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Small Block Chevy Or Straight Six Ford: Which Work Truck Is For You?

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Today on Shitbox Showdown, it’s truck versus truck as we look at two beat-up stuff-haulers, and decide which one is the better motorized pack mule. But first let’s see how yesterday’s Chrysler K-cars fared:

The wagon has it, it seems. And it also seems everyone has a K-car story; those little boxes were such a huge part of the American vehicular landscape for so long that it was almost impossible to avoid them. Thanks all for the votes, and the memories! 

These days, love ’em or hate ’em, Americans drive trucks. They’re everywhere. Ford sells more than 2,000 trucks per day on average alone, and its competitors aren’t far behind. And it seems like the machines get bigger and tougher-looking every year, while growing more soft and luxurious on the inside. Owners love to personalize them with all sorts of heavy-duty bric-a-brac, and increasingly inappropriate wheels and tires, in an attempt to say… well, honestly I’m still not sure what they’re trying to say. “I really love black powdercoating,” maybe, or “I can order from an accessories catalog like nobody’s business.”

But then there are other trucks, and you know them when you see them, that make a different, quieter statement about their owners: “I do stuff. I own furniture that I made. I’ve used a tile saw. I have different hammers for different purposes. I know how to wire a three-way light circuit and calculate board-feet of lumber. Now, if you’ll excuse me, that new half-wall in the living room isn’t going to sheetrock itself…”

Let’s look at two such wonderful workhorses now.


1977 Chevrolet C20 “Camper Special – $2,000

Engine/drivetrain: 350 cubic-inch V8, 3 speed automatic, RWD

Location: Amboy, WA

Odometer reading: 168,0000

Runs/drives? Runs well, according to the seller

Ironically, this truck was not built for work at all. It’s a “Camper Special,” a 3/4 ton truck outfitted and optioned specifically to be used with a slide-in camper. The package added an extra 6″ of bed length over a standard 8 foot bed, a wiring harness for the camper, heavy-duty suspension bits including a thicker front stabilizer and, on this truck anyway, air shocks (which are said to work just fine). It’s powered by the same small-block/Turbo-Hydramatic combination that has provided motivation for everything from sedans to hot rods to box trucks. It’s good, proven stuff.

You also get this sweet “Camper Special” badge:

This truck appears to be doing retirement backwards, however, and now that its campground days are done, it has been put to work, as witnessed by the trash can and bits of greenery in the bed. 

Cosmetically and creature-comfort wise, it’s less than ideal, with some damage to the interior (sadly not shown in pictures), which has apparently been mistaken by mice for a public toilet. (Though how the seller determined that it’s specifically mouse urine I’m not sure. Were there chemical tests involved?). “Keep in mind this truck is very photogenic,” the seller writes. “Keep your expectations low.”

(As a quick aside, back when I drove my own beat-up Chevy truck to work daily, it was twice the backdrop for an impromptu amateur modeling photography session. I’d look out the window and see some trendily-dressed ingenue leaning against the side of the bed, while a wanna-be Mapplethorpe snapped pictures of her. The second time it happened, I went out and unlocked it for them so they could take photos with the girl at the wheel. “I just love the texture of this thing,” the photographer said. I just smiled.)

Despite the rodent issues, with all the heavy-duty stuff, an apparently clean bill of health mechanically, and that sweet orange and white two-tone job, this looks like an awesome rig to pull up to the lumber yard in. But let’s look at its competition before we make any decisions.


1993 Ford F-150 XL – $2,150

Engine/drivetrain: 300 cubic inch inline 6, 5 speed manual, RWD

Location: Federal Way, WA

Odometer reading: 200,000 miles

Runs/drives? Like a top, if the seller is to be believed

If there is such a thing as a “default pickup truck,” this is it. Ford’s classic F-series, from arguably its best era. Built like a tank and mechanically simple, with Ford’s clever “Twin I-Beam” front suspension and an inline six that is the stuff of legends, this is all the truck you ever really need. By 1993, the six was fuel-injected for improved drivability and slightly better mileage (though it’s still a thirsty beast), and the rest of the truck had been in production so long that pretty much all the bugs were worked out. This one has the Mazda-built five speed manual behind it, which, while it’s no Miata gearbox, is easier to live with than some trucks’ transmissions.

The seller = makes a point of how ugly the truck is, which I suppose is a point of pride for a work truck — that “texture” again. Honestly, it doesn’t look too bad to me. It’s dull and faded, and there’s a painted-over logo on the driver’s door that indicates it used to be part of a fleet. I’ve seen a lot worse.

