By on May 7, 2010

The Suburban long ago achieved iconic status. It may the most American vehicle ever; in what other country would so many folks drive a vehicle so much larger than necessary? Yes, that’s the uglier side of the Suburban, like my former neighbor who terrorized the neighborhood with her driving antics while babbling unceasingly on her cell phone on the way to her Botox injection appointments. The other side has its roots as a practical hauler of eight or more; a sturdy hybrid of pickup truck and station wagon. The Suburban most perfectly reflects America’s two faces. And which is this one?

If you think the photo above is a real vintage 1935 shot, I have a great deal on Botox for you. It’s a staged and less than convincing attempt at reproducing a scene that wouldn’t have likely ever existed. Families of four didn’t buy Suburbans back then. Their poses are too fake. The patina and useless pup tent are other clues. Most of all, the shiny whitewalls are the obvious giveaway. It’s as realistic as seeing a shiny black new Suburban with big chrome dubs at this lake, or even less so.

This carefully crafted reenactment is designed to sell the the modern SUV myth in a historical context: that for 75 years, the Suburban has been the key to escape from the hum drum of suburban life. Never mind that 99% percent of them will never leave the pavement. And how many will actually ever leave suburbia?

The truth is that’s not how Suburbans were typically sold or used in 1935. The Suburban was a true utility vehicle, for hauling large groups of folks or cargo, most typically in a commercial setting. Families bought sedans.

My apologies to those that already know this, but the origins of the station wagon were the horse-drawn wagons that hotels sent down to the train station to pick up arriving guests. Or more accurately, to compete for them. And of course, they evolved into the well loved woody station wagons of the horseless era. The Suburban was nothing new; it was just Chevy’s station wagon of the era, with a new name. And the picture above this one reflects how they were typically used, not the lakeside one.

Enough of the history and myths. Chevrolet (like most other manufacturers) didn’t offer a distinct passenger car-based station wagon until 1939. The Suburban was just the latest in the line of station wagons based on the commercial/light truck version of Chevrolet chassis. But the new name was concocted in 1935, probably the result of GM’s nascent marketing department of the time.  And that’s what we’re celebrating: a new name on an old idea.

The first Suburban generation went through 1940. This 1942 was its successor, and carries the chrome grille and trim of the last pre-war model.

The Suburban was put to good use in WW2, like everything else practical and useful made at the time. Perhaps a Suburban historian can explain why these two similar vintage trucks have different rear bodies? The upper one has more side windows. Probably it was a custom job, and not the standard factory body. Woodies were also available in this period.

The new Chevy trucks that arrived in 1947 were the cat’s meow: handsome, roomier, more comfortable. And the Suburban was the hard-working jack of all trades that could haul cargo, human or otherwise.

Its timeless good looks have made it a favorite with restorers, and of course, it inspired Chevy’s HHR.

Chevy went for a double hit with its successor in 1955. Especially the first couple of years with the single headlights and tasteful eggcrate grille are about as good looking of trucks of this vintage for sure.

We’ve covered the 1959 – 1966 generation in today’s Curbside Classic. They were the last to ride on the shorter wheelbase and have only two passenger doors.

And its successor is also featured in today’s other CC. The longer 1967 – 1972 generation had three doors to facilitate entry to the rear.

The next generation was the definitive modern Suburban. It was built practically forever, from 1973 through 1991, by which time it was a rolling dinosaur. The optional wood grain vinyl on the side of this one speaks to the role the Suburban was now increasingly finding itself in. The SUV era snuck up on us, and before we knew it, the Suburban had become the official soccer-mommy-mobile of Texas. A business trip to Huston in the early eighties confirmed it: the soccer field next to my hotel had a long line of these all in a row: I had never seen anything like it. The future was here.

The Suburban was a rolling celebration of that state’s primary product: cheap oil. In Texas the stuff is available for the picking, right on the beach even.

GM finally saw fit to bestow a new Suburban in 1992. Why did it take so long? The old version sold so well, they just didn’t want to spend the bucks, even though this generation of pickups had been out for years. But it was worth the wait! It was a fairly handsome beast, in the clean idiom of eighties GM styling. And by now the transformation into one of GM’s most successful cash cows was complete: the interior was as plush as the plushest GM sedans. All vestiges of old truckiness was rinsed away. And the soccer mommies loved it more than ever.

2000 ushered in a new GM truck chassis and a new Suburban to sit on it. This is the beast that my neighbor scared us all with. She literally would drive down the wrong side of the street. One time I followed her to the free way, and she drove for about a mile with over one half of her big dark blue Suburban in the shoulder. Most folks have a hard time muti-tasking, but some just shouldn’t try. And why do they drive big tanks like this?

