At Surfwrench, we really like Blazers. We like that they are simple, capable small SUVs that can handle pretty much anything that you can throw at them (within reason). The early ones were a bona fide answer to the revolutionary Ford Bronco and they are pretty damn cool. Today though, we’re taking a look at a 2 door S-10 variant from 1998.
First of all, I had one of these early in my driving career and to me it was a genuinely great car. While the gas mileage wasn’t very good and I was commuting a long way to school, one of the main things that I remembered was just how liberating this car was. It meant that I could get where I needed to go in just about any weather because of the solid 4×4 system. This really was a very good car for a new driver being cheap, durable, and fairly capable when things get dicey.
A Wheezing, Classic Winter Beater
So has my nostalgia blinded my judgement? In short, a little bit. When I went to test drive this OG winter beater my mind instantly went to some of the more memorable adventures in my little truck — going to hockey practice at 4:45 in the morning in a blinding snowstorm blaring Tom Petty in 4Hi. Skipping a school assembly to go skiing on a Friday afternoon (I did this a few times in the E30 as well). However, when I saw the signature S-10 rot it all came back to me. The 4.3 liter wheezed into life with a fair bit of belt squeal and after a bit of revving settled down into its signature rumble. Say what you want about the poor fuel economy, the 4.3 liter GM V6 is still a very likeable and capable engine — Uncle Jimmy once pulled a Nova back from Wyoming with a S-10 Jimmy.
After taking it around the block a few times, there were some noticeable problems with the alignment and front suspension. The car noticeably tracked to the left and the wheel was turned halfway around before it would go in a straight line. There was a lot of evidence of a pretty solid front end collision. The right front headlight was newer than the left and the right quarter was also a replacement. This explained a few of the problems, but not all of them.
A look underneath also showed one of the tell-tale signs that this was a New York car: the rot. It looked crustier than a frozen pizza that had been in the oven on broil for 4 hours. This car was a strong runner, but it wasn’t going to be of this world for much longer. But in all honesty, this is really one of the hallmarks of a winter beater. You want it to start and run every single time, but you want to make it perfectly clear that you’re not going to be spending any money keeping it running past April.
The interior was another classic GM. Simple, fairly comfortable, and not overdone in any sense of the term. The fold down rear seats provide a lot of room, and the split tailgate capped with a spare wheel holder is still one of the least functional, but coolest features on a SUV. Seriously, the rear visibility is quite poor, and the side blind spots could hide anything smaller than an 18-wheeler.
However much like Sinatra said — the best is yet to come. The best part of this car, hands down, is the price. This running, driving, inspected 4×4 was $600. This is the sort of thing that winter beater dreams are made of. It ran great, shifted well, and didn’t need to be inspected until June. It had a pretty bad exhaust leak that could cause problems for a noise violation, but really this is inconsequential when there is 3 feet of snow at the end of your driveway and you have to make a Wegmans run.
A Great All-Around 4×4…If You Can Find One
These trucks are still out there, and they are still cheap. However for a lot of reasons, they might not be for long. When Cash for Clunkers came about in the late 00’s, one of the major victims of this were the S-10 Blazers. When talking to Uncle Jimmy about it, they would routinely have 30 or so on death row behind the dealership. Often times, they would be scavenged for parts by people who had their S-10 Blazers and had absolutely no interest in getting rid of theirs, much to the chagrin of the management of the program.
However, that is the purest form of recycling, which was one of the main reasons for this program, so in many cases they turned a blind eye. This combined with the fact that many people my age had one, or their parents had one, and they were solid vehicles for them, may cause a price increase in the coming years as more and more of them rot back into the ether. There are a lot of clean ones down in the south, and if you’re looking for an all year 4×4, this one is a pretty good option.