Like a Rock
I’m six years old again. I’m in my grandma Squeak’s living room, playing with Hot Wheels on drab brown carpeting.
I was as strong as I could be
In the kitchen, my grandma is making some sheet-pan cookie concoction. An early 1980s TV set hums before me. On screen, a tableau of concentrated, unfiltered Americana flashes by.
Like a Rock
The people on screen all congregate and toil around some boxy Chevrolet trucks. A contractor shows some architectural plans to two other folks with the documents unfurled over the truck’s slab-like hood.
Nothin’ ever got to me
A blue shortbed crashes through slime and mud. A rodeo cowboy jumps in his crew cab to escape a charging bull. A towhook snaps taut, erecting the structural framing of a barn. I’m transfixed.
Like a Rock!
I think a sizeable portion of the Millennial and Gen X population has some memory sequence parallel to mine. All you’ve gotta do is queue up Bob Seger’s gravelly, rawhide anthem to trigger a thousand-yard stare. Chevy’s tremendously successful “Like a Rock” campaign that ran from 1991 through the early 2000s sold a lot of trucks. Judging by Hagerty Price Guide values, it continues to do so today.
General Motors’ full-sized and trucks and SUVs produced between 1988 and 2000 (2002 if you count the HD family) have long existed in a liminal space in collecting. The GMT400 trucks, as they’re collectively known, were positioned as direct evolutions of the ultra-popular Squarebody Chevy C10 and GMC Sierra, and they exited the scene just as full-size SUVs were beginning to take over every school carpool line. Now, surging interest and values in these trucks has us not only humming one of Mr. Seger’s biggest hits, but investigating what might behind this gradual rise to collectability.
In the past three years, values of Chevy GMT400-series trucks have increased by 63 percent. No coincidence, calls to Hagerty agents for quotes on insurance for the trucks have increased 58 percent in the same period. For GMT400 GMC trucks, values are up 52 percent, with 53 percent growth in insurance quotes.
It’s no surprise the Chevys bring more money than the GMCs, even if they are the same under the skin (and even the skin ‘aint that different). Enthusiasts naturally prefer certain body styles, as well. For instance, the latest Hagerty Price Guide pegs a 1988 Chevy K1500 4×4 two-door fleetside short-bed pickup at $15,600 in good (#3) condition. That’s nearly 80 percent more than three years ago. And perhaps because so many of these trucks lived exceptionally hard lives, collectors are paying a hefty premium for the finest examples. Find an excellent (#2) ’96 short-bed with a 255-hp small-block V-8, and you can expect to shell out more than $35,000.
If you're thinking that sounds like a lot of coin for a mass-produced truck churned out more than a quarter of a century ago, we're with you. But it's not without precedent.
First, remember that the long-lived Squarebody generation of trucks appreciated early among insurgent truck values. Caveman simplicity, stout dimensions, testosterone styling, and a cavernous engine bay transformed these vehicular cudgels into street rods, backwoods 4x4 brawlers, cherry boulevard cruisers, weatherworn workhorses, and everything in between. People love these bricks because they’re brutish and simple.
It’s 1988, and here comes the GMT400. Computer-aided design took on a larger role than it had ever before for the design and production of the new truck. Still ludicrously boxy by today’s standards, this generation previewed the slow trudge toward today’s curvaceousness, with semi-rounded edges, flush fittings, and sedan-style doors.
The biggest changes hid underneath the new sheetmetal. Four-wheel drive K-series trucks packed a new independent torsion bar suspension, and ABS made its first appearance on GM trucks. Compared to the relatively floppy and rust-prone Squarebody, the new GMT400 platform incorporated extra galvanized steel and a fully welded frame featuring a boxed front section for extra rigidity.
Powertrain options are stout, too. The base engine is a 4.3-liter Vortec V-6 with enough torque to serve as a basic work truck and transportation. Most of the more expensive GMT400s come to market with one of the V-8s offered, starting at 5.0-liters and spiking to a mighty 8.1-liters for the HD haulers.
All this relative modernity, while remaining rugged, semi-simplistic mechanicals and a masculine design that—in the long run—proved to be the best of both worlds. Hagerty Price Guide editor Greg Ingold has owned three GMT400 trucks over the years, and he’ll be the first to sing their praises. “I appreciate how GM refined the idea of the truck,” he explains. “They made them nicer to drive and be behind the wheel compared to the squarebodies. They’re nothing like the near-luxury trucks of today, but they’re not too utilitarian.”
“The GMT400 is sort of that goldilocks truck. GM got it just right, and the people who own them seem to appreciate them for that reason,” Ingold enthused. By and large, the GMT400 was considered just an old, used truck for the better part of 25 years, and the values reflected this. But, for those of a certain age, the love never faded.
There’s a lot to love. Between no-frills never-gonna-break work trucks and the stylish, high-performance 454 SS, the GMT400 fills quite a few niches. (The 1990–1993 1500 454 SS is the most valuable of GMT400s, with Condition #2 values creeping close to fifty grand.) When they do break down, parts supply is absurdly comprehensive and you can fix it with basic tools. Just ask Hagerty editor-at-large Sam Smith just how simple and lovely his old 1500 Cheyenne was.
It gets better. The GMT400's blend of modernity and old world aesthetics attracted customizers and hotrodders like Corvettes to Carslisle. The “Sport Truck” subgenre of hot rodding erupted while the truck was new, with big names like Boyd Coddington and Belltech creating “static dropped” customs with neon paint and vibrant graphics.
And, like so many "vintage" trucks, this one seems to appeal to a broad swathe of collectors. Plenty of Millennials and Gen-Xers are showing interest, but one in every three people calling us about these trusty trucks is a Baby Boomer.
That wide interest, along with the stunning appreciation we've seen for trucks and SUVs of all stripes, leads us to believe that the rise of GMT400s is no fad.
And now, since you've made it this far, we'll give you some TV time:
They are good trucks and have a rugged build and simple lines that are attractive. I want to do truck stuff with these. Some of the new ones I just don’t get the overdone styling if you plan on doing any work in them.
I would also submit that a “new” truck today at $55k for a base model makes older trucks much more attractive….
I bought mine new in August of 1996. White, extended cab, short bed, Silverado, 350ci (one of millions). It has 115k miles and has never been in an accident. It was to be my race car hauler, but that never happened. I just put “Antique Truck” plates on it this year. It is now a member of our family and will always be.
My 1988 Chevy K1500 one of the first extended cabs, were only available that year as a long box fleet side. I found my truck as a well cared for 9 year old. Red and white with the era correct red interior, It has never been a daily driver for me and gets low miles every year.
I have done restoration as necessary , so it looks and drives like a 4 year old truck. My grandkids are vying to see who gets it when Grandpa passes on, so I guess it’s in the family for good