The home stretch. I think its wonderful that the Suburban exists. Undoubtedly, there are a handful of folks out there that put them to good use. But then just a couple of days ago, I was at Lowes, and a big, shiny new black Suburban (or was it a Denali?) like this pulled up next to me, and a suburban family of four tumbled out; cheerful, well dressed, and all of them grossly overweight. And I thought to myself: what is this country America, and why do I have these moments where I feel like a freshly arrived foreigner in awe and confusion? After fifty years here, you’d think I wouldn’t still have experiences like that. Oh well; maybe I’ll get it and the Suburban eventually. Happy 75th Birthday, Suburban! Will you make it to 100?

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94 Comments on “GM’s Suburbans: Celebrating Seventy Five Years Of Myth And Reality...”


  • avatar
    twotone

    Nice vehicles built for a purpose (until they slapped a “Hummer” body on them). They make great light-route mountain school buses here in Colorado.

    Twotone

    • 0 avatar
      Mark MacInnis

      You make a great point, mate. No one questions the sanity of a government agency having huge school buses plying a route with 6 kids on it….government is infallible, right? But let an individual decide with his own money what he wants to drive around in, and the lefty libs go bonkers, because they don’t “get it.” As long as I am not hurting anyone else, or depriving anyone else of their rights and freedoms, and as long as I am willing to pay for it, I will drive what I want to drive.

    • 0 avatar
      tech98

      Calm down Teabagger, no black helicopters are coming to confiscate your Suburban. You’re free to own one, and I’m free to say these are gluttonous pigmobiles that are disproportionately polluting the air and consuming resources, and exceptionally dangerous to other vehicles in an accident.

    • 0 avatar
      86er

      Friends, enough of the bitter recriminations! Let us all soothe our bitter emotions with these words by the eminent Hank Williams Jr.

      Mothers against drunk drivers
      The Pope is against the pill
      The Union’s against the workers
      Working against their will
      The President’s against the Congress
      The Senate is against the House
      People are against Politicians
      And I’m against cats in the house.

      But I’m for love … and I’m for happiness
      And I’m for … if you don’t like it
      Can’t you just let it pass
      And I’m for turning off the news
      And turnin’ down the light
      ‘Cause I’m for nothin’ else
      But me and you tonight.

      The City’s against the County
      The County’s against the State
      The State is against the Gover’ment
      And the highway still ain’t paved
      The Banker’s against the Farmer
      The Farmer’s against the wall
      Doctor’s against me smokin’
      And the Devil’s against us all.

      But I’m for love … and I’m for happiness
      And I’m for … if you don’t like it
      Can’t you just let it pass
      And I’m for turning off the tube
      And turnin’ down the light
      ‘Cause I’m for nothin else
      But me and you tonight.

      The Cops are against the Robbers
      The Laws are against the Cops
      Justice is against the system
      And the people are blowin’ their tops
      The Horse is against the Automobile
      The Bus is against the Train
      The Train is against the Jumbo Jet
      And I’m against fishin’ in the rain.

      But I’m for love … I’m all for happiness
      And I’m for … if you don’t like it
      Can’t you just let it pass
      And I’m for turning off the tube
      And turnin’ down the light
      ‘Cause I’m for nothin’ else
      But me and you tonight.

      Hey, I’m for love , I’m all for happiness
      And i’m for … not looking for something to make us mad
      I’m all for turnin’ off the news and turnin’ down the light
      And I’m for nothin’ else but me and you tonight.

    • 0 avatar
      FleetofWheel

      @tech98 brownbagger,
      Why should Mark MacInnis be calm, you certainly aren’t.
      Given your dire description, the black Suburban is coming to get you.

    • 0 avatar
      AJ

      @tech98… showing your hate and intolerance again? Shame, shame.

    • 0 avatar
      stationwagon

      @FleetofWheel
      what the hell is a brownbagger?

      • 0 avatar
        matador

        I think a Brownbagger is someone who takes their lunch to work…

        Suburbans serve a definite purpose. You can haul everyone and everything, or take out the seats and have a heated cargo area for the winter.

        Plus, you can always count on them. A Chevy 350 with a Turbo 400 is unstoppable. Plush seating for eight is an added bonus. And they get decent fuel economy- especially for what they are. My 1987 Chevy R10 half-ton isn’t much worse on gas in town or on the highway than my 1995 Buick LeSabre was. The truck gets about 24 on the Wyoming highways. Not too bad!

