Gearhead News

July 22, 2021
Ringbrothers 1970 Chevy K5 Blazer Review: When a $250,000 Truck Actually Makes Sense

The question of worth is a sticky one when you’re staring at something like a $250,000 1970 Chevy K5 Blazer restomod. There are two obvious sides to the debate—but more so now than ever, they’re leading to the same place. You either hate the idea that an old truck can ever be valued at a quarter-million bucks, or you appreciate that the price tag reflects the skyrocketing vintage pickup and SUV market and hundreds of man-hours of restoration work at a renowned shop like Ringbrothers. Neither view changes the reality that these days, people are willing to pony up that kind of cash for a 50-year-old truck.

And why shouldn’t they? Consider that just over a decade ago, major American auction houses like Barrett Jackson were filled with pricey 1950s Chevy Advance Design and second-gen Ford F-Series pickup builds. That surge was driven by the peak of the Boomer generation’s buying power, but it was accepted as a simple fact: those trucks were now worth a lot of money. Fast forward 15 years and the story is the same, except now it’s Gen X with the disposable cash and things like 1970s and ’80s Blazers and Broncos spiking in value.

Larry Chen

Those vehicles feel far more contemporary to us, things we swear we saw driving down the road just yesterday, so the rising prices seem premature. Unfortunately for anyone looking for a cheap ‘70s squarebody, they’re not. Times have changed.

That might go a ways toward explaining how something like a stock 1984 Chevrolet K20 can sell for $84,000 on Bring a Trailer last year. The enthusiast auction site has another more instructive example for today’s purposes, though: Earlier this month, a restomod 1979 Ford Bronco with a Coyote V8 went for an eye-watering $213,000, having sold for less than a fifth of that price in 2016 as an unmodified truck. Under the right circumstances, old trucks can comfortably command supercar prices in 2021. Still, we wonder. Even with a new engine and running gear and a hefty dose of nostalgia, can the experience behind the wheel live up to those lofty valuations? 

Ringbrothers 1970 Chevrolet K5 Blazer, By The Numbers

  • Approximate Retail Value: $250,000
  • Powertrain: 6.2-liter LS3 V8 | Bowler Tru Street three-speed automatic | rear-wheel drive with selectable four-wheel drive and low range
  • Horsepower: 430 @ 5,900 RPM
  • Torque: 425 lb-ft @ 4,600 RPM
  • 0-60 MPH: 7.0 seconds (est.)
  • Quick Take: A masterful blend of old-school charm, new-school tech, and attention to detail make this the whip of choice for an endless summer.

Put a Ring on It

Back in the late 1980s, Jim Ring was ready for a change. Tired of spending his days as a crane operator, he decided to quit construction and focus his efforts on a ’69 Camaro pace car project that he had stored in his mom’s basement. His fastidious approach to the build helped earn him a reputation as a builder who cared about the details, and he eventually opened a small shop with his brother Mike in Spring Green, Wisconsin. But after a series of by-the-book restorations, the pair got bored dealing with picky concours judges. They decided to try their hand at a more freestyle approach instead, and debuted their first big creative project at the SEMA show back in 2006.

These days the Ringbrothers name is synonymous with restomods that are built to the highest standards. Although pro touring muscle cars are their stock-in-trade, their palette has expanded in recent years to include vintage pickup and SUV builds like this one. This particular K5 Blazer represents a first for Ringbrothers, however—instead of being built to spec for a client, it’s destined to be given away as part of a sweepstakes to support Team Rubicon, a non-profit organization that helps mobilize veterans to assist with disaster response.

Bradley Iger

Fortunately for us, the Blazer has been spending its summer basking in the LA sun, and we managed to snag some seat time in the ragtop to see what’s in store for the lucky winner.

Keepin’ This K5 Classy

While the Ringbrothers have never been shy about altering a vehicle’s wheelbase or widening the bodywork if they felt like the original design needed some tweaking, they chose to take a more restrained approach with this truck. It’s somewhat milder in scope than some of their other builds, but elements like tightened body panel gaps, the glowing BASF Glasurit 55 Line Growler Green paint, and custom carbon fiber hood make it clear from a glance that this is not a garden-variety project.

Motivation is provided by a 430-horespower Wegner LS3 crate motor that sits four inches further back than stock thanks to a custom-fabricated firewall designed to bridge the gap between the modern power plant and the three-speed automatic gearbox. Stopping power comes from Baer disc brakes with six-piston calipers at all four corners, while QA1 shocks and sway bars are on hand to help keep body motion in check. The confident stance is by way of custom 18×12-inch HRE wheels wrapped in 33-inch General Tire Grabber X3 all-terrain rubber, and enlarged wheel wells ensure that the suspension can still function as-designed in the rough stuff.

The Blazer’s original hardtop has also been tossed in favor of a custom roll bar and a bikini soft top so you can really embrace the convertible life without completely ignoring the fact that you might occasionally want a roof over your head. Leatherwork by Upholstery Unlimited adorns the seats, dash pad, center console, door panels, and other interior pieces, while Ringbrothers custom switchgear, door handles, window cranks, and steering wheel stalks ensure that all the frequently-used parts of the cabin look and feel appropriately high quality.

While it’s not the clean-sheet approach that the Ringbrothers have taken on some other builds, the wide array of subtle, thoughtful touches seen in everything from custom turn signal bezels to the animated sequences in the LED tail lights serve as reminders that someone definitely sweated the details here.

Behind the Wheel of a $250,000 Blazer

Modernization makes old trucks more capable, reliable, and approachable, but this K5 certainly isn’t tame by contemporary standards. Singing through a pair of Flowmaster Super 44 Series mufflers, the LS3 springs to life with authority before settling down into a nice, choppy burble at idle, and at cruising speed the exhaust provides plenty of aural character without venturing into obnoxious territory.

Larry Chen

But even with more than double the horsepower on tap versus its stock specification, this isn’t a truck that begs to be driven urgently. The old-school transmission seems to play a big role in that, but the three-speed also fits with the easy-going vibe of a truck that’s practically purpose-built to be pointed down PCH on a sunny afternoon. Same goes for the brakes; sure, these six-piston stoppers are a massive improvement over the factory hardware, but the Blazer still seems happier making broad, unhurried gestures.

Besides, solid front axles and 33-inch tires have never been a recipe for on-road handling precision, and this K5 isn’t really looking to buck the trend. The fact that the steering tracks relatively straight with very little in the way of on-center slop exceeds expectations anyway, and reinforces the notion that ‘effortless cool’ is the only vibe that you need to concern yourself with here. While the aesthetic of high-buck muscle cars and winged exotics come with performance expectations that must be validated to onlookers, trucks like this one prove their worth by simply showing up and having a good time.

Is it a quarter-million-dollar good time, though? Even after driving it, there’s no simple answer, but I’m leaning toward a guarded “yes” because of the work Ringbrothers put into it, combined with the spike in K5 Blazer values over the past few years. As we collectively venture into this electrified future, trucks like this showcase the inherent charm of machinery despite any flaws and inefficiencies. The Ringbrothers’ tweaks retain the core K5’s original character but elevate its tactility and mechanical precision to levels that the original designers could have only dreamed of half a century ago. Whether or not it’s worth the scratch that it typically takes to put a Ringbrothers K5 in your driveway is a completely subjective matter, but the surrounding market trends (not to mention the lengthy waiting list for one of their builds) speak volumes on their own.

More importantly, it’s a consideration that you can avoid entirely if you win this truck through the Omaze sweepstakes, which began on June 7 and will run until September 16.

Larry Chen

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