Spotlight on Older GM Trucks

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Spotlight on Older Chevy Trucks

By Richard Truesdell


To find a profitable niche in high-volume pickup trucks that sold in the millions, with a high survival rate, and a loyal, if not fanatical following, look no further than the 1988 to 1998 full-size pickups from GM.

They are available from both Chevrolet and GMC, with a following so large that they still have their own magazine, despite the demise of many newsstand publications. It’s called OBS Buyer’s Guide, OBS signifying Old Body Style trucks. This is in contrast to the Chevrolet Silverados and GMC Sierras that followed in 1999 with totally new styling.

Again, in testament to the popularity of these OBS trucks, the Facebook OBS group has almost 150K members.

Chevy OBS magazine

During 1988-1999, GM sold more than a half-million half-ton and three-quarter-ton trucks annually, the majority under the Chevrolet brand. That’s five million units over the decade. It’s been estimated that at least 25 percent of these well-built trucks and GM’s corresponding full-size SUVs are still on the road today.

If your roots in 12 volt go back as far as mine, you will remember in the 1980s, GM was hellbent on configuring their dashboards to preclude the easy installation of traditional shaft-mount and single-DIN aftermarket head units. The first-generation 1988-1994 OBS trucks were no exception. Within the dash bezel was the OEM location for the odd-sized rectangular AM or AM/FM tuner with the tape deck mounted in the center of the dash, underneath the air conditioning ducts. At the time, kit manufacturers like Metra and Scosche offered kits where aftermarket head units could be mounted in the location underneath the air conditioning ducts. But it was, as I liked to call it at the time, an inelegant solution.

When the trucks got their mid-cycle refresh in 1995, the instrument panel was updated in the Chevrolet and GMC and the installation path became more straightforward.


Retro Chevy Cruz radio
Retro Chevy Cruz radio

Retro Manufacturing offers a drop-in replacement head unit that replaces the factory-fitted head unit in the 1988 to 1994 trucks and that emulates the look of the OEM head unit. With Bluetooth capability, it’s easy to stream audio from a smartphone into the head unit. With a full complement of inputs for USB and Sirius/XM along with preamp-level outputs with subwoofer output level control, the Santa Cruz unit can form the hub for a comprehensive system upgrade with component amplifiers, speakers, and subwoofers.

Unfortunately, without a larger screen Retro Manufacturing is unable to include CarPlay and Android Auto in its head units. We asked Retro Manufacturing’s Kenley Henry if there are plans to adjust the head units to include CarPlay/Android Auto.  She replied, “…we have no intention of increasing the size due to the look we are trying the achieve. We do not want to compromise the original ‘retro’ look we are built on.”

For the post-refresh 1995-1998 models, almost any head unit will fit, including double-DIN in-dash units, as well as models with Tesla-style screens up to 10.1 inches. Many of these units will offer Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capabilities.

LinksWell radio for older trucks
Typical Floating Screen Head Unit

Applicable head units are available from most full-line head unit manufacturers like Alpine, Boss, Jensen, JVC, Kenwood, Pioneer, and Sony as well as lesser-known suppliers like LinksWell and newcomer Atoto.  Another manufacturer, Dasaita, offers several application-specific units for select Chevrolet and GMC applications as well as Honda, Jeep, Subaru, and Toyota models.

When it comes to amplifier, speaker, and subwoofer upgrades, let your imagination run wild. A lot will depend on what brands you already stock.

When you sell your first system to a customer with a 1988-1998 OBS truck be sure to document it completely with photography and if possible, video. This way, the next time a customer comes in with a similar GM 1988-1998 OBS truck, you can show exactly what’s involved. Many of these trucks will be standard-cab models so make sure you have unloaded enclosures in stock that will simplify the installation process. The easy-profit, in-by-10, out-by-5 system installation can be scheduled. The result? A slam-dunk $1,500 to $2,000 system that can add profit dollars to your bottom line.

Postscript: When documenting the system installation keep in mind that you can promote your installs on your social media platforms, especially to GM truck-specific Facebook groups and forums dedicated to these still plentiful and popular vehicles. If you think your system is publication-worthy, reach out to me at [email protected]. Let me help you get the publicity that will position your shop locally as the go-to source for OBS systems upgrades. Think of how good that In the News plaque will look in your showroom, establishing your shop locally as 1988-1998 OBS upgrade experts.

Rich Truesdell

Rich Truesdell

Rich is an industry veteran and longtime automotive photojournalist   He has served as an installer, a 12 volt retail store owner, and a car audio and automotive journalist.