    • 0 avatar
      ellomdian

      The Modern suburban was damn near designed for Colorado. While I can understand how distracted trophy wives have trouble commanding one, the driving experience is extremely simple when you wrap your head around the laws of physics. 4WD 1500′s with a 350 variant can get up to 20MPG in real world applications, and the 2500′s will tow 7 people, luggage, and a boat (if needed) up the mountains for a ski trip. They are a true crossover – they are nice enough to show up without being ostentatious (in stock trim…) and tough enough to just keep going.

      As long as you replace the transmission every 100k miles….

  • avatar
    philadlj

    There are still quite a few polygamist families in the US. The Suburban would seem ideally suited for transporting their multiple wives and copious children.

    • 0 avatar
      chuckR

      I hope that’s tongue in cheek. Outside of the Arizona/Utah border it’s practically unheard of. Perhaps you think Muslim immigrants will be granted the privilege legally denied to Mormons and everyone else.

    • 0 avatar
      wp8thsub

      Whether the comment was intended to be tongue-in-cheek or not, there’s definitely some truth to it. Here in Utah the Suburban long ago acquired the moniker “Polyg Rig” thanks to such use. “Unheard of” outside the UT/AZ border? Maybe not publicized to any great extent since the practitioners largely don’t belong the the FLDS group that’s in the news, but not “unheard of” by any stretch.

      I have numerous friends and neighbors who have Suburbans for their large families. Some of them even refer to the beast as a BMW – for “Big Mormon Wagon.”

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Nguyen Van Falk

      Texas too!

    • 0 avatar
      philadlj

      Tongue-in-cheek…Bill of HBO’s “Big Love” drives a Yukon XL Denali, not a Suburban…but he’s a fictional character.

      But here’s a NatGeo article on the real thing: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2010/02/polygamists/anderson-text

    • 0 avatar
      A is A

      “Perhaps you think Muslim immigrants will be granted the privilege legally denied to Mormons and everyone else.”

      Polygamy (and polyandry, BTW) is not a “privilege”. It is a RIGHT.

      People own themselves. If someone decides freely to enter a polygamous (or polyandrous) marriage arrangement the rest of the world has nothing to do about the matter.

      Ditto for homosexual marriage arrangements.

      I think that marriage per se it is an error, bu it is their business and their lives, not ours.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    How many of us drive ‘vettes that don’t go near a race track? How many of us drive Mustangs or Camaros with >300 hp, but never take them to the drag strip? How many drive Lexus’ or Benzes, but don’t belong to country clubs or go to posh dinners? How many drive pick-up trucks, but the only thing in the back most of the time is air?

    America is founded on the idea that it is nobody’s damned business what you do with your money. If you want to buy an inefficient, wasteful vehicle and not use its capabilities 99 percent of the time, that is between you, your banker and your God, as long as you are willing and able to pay for it. You don’t have to ‘get it’, you certainly don’t have to like it…you drive what you want. I’ll drive what I want. This is called freedom, a concept which is going to hell in a handbasket in this country, lately.

    • 0 avatar
      srogers

      The Ol’ Freedom argument.

      This one can be used for just about anything. Mine is the freedom to walk around in your yard naked pooping on your lawn.

      • 0 avatar
        PunksloveTrumpys

        No, that would be trespassing. You do have the freedom to walk around YOUR yard pooping on YOUR lawn, however.

      • 0 avatar
        matador

        As my high school history teacher once said:

        “You have the freedom to swing your arm as much as you want, until you hit someone.”

        After that, we have rights to defend ourselves, and our property.

        God Bless America!

    • 0 avatar
      NN

      …that that is why Mr. MacInnis, I’m sure, would also defend his right to own a gun!

      Back to cars…the Suburban is the most American vehicle that exists, a rolling cultural piece, as Mr. Niedermeyer illustrates. It’s wonderful that they exist for that reason alone, just as it’s wonderful and charming, if somewhat inexplicable, why anyone in Britain would waste their money on a Bentley, or why anyone in Italy would buy any Italian car.

      If ration dictated all our purchases, then we’d all be in Toyota Corollas, and the world would be much worse for it.

    • 0 avatar
      86er

      srogers: The ol’ ad absurdem likely won’t win any arguments, mate.

    • 0 avatar
      Mark MacInnis

      Mr Rogers….your logic of analogy is flawed. By driving a vehicle I choose, I am passive, as I am trespassing neither on your property nor on your freedom to enjoy your life in the way you desire. Your action is not passive, but an agressive affront to my property rights. They are therefore NOT the same.

