For the first 19 years of my adult life, I owned General Motors S-series trucks. Period.

Because that's the way I liked it.

My parents had a dream for each of their four children. When they left home, their kids would enter the real world with a college degree, no debt, and a new car. This was a noble goal for a 1980s sharecropper and a stay-at-home mom. Each of us entered universities directly after high school with our parent's words engrained in our brains: We'll give you four years of college...just graduate and you'll get an economical, practical new car.

My other siblings chose Pontiac Grand-Ams. I asked for a compact pickup truck. In late-1992, a semester away from graduating from the University of Illinois, my dad took me to the local GMC dealership and ordered a 1993 Sonoma. It was black with a red stripe and painted wheels, just like the one in the marketing brochure. We ordered the "enhanced" V-6 with a higher horsepower rating and a fully electronic dash display. And of course, I had to have four wheel drive and an electronically activated transfer case.

My version of the Sonoma also came with a longer, 7-foot bed. In the single cab, four wheel drive configuration, this was considered a "work" truck. The ride was stiff but the little black truck could get me through just about anything. I could load two dirt bikes straight into the bed and close the tailgate. This was the perfect truck for a young, single man.

In the summer of 1994, I was feeling cool in my jorts and British Knights. I had a dirt bike and my dream truck. All I needed was to put a girl in it.

Living with the Sonoma

Sometimes relationships just aren't meant to be.

During my first winter with the Sonoma, the appeal of a black truck quickly wore off after driving on salty Midwestern roads. Snow, rain, and just about any other type of weather was enough to turn its shiny black coat into a dull gray. In its second winter, salt ate away the paint from the wheels.

Then came the fuel injection problems. The "enhanced" V-6, with an extra 30 horsepower over the regular V-6, was the only engine configuration that year with central port fuel injection. On my truck, this injection system was a failure. For months, the engine was hard starting, sometimes refusing to fire at all. The Sonoma spent much of the 1994 winter and spring parked in the local GMC dealer's garage. Without a bumper-to-bumper warranty, I might have been forced into bankruptcy. This was the most unreliable vehicle I've ever owned.

Winter of 1993-94 on the farm in Illinois.

New life for the Sonoma brand

GM solves its fuel injection woes

In 1994, GM redesigned the S-series to keep up with Ford, which had overhauled its Ranger models the year before. Gone were the boxy front ends, as well as central port fuel injection. When the warranty on my 1993 Sonoma ran out in 1995, I took a chance and traded for a 1996 model. The new truck was configured almost identically to my 1993 version. GM didn't offer an electronic dash that year, but I upgraded to fatter tires and ordered the race-car-red paint.

Fuel delivery on the 1996 Sonoma was sequential fuel injection, a definite improvement. Despite the 1993's injection problems, it did have a peppy engine and was actually the best performer of the three versions I owned. The 1996 engine was strong nonetheless, although the fatter 235 tires took away about 2 miles per gallon of fuel efficiency.

When I ordered the 1996 Sonoma, I had my eyes on a new style of S-series called Highrider (also known as ZR2 for the Chevy versions). These came more suited for off-road use and had wider tires and a wider stance. They were built a bit stronger and just looked exceptionally cool. If the Highrider Sonoma had been available in a long bed version, that's what I would have bought. Most of the Highriders were ordered with extended cabs, so the photo from the Sonoma brochure (above) was a rare vehicle - almost as rare as a long-bed 4X4 regular cab Sonoma.

Going Racing - Spring 1996

America supersizes its trucks

Goodbye, compact pickup.

In the late 1990's, the Supersizing of America was well underway, thanks in part to cheap gasoline prices. Apparently nobody wanted a regular cab truck as a daily driver. Instead, crew cabs became the norm and bed sizes shrank. When S-series trucks proliferated with 4 doors and 55-inch beds, I knew my next vehicle would not be an S-10 or a Sonoma. By 2004, my Sonoma was showing its age and I began searching for a new vehicle.

