Found for sale on Facebook Marketplace is a 1980 Chevy LUV “mini-size pickup” with fewer than 15,000 miles on the odometer and only one owner in its history. It is a magnificent gem of a 4x4 pickup, and we should all take a few minutes out of our day to appreciate it.
GM’s history with the Japanese commercial vehicle/pickup/engine manufacturer Isuzu is a fascinating one, with roots that go back to the early 1970s and continue to this day. (The current Colorado shares architecture with the Isuzu D-Max.) The topic deserves its own feature story, if I’m honest, but until I find time to write that we’ll have to simply take this time to appreciate one of GM’s earliest projects with Isuzu: the Chevy LUV.
LUV stands for light utility vehicle, and despite the somewhat soft name Chevy marketed the vehicle as a tough but economical workhorse. And that workhorse sold well, as my colleague wrote in a 2018 article about the LUV:
...people did accept it. A lot of people. The first year the LUV was available, Chevy sold over 21,000 trucks. Sales kept growing until a peak in 1979, when 100,192 LUVs were sold.
A lot of this had to do with the fact that the LUV was a very good, inexpensive and very useful little truck. But it’s clear that the truck’s name didn’t really hinder sales.
When launched in 1972, the LUV had the four-headlight face shown above, though by 1978 quite a bit had changed, including the taillights and of course, the front end. I think the 1978-80 LUV — with its two headlights and wide grille — is one of the cleanest small pickup truck designs in auto history .(It’s best we don’t talk about the 1981 and 1982 models.) Tell me I’m wrong:
The LUV was an incredibly simple machine. It featured a body-on-frame architecture with a leaf-sprung solid rear axle and a torsion-bar sprung independent front suspension. Under the hood was an 80-horsepower naturally aspirated four-cylinder gas engine paired with a four-speed manual (or later a three-speed auto that was, oddly, floor-mounted rather than column-mounted). Inside was a bench seat or available buckets.
Look at that blue interior above! The floors, door cards and seat are all blue. And while the pattern on that bench might still give you utilitarian vibes, don’t think the LUV was a work truck through-and-through. No no, you could get stylish PLAID.
The 4x4 model took things to the next level with beautiful graphics; manual locking hubs; all-terrain tires; a low-range transfer case; and skid plates for the radiator, transfer case and fuel tank.
The truck actually won the first Motor Trend Truck of The Year Award in 1979, with a website devoted to the LUV — luvtruck.com — quoting the magazine as saying at the time:
Unlike the pioneering Toyota small 4x4 pickup that was introduced a few months before it, the LUV 4x4 used an independent front suspension similar to its two-wheel-drive brother incorporating torsion bars as a springing medium. “With the unsprung weight greatly reduced and the geometry of the independent front suspension,” Motor Trend wrote, “the LUV handles like a small sports car. The rear end with no load aboard can be flipped about at will, but the driver still has a lot of control of just how much he wishes to ‘hang it out.’”
It’s the LUV 4x4 that inspired this article. In fact, it was this LUV 4x4 that I came across on Facebook Marketplace:
The owner, based out of Fort Scott, Kansas, has the truck listed for $11,000, which seems high given that this one has a prominent dent in the hood. Still, I do think this is a machine worth coveting, not just because LUVs in general are rather rare these days, but especially because of how few miles this truck allegedly has, with the owner writing “One owner. Everything is original-even the tires.”
Indeed, the tires in the listing match those on the blue truck in the LUV brochure posted earlier in this article.
The dash and bench seat appear cracked, the rear bumper is a bit scuffed and the paint could use some buffing. No matter, I’m in love with this little pickup. It’s a tiny, four-wheel-drive, lightly-used, bench-seat-equipped, manual- transmission truck with very few frills and incredible retro looks.
Someone should buy this. Maybe not quite for 11 large, but who knows. Fix the dent, buff the paint and clean the interior, and you could have a real gem on your hands. A niche gem, but a gem nonetheless.