      Walk around naked if you see fit. Attempting to poop on my lawn, however, will win you a brief introduction to my rottweilers, Mikey and Ernie. If you disdain the concept of freedom so much, you are invited to go anywhere in the world which has less. Which is most of the countries on the planet. Have a nice trip.

    • 0 avatar
      Bancho

      I missed the part of the article where it said these were being taken away. Cheer up guys, GM’s going to be developing new better V8′s and you’ll see these things around for some time to come.

    • 0 avatar
      sfdennis1

      Yeah, people are free to flagrantly waste oil (like the oil that is spewing all over our Gulf…have ya got a TV?), they are free to carry around their guns, ‘teabag’ and rail against the big, evil government all they want…but God forbid, a gay person wants to get married to their partner, or a Mexican runs across the border so your burgers can get flipped or your lawn stays mowed, then it’s…

      “They’re destroying our way of life!!! Freedom’s under attack!”

      Freedom is a great thing…and it’s OFTEN abused, used unfairly, and used to cover up a wide range of ugly behaviors. Freedom in this country too often means…

      “I can do anything I damn well please, so stay out of my business! YOUR business, on the other hand, is clearly wrong, and IS subject to my approval (or the approval of some random Biblical quote I’ll use to justify my prejudices)…”

      I’m glad Suburbans exist, and I’m also glad that we are FREE to point out that MANY Surbabans are still sold to people who really don’t need them, who often drive them in a way that endangers other people’s lives, and that ALL of them swill gas like there’s no tomorrow (literally) and that those actions have repercusions.

      If Freedom it’s under threat, it’s by the stupidity and hypocrisy displayed by SOME who doth protest too loudly.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      srogers: This one can be used for just about anything. Mine is the freedom to walk around in your yard naked pooping on your lawn.

      That lawn is his private property, and you have no right to poop on it, or do anything else on it, unless you have his permission. You can poop on your own lawn all day long. Perhaps that is what you meant?

      sfdennis1: I can do anything I damn well please, so stay out of my business! YOUR business, on the other hand, is clearly wrong, and IS subject to my approval (or the approval of some random Biblical quote I’ll use to justify my prejudices)…

      Which sounds like a fair number of leftists, too, as they also have a rather limited view of what constitutes freedom. The only people who really aren’t hypocrites when it comes to “freedom” are libertarians, and they regularly receive scorn in these forums.

      As for the Suburban – never drove one, and never really wanted one, either. If GM is still around, I’m sure that the Suburban will be, too, although I’m betting that demand for big SUVs will continue to decline. The Surburban will prove that “survival of the fittest” works for vehicles in declining segments, too.

    • 0 avatar
      Dingo

      People have every right to choose to drive whatever vehilce they wish. That does not give them the right to infringe on others rights when they drive said vehicle. Such as , taking 2 parking spaces or not parking perpendicualr to the lines so the car next to them is unable to open the door. Or merging into traffic using the sheer mass of the vehicle to bully their way into traffic. Or at a stop light pulling all the way into the croswalk so the driver in the right lane cant see oncoming traffic when making a right hand turn.

    • 0 avatar
      srogers

      Mr. MacGinnis;

      You ‘owning’ land removes the “freedom” of others to poop on it? This makes me want to rant against the government! See! I’m one of you.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      srogers: You ‘owning’ land removes the “freedom” of others to poop on it?

      That is generally how the concept of private property works.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Nguyen Van Falk

      Mark, it sounds like what you’re talking about is a oligarchy not a democracy. You insinuate that freedom is proportional to your spending power. That is anathema to the founding principles of this country, but sadly your vision of money freeing you is coming to fruition with all the laws drafted to prevent companies and their employees from being held responsible for their actions.

      Regardless, what does this have to do with freedom? No one is banning the bloated suburban. No one is saying you can’t have one. Many people say they’re stupid and wasteful when their absurd size isn’t required and well utilized. Take the fat family departing the suburban mentioned in the article for example. Being fat isn’t illegal, but it does show you’re an unhealthy, wasteful slob who passes their slobbish wasteful ways onto your children and disproportionately consume commodities beyond what is healthy and appropriate. Also your choices in bloated car or bloated body adversely affect my insurance rates (health and automotive) and increase the prices I pay for oil. You can’t complain about your diminished freedoms which aren’t being diminished with respect to the subject of this article while simultaneously telling people they can’t criticize your lifestyle choice. One of the concrete freedoms that this country was founded on was freedom of speech and expression. You can express your love of using lots of raw materials and oil through your suburban. But the other side is I can express that you’re probably a wasteful slob who gets his rocks off by thinking he’s a big bad man in a big bad car that uses a lot of big bad gas and costs big bucks. I think it’s automotive masturbation and I’m glad I live in a country where I can say you come off like a tool. You think I’m a lefty wimp and freedom is enjoyed by the both of us.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      Nyguyen van falk: Also your choices in bloated car or bloated body adversely affect my insurance rates (health and automotive) and increase the prices I pay for oil.