Truesdell founded Kartunes Mobile Electronics in New Jersey in 1976 with a retail storefront from 1980 to 1992. He’s contributed to publications including Motor Trend and has been a full-time automotive journalist since 2000 to more than 30 magazines around the world.  He is also the co-author of three books with collaborator Mark Fletcher; Hurst Equipped (2012), 1970 Maximum Muscle (2021), and Hemi Under Glass (2021). Truesdell even appeared on Jay Leno’s Garage!

Truesdell welcomes questions from readers and he hopes to connect with colleagues from his many years in the car audio industry at [email protected]


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  1. @Richard – I knew that was not a “linkswell unit” , I knew it was a poorly illustrated pasted unit. I can also say it looks to be a Kenwood? The size of a kenwwod floating would be a “knuccklebuster” if installed and could even clear that lip and not intrude into the gear shifter area. I love these era trucks and had several of them at one point. The old flip out units would get in the way as well.

    1. @bigrj, I am working on locating a 95-98 OBS truck and when I do and get a unit installed, I will be sure to post photos and installation details. I realize that not every unit will work but I will be getting a few more sample units in. In looking at the 1994 over the past weekend I see the clearance issues, both the crashpad lip as well as the shifter that will need to be addressed.

      1. That would actually be reeally cool. I am really trying to picture the clearance in my mind, Perhaps im off a bit. Hopefully we will see 🙂

  2. I really hate calling out my colleagues (@Michael and @bigrj) but you both are incorrect.

    First, the composite image was for illustration purposes only. And if you look at the image, it is clearly not the Linkswell unit. I did not submit the caption.

    Second, over the weekend, I examined a 1997 Chevy full-size pickup and rather than the shifter being the issue, the most important clearance issue is with the lip of the crash pad that the floating screen needs to clear. The shifter, when a floating screen single-DIN head unit is installed, although tight. I will admit that there is a narrow window to pull off a successful installation that clears both the lip of the crashpad and the shifter. It will require a chassis that allows for a full range of adjustment both up and down. As an example, the Joying unit I installed in my own 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee, provided that type of installation flexibility.

    I know that I’ve been out of the day-to-day installation trenches for over 30 years but I still know how to install a car audio system. I always respect the creativity that many installers display every day. Then as now, we are solution providers.

    Sometimes it takes creativity or an out-of-the-box solution. For instance, depending on what kit one uses, where there is the ability to adjust the fore-to-aft mounting of the chassis, you can make things fit, to adjust just how far out one can place the touchscreen. I took this for granted. Because I write these quides within a designated word count, I can’t go into this kind of detail. But I don’t mind doing it here.

    With regard to the Linkswell unit mentioned, I have put in calls to Linkswell technical support to see if the center mount of the touchscreen to the chassis can be modified. Currently, it is fixed in the middle which could preclude installation in a full-size 1995-1998 GM truck since it would center the touchscreen relative to the chassis. But other 10.1-inch touchscreen units could be mounted as well as smaller 9-inch and 7-inch units. And I suspect that it shouldn’t be too difficult to mount a double-DIN unit in the OEM location without too much difficulty.

    I am looking for among the members of my car club, a full-size 1995-1998 to install a 10.1-inch head unit. On Saturday I did talk with a club member with a beautiful 1994 Chevrolet full-size pickup

    And in the next couple of weeks I will be installing the Retro Sound 1988-1994 OEM replacement unit in his pickup as the Pioneer unit he has mounted in the center of the dash lacks Bluetooth capability, which he would love to have.

    @Issac, where you live, most may have returned to the ground in the form of iron oxide. But here in southern California where I live, you can’t spit without hitting one. And as I mentioned in the original post, they are so numerous that they have their own niche magazine, OBS Builder’s Guide, to support their enthusiasm. They also have several YouTube channels like Power Nation that have built some damn nice examples, many running modern LS powertrains, over the years.

    The reason for this series, the next one I’m working on will cover Tenth generation (1997–2004) Ford F-Series trucks. That is unless you guys will a newer generation. And for a Jeep magazine, I’m working on one covering the 2011–2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee WK2 models. There are millions of them still on the roads and present a great upgrade opportunities for 12-volt retailers. I was originally planning to do the Grand Cherokee 2004-2010 WK models but I consider them to be horrible, a byproduct of the failed DaimlerChrysler merger that came close to killing off Chrysler.

  3. Not many of these left up north. I used to do deck and 4 all the time a decade ago in the mid to late 90s trucks.. it’s been ages since I gutted the whole rear of an extended cab just to replace those stupid 4×6 speakers. Not sure if I’m too sad about it honestly.
    Even the early 2000s are starting to fade away.. only a few remote starts in those this winter.
    The march of rust never ends.

  4. Sometimes you don’t know if people are being serious or not but you do know that’s a blown up picture of it or you just trying to be funny

  5. That “pasted” image of the Linkswell radio would not work. No floating headunit would work due to the gear shift on thise trucks being located right there. The radio would constantly be in the way…..

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