Inside it’s all work truck, with a vinyl bench seat, rubber floors, and crank windows, though apparently it does have AC, which is nice to have after a long hot day at a jobsite.

There isn’t a lot of information to go on about its mechanical condition, but these are about as complicated as an anvil, and built just about as strong. At 200k, it’s about half to two-thirds the way through its service life, from what I’ve seen of these trucks. Just treat it right, and it’ll keep doing its thing for years to come, like a good tool should.

So there they are. Two good old honest trucks, in slightly varying flavors. Which one do you want?

Quiz Maker

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89 Responses

  1. That 5 speed transmission was a completely piece of crap. First gear was good for about 25mph. The older 4 speed (3 speed with granny gear) was a little short, but was a dream for low speed stuff. Also worth mentioning is the ever present power steering whine, and day old calf front suspension.

    Il take the old square body.

  2. I’m well aware of the Ford 300s reputation for dogged reliability, and the 5sp is an added bonus as well. That said, the Chevy is the easy choice for me. Having owned a series of smallblock-powered trucks in various states of disrepair over the years, I’ve never had a single one fail me. And as readily available as Ford 300 parts may be, GM pickup parts are at least as cheap and plentiful.

    Not to mention, the Chevy just looks better. As dull as that orange-and-white enamel may be, it’s nothing an afternoon with a buffer and some compound won’t drastically improve. I think I’d even retain those white wagon wheels! And having remediated mouse piss in a number of decrepit aircooled VW interiors over the years, I’d gut the interior for a thorough scrubbing, and go back in with a freshly repadded and recovered seat. With a little elbow grease, this would easily be a $6-8k truck here on the southwestern plains. More than you’ll ever be able to say for the Ford.

    1. “More than you’ll ever be able to say for the Ford.”
      You haven’t been paying attention to prices recently, I think.
      These are literally the first two examples that popped up when I put in that year range F150 for my area. There were a couple others that started to drop down in price, but they weren’t as nice as it sounds like you’d make that Chevy

  3. Both are a good call. It’s a horses for courses decision. Need heavy duty, the Chevy. Need transportation, the Ford.

    Will say it’s unusual to see that era on Chevy without completely rusted wheel wells.

    I’ll go with the Ford personally.

    Also. Not sure of the 8.5 ft bed. I’ve never heard of that before.

    1. I am not sure that C20 actually has the 8.5 ft box. The package was the Longhorn, and there should be a seam towards the front of the box where they added 6 inches to a regular 8ft box. there should also be some badges for it.

  4. Easy vote for the Ford. I have a ’98 F150 XL with near the same specs (single-cab, long-bed, manual everything but has A/C) so while I wouldn’t buy another truck for the time being, I still would pick it from the two.

  5. Having been a long term owner of a 1974 Chevy 3/4 ton I must vote for the Chevy. As to the Ford 300, my Chevy had 378K miles on it when I sold it. I still see it around town doing its thing. FWIW, when I sold it, it still had its original engine, transmission (4 spd) drive line and rear end. I replaced the clutch twice and the brakes three times. About half way through its life I replaced the rusted out 8 ft bed with a 10 1/2 ft flat bed that weighed a short ton. Reduced top speed to 85 while drinking one mpg worth of fuel.

    This truck may have been an anomaly but does show what properly maintained machinery is capable of.

  6. I’m going to have to go for the Chevy. Parts availability is about the same but the heavy duty specs, the looks and the weird bed all make me go for the GM pickup. Plus I think I’d rather work on a carb than a pre-OBD II EFI system if it becomes an issue. And I don’t like a manual in a work truck. So yeah, bowtie all the way.

  7. 2 old workhorses, full of character and a soul that only gets earned through years of wear. I dont know that I could really choose between the two. The Ford is probably more reliable, more economical, and after owning half a dozen of either of these two body styles, the Ford is more satisfying to drive. These 300’s had a beautiful torque curve, and a perfect clutch for either teaching a newbie or just being lazy about operating it. They were insanely abusable, and the shift throws were long, but straight and sure, with the shifter “clicking” into gear in such a satisfying way.