      SUVs increase insurance rates for…SUV drivers (typically by about 10-20 percent compared to a sedan of the same price). And gasoline prices are not driven by SUV sales.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Nguyen Van Falk

      I didn’t realize gas prices weren’t driven by demand. I guess that’s why I didn’t major in economics.

    • 0 avatar
      BuzzDog

      I absolutely agree that the freedoms afforded to residents of the United States should include the right to purchase a full-size SUV, if one can afford it.

      I also feel strongly that these same freedoms must include my right to loudly ridicule those who buy them when they actually can’t afford them, as well as those who buy them to blindly conform with all of the other families in the carpool line at their kids’ private school.

    • 0 avatar
      paul_y

      @BuzzDog:

      Exactly. Yes, we all have the freedom to be wasteful, selfish, and stupid for the sake of short-term gratification, but the rest of us have an equal right to call those people out for ruining our society and planet everyone else in the name of conformity.

      @Mark MacInnis: Please go back to trolling Autoblog with the rest of the Cliffs Notes-version-of-Atlas Shrugged-reading pseudolibertarians. TTAC normally has high-quality, well-informed banter. You’re not helping. Nobody likes internet tough guys, either.

  • avatar
    N Number

    In the summer of 2005 I was working on my Geology degree in Wyoming and we had a 6-week field school where about 25 students plus a few instructors, TA’s and cooks traveled around the inter-mountain west in seven UW Suburbans. I could not think of a more perfect vehicle for the task. We lived out of those trucks for that time, camping in the mountains and the desert, often traversing rocky trails of questionable passability. I was a driver and had a handsome 2001 model. All were fleet specials with steel wheels, vinyl seats, rubber floors, four wheel drive and few amenities. Only one of them had rear A/C vents, and that was prized especially when in the deserts of eastern Utah. GM never advertised these incredibly useful trucks to the consumer public. One had the cooks’ trailer in tow. They were Suburbans in their most distilled form and they were perfect for the job. Growing up, my mother toted us around in a leather-upholstered Suburban, and it was a great truck, but I never truly appreciated the potential of a Suburban until field school. Most Suburbans never see their full potential reached, but that can be said of most cars and trucks.

    • 0 avatar
      stationwagon

      Even arabs in the the desert use them look a this video at 28 seconds http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CjrnkSqA83E&feature=related it is what I assume to be a Chevrolet suburban. it also shows an old pick-up and an old Toyota land cruiser.

  • avatar
    86er

    Once upon a time, these were known as “ranch wagons”, replete with barn doors.

    They’ve certainly come a long way. I remember a time when a Suburban was in the price range for a lot of working class people, and it came in the same trim levels as the half and 3/4 tons. You could get Silverado trim with 3 fantastically plush bench seats, and carpeting and padding all around. The Cheyenne/Scottsdale models were more spartan and had a more useful rear loading space that had rubber or bare metal floors in some cases.

    Now, yeesh… in Canada I think the things start at 52K and go north from there.

    Our mucky-muck neighbours have one, on 20 inch wheels… sigh.

    Suburban’s come a long way, indeed.

    • 0 avatar
      paul_y

      I find it sad that BOF SUVs are sold pretty much exclusively as “luxury” vehicles, completely ignoring that “U” stands for “Utility.” A stripper Suburban (or any other large SUV) with rubber floors and bench seats would cost nothing to develop, and could be sold at a huge discount while still pulling a high margin. Sell it along side commercial vans, if such a subpremium abomination would pollute the sales lot. It would still sell.

  • avatar
    educatordan

    My uncle Denny had an old mid 80s diesel version (6.2 non turbo) with 4X4. He was a pig farmer and loved that vehicle right out to about 300,000 miles of reliable, work it like a rented mule service.

    His father-in-law bought one of the last square ones in the early 90s with a 454V8 and when the old man and then his wife passed it replaced the diesel beast in Denny’s fleet. Because of the usefulness of the cargo area once all the seats are taken out, he still thinks they’re the best farm vehicles he’s ever had, period.

