In recent years seeing the unusual Chevrolet Longhorn or similar GMC Custom Camper (1968-1972) has become a very rare occurrence. These oversize pickups, with 8 1/2 ft. bed floors, were built for work and thus there is a very limited survival rate. Most seen today started life as they were advertised carrying a vacation camper. They were usually more taken care of during their beginning years and the camper protected their wood bed from weather. Later in life, their heavier rear suspension caused them to be used more as a work truck.
The creation of this large pickup relates to GM’s trend of keeping down costs on what they suspect will be a low volume vehicle. With limited parts investment and by using pre-existing components, this new model was born in mid 1968.
The chassis had already been in existence since the beginning of the body style in 1967. It’s 133″ wheelbase was used under the 1967-1968 1 ton stepside pickup with leaf springs. Most of the components of this new Longhorn fleetside box had also been used on the earlier pickups. To create this new longer fleetside bed, GM simply produced a pair of six inch vertical bed extensions to place between the pre-existing sides and front bed panel. This filled the gap created in front of the bedsides when the 127′ wheelbase chassis was extended to 133 inches.
An expensive metal floor was not a part of this new longer fleetside pickup. A traditional wood plank floor with metal bed strips kept GM’s cost at a minimum.
To draw attention to this larger pickup, the Chevrolet division included ‘Longhorn’ die cast chrome letters secured at the rear of the sides. GMC’s designation was ‘Custom Camper’ and these letters are on each door above the chrome handle, not on the bedsides. To make it a little confusing, GMC also used these Custom Camper emblems in the same location on their heavier 3/4 ton, 127″ wheelbase pickup, with leaf springs. This shorter long bed could be obtained with either a wood or metal bottom bed.
When the optional deluxe upper trim was ordered on this long bed, it’s new six inch extension was placed to the rear of the bed. The resulting trim joining point was therefore not in line with the vertical bed extension joint at the front.
By altering suspension components both the Chevrolet and GMC 133 inch wheel base pickup could be ordered with either a ¾ or 1 ton rating. These special trucks were available from mid year 1968 through 1972. They were not continued with the introduction of the new 1973 body style.
Upper trim joint at rear of bedside. (above)
The Following is reprinted from the May 1969 issue of Motor Trend
Article byV. Lee Oertle
Why would anyone lay down $4,549.45 for a slick-looking pickup truck, even if they do call it the Longhorn? That kind of money will buy a Chevrolet station wagon, or an Impala or an SS Chevelle. That question nagged me the day a Chevrolet official handed me the keys and turned me loose in a new Longhorn pickup. When I asked a Chevrolet truck salesman the same question a few days later, he replied:
‘You’re talking about a window-sticker price, buddy. The actual base of a Longhorn pickup is $2,738 plus destination charges. The rest of it is locked up in accessories and quite a bit of optional equipment. Look at the list ‘ air conditioner alone is $392.75. Then the Turbo Hydra-Matic adds another $242.10, and the Custom Sport Truck package jacks it up another $247.50. And then; At that point, I waved him away, ‘Yeah, yeah ‘ I got eyes. I just didn’t read the fine print.’ I said, testily.
The salesman’s lips tightened a little. ‘The time to read fine print is before you buy ‘ not after.’
Good advise. Further down the sticker price list I noted that power steering on the Longhorn was $113.50. Another stopper was the $80.40 for a spare tire and wheel. On a deluxe pickup, I sort of, well, expected that a spare tire and wheel would be standard equipment. But then, I hadn’t really done my arithmetic. A quick refresher course proved that of the original sticker price of $4,549.45, a staggering $1,811.45 of it covered extras, accessories and options. Freight, license, sales taxes, carrying charges on the loan and insurance might easily push the final tally over the brink of $5,000. That’s an expensive neighborhood no matter where you live, and if anyone is tired of reading about the prices before he hears about the performance, he’ll know how I felt when I finally got behind the steering wheel.
As I rolled off the Chevrolet lot, the salesman parted with the words, ‘who buys the sticker price, anyway?’ I suppose that’s true.
From the moment a shopper takes his first walk around a Longhorn, he’ll know it’s not just another pickup. As a matter of fact, he’ll notice that it’s a longer walk. The wheelbase is up to 133 inches on this model and the cargo box is a full 8 ½ feet in length. For those not familiar with pickups, the standard pickup (any brand) has an eight-foot cargo box. The extra half-foot was added by shoving the regular cargo box along the frame ‘ and then by inserting a short panel at the forward end of the box where it intersects with the cab.
Why all the noise over a slightly larger pickup? In order to understand the significance of this, remember that any change to basic dimensions on a truck involves tremendous expense and/or ingenuity on the part of cost-cutting engineers. It’s bigger, yes, but the clever way the job was done probably hasn’t increased its construction cost very much. The next logical question would be, why? Why a longer wheelbase, for example? Anyone knows that the longer the wheelbase trucks require more turn-around space.
