There had to be a reason for Dwight Anderson not to buy a stellar, time-capsule Chevrolet 1979 K5 Blazer when it fell into his lap last year.
But Anderson couldn’t think of any.
A resident of rural Blue Mounds in south central Wisconsin, Anderson has an awesome fleet of four vintage MoPar muscle cars in his well-appointed country “man cave.” It’s hard to find a flaw in any of his MoPars, but Anderson had a hard time finding many flaws in the Blazer, either. It turned into one of those “too good to pass up” opportunities, so Anderson added the truck to his collection.
“My good friend Zach Johnson, another MoPar guy, he called me one day and said, ‘Hey, do you remember Jack Frame’s old Blazer?’ His wife was our seventh grade math teacher. And they were getting to the point where they needed to sell it. Well, Zach had told them 20 years ago, ‘If you ever want to sell it, give me first shot at it.’ And they remembered that. So they called him and said ‘We want to sell the Blazer. If you want it come and look at it, it’s in the barn. So he went over there, and he called me and said, ‘I don’t have the money, but you need to buy this thing!’
“I vaguely remember it. He used to come and pick [his wife] up after school in it … He’d drive her everywhere. I don’t think she even had a driver’s license. But then it was also their plow truck. And when Zach brought me back to look at it, it had the plow on it and everything, but it was clean. And I said, ‘Yeah, let’s go ahead and buy it.’”
Anderson says he never had any plans to have a 1970s Chevrolet of any kind in his garage. And he definitely had no plans to have a snow plow. In one fell swoop, he wound up with both.
“Jack was adamant that the plow come with it,” he laughs. “He wouldn’t let you take it if the plow didn’t go with it. They needed to go together.”
The K5 Blazer was a little dirty and hadn’t been driven in several years. The odometer showed 90,000-plus miles, and Anderson figured it would make a fun vehicle for his wife Ashley to bomb around in. “We had a convertible and we got rid of it, and I promised her I’d get her another one. She’s a farm girl and they had ’70s Fords when she was a girl, so she grew up driving the old trucks, knowing how clunky and ratty they were. And she wanted a convertible, and the top comes off of this!” he laughs.
Anderson admits that the Blazer turned out to be even nicer than he expected after he took a hose to it. The tires were old and needed to be replaced, but the Blazer was in otherwise immaculate condition.
“The secret was wax!” he says. “This thing was caked in wax! We think he used Turtlewax. He even waxed the plow. Even the plow had residue on it. I spent the whole winter with a nylon brush, scrubbing on it. It was so encased in wax. The black [trim] was almost white!”
As far as Anderson can tell, the removable top had never been off the truck and, according to the sellers, there was a strong possibility no passengers had ever ridden in the back seat.
“I pretty much gave it to my wife thinking, ‘Well, we’ll drive it. It will be fun. If we drive in the rain, no big deal.’ Now, when you at it, it’s such a time machine and so original, I’d hate to drive it in the rain or anything like that. It probably just deserves to be preserved.”
COMING OUT BLAZIN’
Chevrolet realized a couple of its competitors — Ford and International Harvester — were onto something good with their new lines of utility trucks in the late 1960s. International had already gained some strong footing with its now-legendary Scout, and Ford jumped into the fray for 1966 with a similarly designed and equally capable Bronco. Both of those machines followed the blue print and tire tracks left by the venerable Willys Jeep and Jeep CJ, which owed their beginnings to World War II-era military jeeps.
With its shortened K10 pickup chassis, the new-for-1969 Chevrolet K5 Blazer was a decidedly larger vehicle than either the Scout or Bronco, making it more practical and roomy as an everyday vehicle, but probably less appealing as a rugged back-woods rig that could maneuver between tree stumps and boulders. The body had an open top “convertible” design, but with a sturdy fiberglass top that made the Blazer almost look like a fully enclosed vehicle.
The first-generation Blazers were equipped with either 250- or 292-cid inline six-cylinders, or a choice of 307 or 350 V-8s. Shifting was done through a choice of either three- or four-speed automatics, or a three-speed manual transmission. The early Blazers were offered only as full-time four-wheel-drive vehicles. Options included power steering and brakes.