    My dad recently bought an old 8 passenger model from the mid 90s with the cloth “corduroy” style seats from a local family that owns a body shop and a repair shop. Higher miles, well maintained, 4X4 and the old man only drives it on long trips (3 hours or more one way). He loves it cause the outside is red and the interior is gray, the colors of his beloved Ohio State Buckeyes.

    • 0 avatar
      86er

      Heh, corduroy style seats, I know exactly what you’re talking about, Dan.

      Made until 1994.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      His 1992 Bonneville had ‘em too. Seats still looked pretty good when my sister finally ditched it for a minivan at about 250,000 miles and with her second baby on the way. My parents aren’t the type that help out with direct monetary gifts but they’ll give you the shirt off their backs as long as they’ve got another in the closet.

  • avatar

    The Suburban has managed to carve enough of a niche for itself that it conceivably could go on for years to come (whether the same can be said for its GMC and Cadillac siblings is less certain and the subject of a future editorial, I hope). Ironically, the success of the big SUV’s were their downfall when their popularity drew criticism of their glutonous thirst for dyno-juice. Hence, the fatal bullet for the Suburban’s only competitor, Expedition, which became much-maligned (along with Hummer) as symbolic of American excess and environmental negligence. The Suburban survives by quietly offering itself the perfect/only choice for extra large families, executive clientele, ranchers, police and other government agencies.

    Long live the ‘burb!

    • 0 avatar
      86er

      I believe you’re thinking of the Excursion, which at any rate, was a proper competitor for the 3/4 ton Sub and arguably bested Chevrolet at their own game. Until Billy axed it.

      The Expy lives on in short and long versions, to compete with the Tahoe and Sub, respectively.

    • 0 avatar
      hapless

      The Excursion got the axe because Ford needed the production capacity to fill orders for the Super Duty. Ridiculous luxo-trim pickups were flying off the lots even faster than SUVs back then.

  • avatar
    obbop

    Surely Ranger Rick and his side-kick Woof the dog traveled around the unnamed national park in such a vehicle battling the nefarious forces of evil who held nary a thought of conservation, intent only upon illegitimately raping nature for personal financial gain while simultaneously assisting the family unit facing some not-too-dire disaster with a happy ending for the good guys and the bad guys caught and finally understanding the error of their ways and willing accepting their deserved punishment and eagerly awaiting reform so that they, too, can procure a Suburban and tread lightly upon the land and never leave a campfire untended and ensure that never again will a lit match be carelessly discarded again.

    Woof barks at the closing segment before the commercial break commences.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    The Suburban is a perfect example of GM becoming successful at something by accident. Up until the 73 Suburban came out, the International Travelall was a better family truckster – 4 doors and durable as all get out. But the 73 Suburban came in not long before International gave up (after 75 or 76?) on the vehicle.

    I read years ago that Suburbans first started to take hold among owners of Airstream trailers. Cadillacs had been the favored tow vehicle for years, but when Cadillacs downsized in the 70s, well-optioned Suburbans took over.

    Personally, I always found the full sized van more utilitarian – more useful room. But Chevy’s van was awful and the sub rode better. I have a brother in law who once owned not one but two at the same time. When he moved from Texas to Philly, he was considered a freak.

    • 0 avatar
      jpcavanaugh

      One more thing – I still refuse to call a Suburban an SUV. Though it may be utilitarian, there is nothing sporty about a truck-framed station wagon. But still, aside from a Roadmaster wagon, this is the only GM vehicle that I would really like to own.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      “Sport” is a funny word.

      Think about the term “sports coat” for a while and the “sport” in “sports utility vehicle” makes more sense.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      The “Sport” in Sport/Utility Vehicle does not refer to the driving dynamic of the vehicle, but to the sorts of uses the private party users put them. Hunting. Fishing. Camping.”Sportsmen” and “Outdoor sports”.

  • avatar
    Mike_H

    I bought a new Suburban in the middle 90′s when I had kids, dogs and gear to haul around, and a ski boat to tow. I eventually put 300,000+ miles on it before downsizing to a minivan. Loved that Suburban. It was reliable, durable, never required required any work beyond scheduled service.

    It was the most comfortable vehicle I have owned. The seats were exceptional – my wife would snooze within minutes of plopping onto the passenger seat.

    Mine was a 4X2, so the fuel mileage was pretty good, considering its size and weight. It would yield 20-22mpg on highway rides.

    I still want another one.