    But the chevy is just so damn soulful in it’s own right. Seeing that big square hood ahead of you, the “chishishishishishish” sound of the starter, the SMELL of metal, sun-baked vinyl, and gas that sends the feel good right to your brain when you climb in. You dont get that with many vehicles that can be bought for 2 grand. Plus, being a 2wd, if you want a stickshift, you need about 500 bucks in secondhand parts and a weekend to be rowing your own in this thing.

    Tough choice here. I’d probably do the chevy.

  8. Born & raised in a Chevy family, love the two-tone paint, the extra space in the bed, and of course the 350. All that being said, I voted Ford. Newer, better shape, no mouse piss, apparently less rust, and a stick. If I wanted a project, this Chevy all day and twice on Sunday. If I wanted a use it now tool, this Ford.

  9. The Chevy is prettier, but Ford wins the drivetrain by a mile.

    It’s also inaccurate to call the 300 thirsty. Late in its run they kept putting shorter gears on it to make it seem quicker. With tall gears it’s a slow, torquey fuel sipper. I had an ’84 with a 4 speed and 2.47 rear end that was rated at 24mpg, and had no trouble hitting it. (Standard EPA rating of 22 for a 4 speed was with a 3.00 rear end, the 2.47 was optional.)

    1. I cannot remember what ratio my 94 with the 300 has, but there must be some truth to what you are saying. It gets 18 mpg on the highway all day long which was a little disappointing, especially with the smaller tank and the issue I have getting it to actually fill all the way up at the pump. Still, I love it anyways.

    2. I’ll vouch for the fuel economy…I had an ’89 with the same drivetrain and usually hovered around 20 mpg with sensible driving. But I also condemn the Mazda E5OD which was prone to slave cylinder (or worse) failure.

  10. Toughest one for me yet.

    I went with the Chevrolet, since I already have a daily. Would be a great second vehicle. Sort out the interior, leave the outside and you have a tool and a main street cruiser with a nice patina.

    However, if I had to drive and use one of the two daily, it would be the Ford hands down. That truck will continue running after we’re all dead.

  11. That Ford is going to be running long LONG past when that Chevy has returned to the dirt. I’ve got basically the same vehicle, but nicer condition and automatic, I took it from 156k to 386k and its still taking me to work and back every day, only time it left me stranded was at about 280k when a fuel pump went out while I was traveling cross-country.

  12. Am I to take the lack of editor’s notes as an indication that David Tracey is better acquainted with Robert Mapplethorpe than he is Jake and Elwood?

    Anyhow I really like the looks of the Chevy, but if I were to purchase a beater work truck (and who am I kidding, I am never going to do that) I would go with Ford.

    1. I took my ’89 SHO to the brickyard to pick up 500lbs of lanscape retaining wall blocks (75# each), and the yard worker looked at me and said, “Just pull that Tuarus 1/2 Ton around to the back.”

      No, I didn’t put it all in the trunk. I put tarps in the back seat. Balanced the load a bit better. It handled the incident quite well.

  13. That 4.9 inline six is unstoppable. Every exaggerated legend you heard is true. I owned a ’75 F100 Ranger with one. The antifreeze wasn’t up to the task of staying liquid in the -30°F ND winter I drove it in years ago. The antifreeze…well it froze in the block. The engine overheated spectacularly and I had to pull over.

    A few days later, I had it towed to my garage where it sat until spring where I expected massive carnage. I was never so excitedly disappointed. Changed the oil and coolant and she ran like a champ after that. Helped me move all my stuff to my new house later that year. A year after that, I changed the head gasket as a reward for outstanding service and preventative maintenance, not necessity.

    This is an easy vote.

    1. I worked a a scout camp in the early 2000’s and we had a 1991 green F150 with the 300 straight six. That truck was abused each summer, left in a field for the winter and always started back up in the spring.
      One year, we decided to change the oil because nobody working there could remember when it had been done. The sludge that thing was running on was scary. I would buy this in a heartbeat if it were up here in Canada.

  14. I’m consistently picking the loser. I think the Chevy would be more fun to mod than the Ford. The straight six is intriguing, but the small block is just too good to ignore. Plus an auto is really where it’s at for a truck and with enough torque, three gears is all you need.

  15. Based on location alone I’d go with the Chevy, because I cannot think of a single good thing that has ever come out of Federal Way, WA.

    In all seriousness, the square body is a steal at $2500. I sold my ’83 K10 for $1300, and it was only front wheel drive at the time and had none of the aesthetic charm of this one.

  16. This will be a close one. I would avoid the Chevy for lack of interior pics, and for the mouse damage description. If you haven’t de-moused a barn find, go ahead and tell me how fun it was…. Ford for me.