The second generation of the Blazer kicked off in 1973 and would last all the way through 1991. By this time, the Blazers were offered in both rear-wheel and four-wheel drive. The 250-cid inline six rated at 130 hp was the base engine from 1979 up through ’84, with a larger 292-cid six as well as 305, 307, 350 and 400 V-8s also available.
For 1976, a new half-cab design was launched that was both safer and better at dealing with bad weather. These half cabs had a removable top that started just behind the doors and reached all the way to the rear of the vehicle.
The 1979 Blazers proved to be the most popular yet with more than 90,000 built for the model year. Prices started at about $7,200. Updates that year included a new fuel door on the passenger side in place of the old external gas caps. The redesign used a slightly smoother hood and integrated parking and head lamps. The fancy Cheyenne editions featured Custom vinyl trim in red, camel or blue along with some trim goodies. They also featured a different steering wheel and upgraded instrumentation.
The second-generation Blazers evolved and improved over the decades and GM engineers continued to find ways to make them more refined for urban life and everyday driving, until a full-blown redesign and third-gen launch came for 1992.
EASING INTO RETIREMENT
Anderson has no trouble tracing the history of his K5 down to the smallest detail, because the long-time original owner still lives nearby and he kept meticulous records of everything he did to the truck and all the original paperwork. The original window sticker shows he paid $10,144.05 for his sweet Cheyenne edition on Nov. 1, 1978, at the now-defunct Belleville Auto Co., in small-town Belleville, Wis.
In addition to the Cheyenne trappings, the Blazer was equipped with two-tone paint; narrow-stripe whitewall tires; rally wheels; red plaid cloth seats; cruise control; automatic transmission; 2.76 rear axle; heavy-duty battery; chrome grille; folding rear seat; and air conditioning. The 350-cid V-8 under the hood remains in the Blazer today. The plow on the front was added a short time after it was purchased and came from a nearby Madison equipment dealer.
Although the Andersons’ K5 now lives on a farm, it will not be seeing any duty in the fields like the Chevys of Dwight’s youth.
“We had the old ‘Square Bodies’ as farm trucks. My mom and dad are the particular type, too. My dad waxed his work truck just like I do, but when it came to farm trucks they got used,” he says. “They were a tool on the farm, and we’d run them into the ground.”
Even a truck as nicely equipped as this ’79 K5 is a far cry from even bare bones trucks of today, but for the growing legion of fans who are latching onto early Blazers as collector vehicles, the unrefined ride adds to the fun. The bouncing, twisting and leaning are all a big part of the nostalgia that the trucks bring back for children of the ’70s and ’80s.
“These, they are not like driving a new truck. Those are like appliances to me. These, you have to really drive ’em. They’re stiff and rigid and kind of clunky. They’re raw, you know? You feel like you’re in a truck,” Anderson points out. “It’s got some torque. You can tell if you took this thing off road it would do really well, or it would do really well as a plow truck because of the short wheelbase. You can spin ’em around real quick. But for a top end, yeah, they’re pretty wimpy [laughs]”
“But hey, for the day, you know with stuff like those buckets and the console, these were kind of the beginning of things.”
So far, Anderson has avoided the temptation to take the removable top off — probably for the first time in the truck’s life. “We’re afraid we wouldn’t be able to get it to fit back on!” he jokes. And aside from a lot of soap and water, the only thing he’s really done to the K5 is mount a set of new tires.
Indeed, inside or out, it’s hard to find anything on the Blazer that needs improving. The paint looks almost brand new, as does every piece of trim. There are very few hints anywhere that the truck has traveled 90,000 miles.
The Andersons are planning to build an even larger shop/storage facility for their fleet in the future. Regardless of how many more MoPars join the fleet, it seems likely the “black sheep” K5 Blazer will have a home among the Dodges and Plymouths. Dwight says he promised the previous owner that he’d take good care of the truck, and he’s quickly grown attached to his age-defying 4x4.
“Jack said, ‘I want it to stay in Blue Mounds, and I know you guys will take care of it,’” Anderson adds. “It’s just something that came along and if you’re a fan of cars, you just appreciate it. If you’re a Ford or Chevy or MoPar guy, it doesn’t matter. You can get something like this and preserve it.
“I think we’ll hang onto it because my wife likes it. And whatever she likes, she keeps. And we’ll show it and take care of it and give it its due. It was an old workhorse, and now it’s retired. Now it gets the easy life.”
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