    • 0 avatar
      Vetteman

      I couldn’t agree more Mike When I had my last one a 2001 3/4 ton my wife had a new Seville and I had a C4 vette and I can honestly say for us the vehicle of choice for us was the BURB . Out of the 25 plus new cars and trucks I have purchased That pewter big block 4 by 4 fully optioned monster was one sweet ride. I worked my whole life for new car dealers and have driven almost every conceivable type of car and truck and that vehicle was my favorite bar none. For me it was nearly perfect.

  • avatar
    Bunter1

    Certainly is an American icon. No longer has the field to tiself however.

    The Exped XL has beaten it in a few comparisons (yes the engine is wimpier). With IRS the cargo capacity is about 8-10 CF larger and the 3rd row far better (not on the floor!).

    One surprise competitor is the Sequoia-even though it is “smaller” the better packaging from the IRS lets it equal the cargo room of a ‘Burb with a better 3rd row. ANd the iForce hammers the Chevy 6.0 in every comparison I’ve seen.

    Don’t rest on your laurels GM.

    Bunter

  • avatar
    NN

    you don’t see too many love-fests for truck based SUV’s anymore…maybe the 4Runner review, but otherwise, that’s it.

  • avatar
    Colinpolyps

    The FBI, Secret Service and US Marshalls, all agree. This is the ride of choice. The US Government must be the largest customer of GM for these beasties. Blackout tints on a black body and you just know something is afoot.

  • avatar
    Colinpolyps

    The FBI, Secret Service and US Marshalls all agree. This is the ride of choice. The US Government must be the largest customer of GM for these beasties. Blackout tints on a black body and you just know something is afoot.

  • avatar
    love2drive

    I learned to drive in a ’72. When I grew up, I bought one new. I know have an ’04 Yukon XL, and of my 3 cars it’s my favorite. I’ve got a little over 100K on it, and I hope to keep it until at least 200k.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    “Most folks have a hard time muti-tasking, but some just shouldn’t try. And why do they drive big tanks like this?”

    Because they realize, on some level, that they are a road hazard even unto themselves, so they want as much armor around themselves as possible and everyone else be damned!

  • avatar
    getacargetacheck

    A 1992-generation Suburban and a 2000-generation were side-by-side in the two lanes in front of me the morning. That 2000 seems to dwarf the older one, which seemed large to me at the time. The 2007 is even bigger! It’s just ridiculous how many of these are driven by women with a heavy foot in my town.

    • 0 avatar
      Mike66Chryslers

      I can’t get over the size of the latest pickups, and by extension the fullsize SUVs built on pickup frames. I drive a 1994 RAM2500. Sometimes I’ll be beside a current “half-ton” truck which seems to dwarf my truck.

    • 0 avatar
      jpcavanaugh

      A brother in law had an 87 and a 95 at the same time. He told me that the 87 was wider inside. I wonder if the 92-99 was just the runt of the litter.

  • avatar
    Mike66Chryslers

    My dad had an 88 Suburban with the 6.2L (non-turbo) diesel that he just retired last year. It has at least 300,000mi on it. Overall an excellent reliable vehicle as daily driver, trailer-towing (gutless though without a turbo) and for family vacations. Decent mileage too, thanks to it being a diesel and not 4WD. If GM had bothered to put the 6.6L Duramax diesel in the current Suburban he probably would’ve bought another one to replace it instead of a p/u truck.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    The “Burb” is really geared as a tow vehicle for large families more than anything else. and really, unless you tow a boat, camper, enclosed snowmobile trailer or any trailer heavy enough to require tandem axels you really don’t need one.

    Now that the days of cheap gas and easy money are gone hopefully the Burb will lose its rep as a suburban status symbol and once again be bought by those that truly need its abilities.

    As a tow vehicle, the current iteration is heads and tails better than any Burb before it. I have a Tahoe and that is without a doubt the best of the 4 trucks I’ve owned for towing. Don’t let those 20″ wheels fool you, it drags 4 tons of boat down the highway without hardly breaking a sweat and mine doesn’t even have the 6 speed which was offered in ’09.

    I’m waiting for GM to stick an Isuzu 4 cylinder turbo diesel into one of these. That would be awesome.

    • 0 avatar
      Mike66Chryslers

      In the 80s, GM put an Isuzu 4-cyl non-turbo diesel in the S10 pickup. I talked to someone that owned one. It was economical but sucked for hauling anything, much like the 80′s VW Rabbit-based pickup truck with their diesel.

      I was really cheering for the V6 diesels that the big-3 were developing to put into their half-ton trucks, but they all killed the programs.