My search was bittersweet. I really did enjoy my little red truck. At that stage of automobile engineering, the Sonoma was a decently reliable vehicle. By today's standards, the S-series lineup would have been considered high maintenance, but back then I had the time and desire to do my own repairs. I decided to keep my truck for hauling dirt bikes and buying large items at Home Depot. My next vehicle would be...<gasp> SUV.

Never in my worst dream did I expect to own a sport utility vehicle. I just didn't get them. Why buy a car built onto a truck platform? SUV owners called their vehicles "trucks", as if they could put a dirt bike inside and go racing. This made no sense. But in 2004, the SUV craze had been underway for years and I'll be darned if I didn't get sucked into it.

The vehicle was a Chevy Blazer. Not the regular kind, but the wider, jacked up ZR2 version. The ZR2 moniker was GM's off-road designation for the S-series lineup. These configurations were intended for light off-road use off the lot, but could be easily modified into semi-serious rock crawlers. Near the end of 2004, I had my sights set on a leftover Blazer ZR2, now in its final year of production. Dealer discounts were steep and I'd spent many years building up new car purchase credit on a GM credit card. I was ready to spend some money.

I didn't intend for it to be yellow, but the dealer had already sold the red one a few days earlier.

Hello, Big Bird.

The bumblebee magnet

The nice thing about continuing with an S-series vehicle? I knew what to expect. When I chose a 2004 Blazer as my next ride, my relationship with these trucks had already spanned 12 years. I expected the oil cooler lines to leak, the alternator to last about 100,000 miles, the transfer case vacuum switch to fail, and the lower intake manifold gaskets to degrade within 5 years. On schedule, I fixed all of these issues with the Blazer.

The Blazer experience was, however, a bit of unchartered territory. I was never one to draw attention to myself, but the Blazer's blinding paint job stood out so much that I once spotted it in my apartment complex parking lot, from an airplane at 5,000 feet. I began to modify the truck, something I rarely did to other vehicles. I ripped out the stock stereo and installed a nice little sound system, all on my own. I added an onboard air system with ridiculously loud train horns. I bought a shackle kit to level the ride, lowered the spare tire to see better out the back window, and bolted on a hitch and step bars. I loved this truck.

The utility part of this SUV was second to none. I could not imagine doing some of the things I did with this Blazer on today's versions of SUVs. Years later, however, I did quickly learn that a 2-door SUV is a poor choice as a family car - especially when that family involves car seats.

I did some fun things to my Blazer. Click on the links below to see the projects.

Fixin' Things

These WERE your father's trucks.

American-made cars and trucks of the 1990s were gradually improving in quality, but were still not nearly as reliable as the automobiles of today. The links below highlight some of the more complicated problems I had to solve to make my S-series trucks run well for many years.

Saying Goodbye

All good things....

Seventeen years, almost to the day, after I purchased my 1996 Sonoma, I sold it to a college girl in Wisconsin. In December 2012, the little red truck that wouldn't die was running with a transmission missing its 3rd and 4th gears. I had limped home from my final dirt bike ride of the year with only two gears, and I knew I wasn't going to replace that tranny. I advertised on Craigslist, and a few weeks later the truck was sold.

December 2012 - the final photo of my 1996 GMC Sonoma. In 2020 I received an email from a gentleman in Wisconsin who was considering buying the truck from the girl I sold it to. He included pictures, showing the Sonoma still in great shape.

By 2018, family life had rendered the Blazer an afterthought in our automobile fleet. Once in a while it served as a spare, if one of our daily drivers wasn't available. But mostly the little yellow SUV spent its time parked in a shed.

Then came a teenage nephew in need of a car. The Blazer called to him and his parents agreed it was a worthy vehicle. Thus ended my 25-year relationship with the S-series. My nephew loves his Blazer as much as I did, especially the train horns. His neighbors and high school administrators, not as much.

The final photo of my 2004 Chevy Blazer ZR2, before I sold it to my nephew.