in the back, unevenly lengthed A-arms up front, and the entire wheelbase hanging off a ladder frame. The steering was based on a recirculating ball system, the brakes were drums all around, and the engine was a 1.8-liter, 75 horsepower SOHC inline four-cylinder that dished out 88 lbs-feet of torque.
Going Through Changes
Over the next few years, Chevy tinkered around with the Luv, introducing some trim changes and some slight increases in power and capacity. In 1976, it switched from a four-speed manual transmission to a three-speed automatic transmission. Two years later, it added bigger bed options and in 1979, it introduced a four-wheel-drive system. In 1980, the second generation Luv was introduced. It was reskinned, refitted, newly aerodynamic... and slow. The Luv had always been lacking in power, but what people might have been willing to put up with in '72 was a long way from what they'd tolerate in the '80s. Demand faded, Chevy lost interest and in 1982, the Chevy Luv was replaced by the Chevrolet S10.
A Bad Romance
The first generation Luv was a good-looking truck that, even after its retirement, was still attracting fans who found that by switching its tiny 1.8 engine for a 350cid V8, you could get a very decent drag racer. But not everyone wants to start messing around with engines after they've just spent a wad of cash on a truck. And that was the problem. By the '80s, the Luv was dearer, slower, and more outdated than the competition. If anyone had a wad of cash going spare, why would they blow it on a relic? Ultimately, that was the Luv's problem. It started well, but then stagnated, unable to keep up with the enormous leaps and bounds the auto industry took over the '70s. What had once been ahead of the curve was now...
The Luv was never the fastest truck on the block, but in its early years, it could still put up a fair fight against the competition. By the 80s, the fight was over. As hotcars.com says, despite the fact Chevy was making very solid engines, the Luv simply couldn't go as fast as similar vehicles being churned out by the likes of Nissan and Toyota. With an acceleration rate of 0- 60 mph in 17.4 seconds and top speeds of 64.3 mph, it was a snail. Chevy tried to improve things with the occasional redesign, even going as far as reskinning the truck in higher quality, aerodynamic flat metal. Nothing worked. The relaunches may have reignited a flicker of interest, but as soon as drivers realized they could get to their destination faster by walking than driving, that flicker quickly died out.
You can charge whatever you like for anything you like, but unless people think they're getting their money's worth, don't expect any customers. Unfortunately, that was a lesson Chevy failed to apply to the Luv. Bang for buck, it simply didn't deliver. There were more expensive trucks on the road, but ultimately, they delivered a lot more than the Luv was capable of. A new Datsun pick-up, meanwhile, could be had for a little over $700 less than a Luv (it doesn't sound a lot now, but back in 1980, $700 represented a third of the total price). For younger buyers looking for an affordable, capable truck, it was a no-brainer. Why go for the sluggish, overpriced Luv when they could get a reliable, zippy Datsun for a third of the price?
The ten years between 1972 and 1982 represented a major shift in fashion, both of the clothes variety and the auto kind. While other vehicles were updated for the younger generation, the Luv wasn't. It wasn't that Chevy didn't try. They did, and several of those attempts were incredibly successful. The 1978 redesign, for example, did a great job of removing some of the truck's clunkiest, ugliest features. The bed lengths increased from one to two, the headlight count was reduced from four to two, a new grille was added, and a new chassis was introduced. The changes went down well, and it shifted 71,145 units that year alone. The following year, the Luv was sent straight to the top of its class when Chevy introduced a four-wheel-drive system, something very few other trucks at the time had.
Again, the addition was a success, with Motor Trend even awarding the Luv the title of "Truck of the Year," describing it as “a very well-engineered vehicle, solidly constructed, easy and fun to drive, and economical on fuel for a truck of this class.” According to Collectors Auto Supply, sales for that model year peaked at a very respectable 100,192. But then Chevy dropped out of the race. From 1980 onwards, it made barely any changes to the Luv. When it did make any (as it did in 1981 when it buried the whole thing under a sheet of featureless metal), they weren't well received. Maybe it had already decided the game was up. Maybe it had decided to set its mind to something else. Whatever the reason, the Luv swiftly went from Truck of the Year to Truck of Last Year. Younger buyers didn't like its aesthetic, older buyers didn't like its lack of interior comforts and features, and no one liked paying so much for what ultimately amounted to so little.
The End of the Luv Story
Unable to keep up with the faster, cheaper, and altogether prettier pick-up trucks flooding the market, Chevy officially withdrew the Luv from the US market in 1982. The fault didn't just lie with the imported vehicles drawing the public's attention, it lay with the Luv itself. By the time Chevy finally pulled the plug on its life support machine, it was archaic, forgettable, and by and large, forgotten.
Written by Benjamin Smith
Read more posts by Benjamin Smith