But, looking at it from the Chevrolet viewpoint, a longer wheelbase also improves the ride, offers a more stable platform, and makes a much better carrier for all kinds of loads. This obviously affected Chevrolet’s judgment. For instance, a suburban home owner will like the big cargo box for hauling a variety of material. The tailgate drops down to provide about 10 ½ feet of load length platform.
In case anyone wonders about how the suspension system can handle the extra length, here is the message printed in Chevrolet literature on the subject: ‘Because it’ll be carrying larger loads than other pickups, it’s been especially engineered for extra support and better balance all along its 133 inch wheelbase. Its rear suspension, for instance, is built around tough two stage leaf springs for steadier going and surer handling.’ (Coil spring front suspension teams with the rear leaf springs.)
The Longhorn is available with five different engines and several different transmissions. Our test truck was equipped with a 396 cubic inch V-8 rated at 325 horsepower. (the other engines include the standard 250 cubic inch 6, a 292 cubic inch 6, a 307 cubic inch V-8 and a 350 cubic inch V-8.)
The Longhorn bench seat is a firm, comfortable, non-slip type that gives the driver a feeling of command. It is neither too high for comfort nor so low that shorty-drivers have to stretch their necks. The instrument panel includes a tachometer, speedometer and functional oil and temperature gauges.
Start the engine and a muffled growl, low and strong, comes lightly through heavy cab insulation. Step on the accelerator and the Longhorn instantly takes hold. While 325 horsepower doesn’t sound too exciting in a passenger car, in a pickup it can be hairy under a lead foot driver. Lightly loaded, the Longhorn still hangs on tight right up through the gears. Surprisingly, there was little wheelspin except on wet streets after a rain.
I had no stop-watch with me but I know that the Longhorn will probably be the first pickup up a steep hill. Meant more for power than speed, the 4700-pound Longhorn nevertheless comes on strong in situations where it really counts. A pickup with a smaller engine, for example, often has a difficult time entering freeways. But the Longhorn gets right out there despite a ton of hay riding the cargo deck. In the hands of an amateur an empty pickup would be a handful. Crank it on too fast, too often, and the rear wheels will chirp or slip-grab as they try to deliver traction faster than the lightly-loaded rear tires can bite the pavement.
Our particular test truck had the optional three speed Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission. As far as I’m concerned, no other transmission makes sense with this combination of truck, engine and load ability. Shoving a stick-shift unit into the Longhorn makes about as much sense as hitching up an elephant to a pony cart.
Underneath, our test unit was wearing a Maximum Traction differential and an axle ratio of 3.07:1. Chevy rates this combo good up to about 7000 pounds. For loads over 7000 pounds, they suggest the optional ratio of 3.54:1. Though we didn’t tote anything exceptionally heavy, we found the 3.07:1 ratio an excellent choice for normal driving.
In this department, the Longhorn gets unusually high marks. It has a square-cornering ability few sedans can match and a sure-footed stance that keeps it straight when braking or lane-changing. By adding just 200 or 300 pounds of weight near the rear of the box, the pickup handles even better. )Extra weight cuts down on wheelspin.) Overall, the Longhorn is a solid-feeling pickup that any driver will appreciate.
There’s more than enough power for any load situation. The 396 is currently the largest engine available in a factory pickup (in any brand). The Longhorn should make a great carrier for a half-dozen trail bikes, for towing a boat, or for hauling a rented coach now and then. The luxury interior and comfortable cab will probably lure many new buyers away from station wagons and sedans. If you haven’t tried the new breed of pickups, you’re missing a most versatile family vehicle. The Longhorn is a smooth newcomer that undoubtedly will spark a host of imitations. It offers the longest wheelbase and largest cargo box of any two-door pickup, plus larger engines than competitors. As for the price? Well, like the man said: ‘Who pays sticker price, these days?’
Lest anyone suspect that I’ve been on the Chevy payroll, I have a few reservations about the Longhorn. For one thing, window glass on the driver’s side liked to slip sideways and climb up outside the channels every now and then. My guess is that the glass is a little too small for the track, or the channels were misaligned. On cold mornings, I’d climb into the cab and then, with one breath, all the windows frosted over. The longhorn is one of the few truck-cabs I’ve tested that would not clear up with the vent-windows cracked open. Steamy vapor clung stubbornly to the inside of the windshield. The only way to clear it away was to turn on the defroster full force, roll down one window, or both. On a cold morning, neither method pleased us very much.
From a purely personal viewpoint, I found it strange that Chevrolet would spend so much on interior design, but so little on panel coverings. The cab ceiling and much of the door panel areas were bare metal. Now, in a work-duty pickup that might be practical. Metal is more durable than plastic coverings, obviously. But in a class-type pickup, which the Longhorn most definitely tried to be, I found it objectionable. (There, it’s off my chest.)