  17. Change the C10 to a K10 and omit the camper option and that Chevy was the EXACT truck I had in high school. Near indestructible. If this was 4WD, I might be looking into how to ship it to myself.

  18. The 77 has more history to it. It looks at you square in the eye and says. High gas prices? So what? I’ve seen them come and go four times in my life. Been through two recessions and stagflation too. Don’t worry about it. We got things to build. Get in and let’s go.

    1. I pretty much agree here. The Ford has a more civilized/ergonomic interior than the Chevy. I would take the Ford interior over a later model GMT400 interior as well (I have had both in reg cab configuration).

  19. People are enamored with the Chevy’s looks, but personally I don’t see it. In fact, aside from the color, I quite prefer the body panels and front grille of the Ford. Maybe if you’re ambitious or just really set on it, get a $1-2k respray to really make it a looker?

    Ford all day, err day. This one’s a no-brainer.

  20. That square body Chevy has that great ’70s pickup look….

    But that Ford is just so honest and simple. My first car in ’91 was a ’81 F100 with the 300, 4speed, and the hose it out interior. When I was 16 I didn’t appreciate it nearly as much as I should have. A few years later I acquired an ’84 that was equipped the same way that I kept until 2006 when rust and old age became a major issue. This is the type of truck that every suburban dad needs for Home Depot visits and picking up a yard of mulch at the landscaping supply. It sits in the street or driveway until you need it on the weekend or one of your buddies needs to borrow it and its simple to service or repair.

    I’ll take the Ford.

  21. I really, really like the look of the old Chevy, but the mouse urine in the interior ruins it for me so I had to vote for the Ford. I’ve had to deal with the sickening mouse urine smell before in a first-gen Mazda MPV, and it took MONTHS to finally get all the smell out even after deep-cleaning every piece of cloth in the interior. For whoever decides to take on that project, the thing that finally got rid of the smell (after the deep-cleaning, of course) was lining the floor, seats, and every other flat surface of the vehicle with newspaper and ad flyers, closing it up, and leaving it for about two or three weeks. Then changing out the newsprint and doing it again. The porous paper absorbed the smell, and it was easy to clean up compared to baking soda!

  22. Oh, dear. You can’t be wavin’ Hugger Orange around here all willy-nilly. I’d have that sucker in pieces and headed for the blaster in a week, followed by a 6.0 LS swap. If it was closer, I’d be headed that way. Back in the day, a lot of the blue collar dad’s rolled this exact truck, although usually with a 454 and slot mags. Mmmmm, slot mags. Most folks on these kinda sites don’t know of the massive community around these trucks. On that ‘Other” site they just want us to burn. The Ford is cool, my neighbor just sold it’s twin about a year ago. The 300’s run better after you sink ’em in a pond!

  23. I love that the Chevy seller notes that it’s only shiny because it’s wet.
    I automatically assume that any time I see a car wash in the background of the sellers photos.
    I think the Chevy is better looking by far but I’ve gotta go for the Ford because we’ll… I don’t know how to drive an automatic.

  24. I was a Ford guy for 25 years and I owned 3 F150’s of this ilk. The Mazda E5OD is junk; I was 3 for 3 on transmission failure. Call the motor comparison a wash…the Ford 4.9 and the SBC are both legendary and both earned it. As for looks…c’mon. C/Ks of this vintage are simply gorgeous. Buy the bowtie.

  25. The rational side of me really wanted to go for the Ford, but my dad owned two consecutive square bodies when I was a kid, so memories of bouncing along in one on a vinyl bench, while my dad occasionally cursed at the three-on-the-tree manual, prompted me to go with the Chevy, mouse messes be damned.

  26. Even though inline-six and manual is my jam, I voted Chevrolet like many other people because of the memories.
    We didn’t get huge numbers of American pickups in Australia until recently when you can go to the local dealer for an RHD factory-converted Ram or Silverado.
    One of my earliest memories is dad’s blue Squarebody. I was maybe four years old and we went out cutting firewood. I remember bouncing from one end of the bench seat to the other over the rough section of paddock he was driving in. Sadly he and the Squarebody are long gone from this world.

  27. In general, I’m not sure you could go wrong with either. Both were built like tanks, are simple to repair, and have great parts availability. No bad choice here. In the case of these two in particular, and based off of the photos, I’d go with the Ford. Rust never sleeps, and it looks like it has attacked the Chevy.

  28. They are both perfect and the only kind of truck I’d want – a bit dented, a bit worn down, but still will do anything you need. Just like the old farmer you bought it from.

    It’s an incredibly difficult choice but I straight up have more nostalgia for this era of Ford so it won the day.

  29. This is a tough one, my brain is telling me to pick the Ford but my heart is saying to go with the Chevy. Ultimately I went with the Ford.

    The Chevy looks great but the mouse pee in the interior scared me away. I once helped clean out a basement that had a rodent issue and I’d rather not have a truck that smelled like that. Coincidentally after I finished with that basement, I got really sick for about a month and a half and even doctors weren’t really sure what was wrong with me.

  30. Neither are daily drivers to be sure. I tried with my nearly identical 94 F-150 XL I-6 Auto just to see if I could delay buying a new daily after cashing in on dieselgate. That seat, while very usable, is like sitting on a park bench, and highway driving sucked with all the wind noise and vague steering. However, as a tool for Lowe’s runs and picking up craigslist buys, you cannot beat it. Fuel injection is a HUGE plus as well. I was looking for a Chevy originally, but resale was higher on those, and reading the specs/history of that inline six got me looking at Fords. I don’t regret it. Also – that Ford in Oxford white (my truck) or the gray on the truck listed is one of the most incognito vehicles you can cruise in as it looks like a work truck. I love the 350 and the two-tone of the Chevy, but it’s the Ford for me.

    1. Am guessing your drive to/from work is much longer, or you have health issues with sitting on the bench. My daily is a ’71 F100 and comfort is not an issue; but then my commute is 15 min / 5 miles, no highway. Either way – my only gripe with the Ford I drive is the weekly cost of gas (390 cu in V8).

  31. Ford all day.

    Now I’m biased a little. Right out of high school, my dad gave me his 80 F-100. 2WD, I-6, 3 on the tree, manual everything! It was a great truck! Threw some 31 10.50 BFG ATs on it and drove it for a couple years until I sold it.

    Years later, I sold it, and the owner promptly blew it up after failing to diagnose and correct an oil leak.

    Still the most fun little truck I’ve ever owned. A pipe dream of mine is to find another one and turbo it.

    1. Agree – probably would not buy unless 4wd; pickup I bought in May for $2000 is so equipped.
      ** HOWEVER ** it was a steal & barely running then; have sunk north of $4000 into it to get it mechanically reliable since.
      Guess what I’m trying to say, you will not find a $2k 4wd truck that is reliable – not now and not in the before-times either.

  32. I know it’s just my own seared memories but it’s hell to the naw on that F-150. My dad had a ’90 F-150 with manual trans and was on his third clutch by 50,000 miles, plus it was an absolute dog performance-wise. Admittedly this was the 302 V8 rather than the 300ci straight-6. (And before you accuse my dad of being hard on clutches, he ran manuals in a ’70 C-10, a ’77 Dodge, and an ’82 Dodge out to over 100,000 miles each and never replaced a clutch.) I hated that Ford with a passion, having had an equally irrational love for the previous two Dodges which despite being malaise-era were great trucks, and it put me off Ford pickups for years.

    Plus, square-body Chevys just look really good and the Chevy would probably be worth the work to fix up. With that being said, I get the rationale of the Ford voters. The 300ci six is indeed a classic, durable engine and if that particular transmission and clutch isn’t made out of glass it will still provide many great years of service.

  33. Damn you, Mark Tucker! Damn you to hell! A square body Chevy vs. one of the best F-150’s ever. Do you get off tormenting us with these difficult choices, you sadistic bastard?

    The Chevy is a truck that I’d feel like I’d have to restore to bring it back to it’s original glory. The F-150 is just a straight workhorse truck. For that reason, I’d have to go with the Ford. You could steal use it as a beater hauler for quite some time to come. The Chevy is just too far gone for that. Whoever buys it needs to be of the mind of a full restoration or a restomod. It’s just too beautiful of a truck to let rust away to nothing.

  34. There’s a reason Ford sells more trucks than any other US automaker sells of anything. I’ll take the F-series all day long. Also, I grew up in ranching country, where a “Ford vs Chevy” argument is a great way to ruin Thanksgiving dinner. Ultimately, for a beater truck, either of these two is a good choice. It all comes down to who you want pissed off at you on Thanksgiving, the Ford gang or the Chevy posse.

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