  • avatar
    thats one fast cat

    Paul

    Very nice piece; and in a perverse way it reminds me why we have a a 3/4 ton 1999. When I bought it prices for gas were over $4 in Washington, DC and no one was interested in owning a 10 mile per gallon, 42 gallon beast. Less than $6,000 later the just barely 100K miles, 50K+ when new Suburban was ours.

    Unless it is towing our boat(s), moving lumber and/or building materials, or loaded down with the three wee ones, all of their bikes and assorted accouterment, it sits at the end of our driveway. Aside from tires (and gas/oil, of course) it has received nothing in the way of maintenance. And yet, 30,000 miles later, it never fails to start, to take any load or bear any burden – and man when we got snow by the foot did that four wheel drive and high clearance come in handy.

    One of the best tools I have ever bought myself as long it is not being used as a substitute for our minivan. If I ever had to drive this thing daily, I surely would take up walking. It amazes me why anyone would willing drive a Suburban in day to day traffic, and everytime I get behind one I pray for the return of $4 gasoline…

    • 0 avatar
      IronEagle

      I pray that hypocrites that wish for $4 gasoline gets run over by a Ram 2500 HD. Praise baby jesus!

    • 0 avatar
      thats one fast cat

      How is that hypocritical? I ride a 45+ MPG motorcycle to work, for christsakes.

      The point is that higher gas prices will encourage reduced gasoline demand, and possibly the realization by most Americans that driving the largest landbarge available is not necessarily the best idea.

      Higher gas prices allows the market to function, and people to still make choices best for them (I’ll still use the Sub to tow the sailboat; I just won’t drive it the 6 miles to my office).

      I guess a more concise comment could be summarized as “STFU”

  • avatar
    AJ

    My dad had a ’72 when I was a kid and he would take off a month from work each year and pull an 18′ camping trailer all over the Rockies. My brother and I always played in the back with our Tonka trucks. We would also drive into the mountains during the winter for family hikes, or for one of favorite things, as dad would hook up inner tubes by rope to the Suburban that we’d ride on down snow covered log roads. He’d also go hunting with it, and would often be able to drive it back deep into the mountains to a haul out an elk. And gas was cheap back then!

    Now gas is expensive, it takes two incomes for the average family to own a Suburban, half the people in this country think it should be illegal to own such a large vehicle, and who can ever take off a month from work unless they’re unemployed (which could be the case these days)? 25 more years for the Suburban may be harder then it’s now 75.

  • avatar
    gsnfan

    I know someone who borrowed a Suburban for a while. She was probably the only person I know who could regularly use half of its capabilities (4WD isn’t needed in the Silicon Valley). She currently drives an Infiniti J30. You can make do without them even if you really could use their hauling capabilities.

  • avatar
    rbrad68

    Rickey
    Suburban owner are very unique people. I used to work for GM and I learned that it was much easier to take a customer out of a sequoia and put them in a suburban as oppose to take a suburban owner out of a suburban and put into a sequoia

  • avatar

    tech98
    tech98
    May 7th, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    Calm down Teabagger, no black helicopters are coming to confiscate your Suburban. You’re free to own one, and I’m free to say these are gluttonous pigmobiles that are disproportionately polluting the air and consuming resources, and exceptionally dangerous to other vehicles in an accident.

    Well, if that sexually derogatory comment passes the “no flame” policy muster, I suppose it’s also okay to call you a liberal rump pumper.

    Speaking of gluttonous pigs, the producer of Al Gore’s movie. Laurie David, traveled cross-country to promote her book that’s written to indoctrinate kids into being AGW activists. She made a big deal about using a bio-diesel powered tour bus. Of course a Chevy Suburban (also available w/ a diesel for biofuel conversion) gets 3 or 4 times the fuel mileage of a large tour bus, but then with a 25,000 sq ft vacation home and a private jet, Laurie’s used to traveling in style.

    The nanny stater’s motto: Do As I Say, Not as I Do, Those rules are for the little people.

    • 0 avatar
      srogers

      I must be naive, but I don’t see any sexuality references in Tech98′s comment. Can someone educate me please?

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      The original meaning of the term “Teabagger” (urbandictionary.com is your friend) came as a bit of a shock to members of the Tea Party, especially to those who co-opted it only to find out what it meant at a later date.

      It also came as a shock, I assume, to President Obama when he used it in the political context.

      That’s the innuendo.

      Apparently some people get (retroactively) offended by it.

  • avatar

    I’ve long felt that what really drove the whole SUV fad was the internal GM survey that showed, back in the early 1980s, that GM’s wealthiest customers bought Suburbans, not Cadillacs. When you’re towing an expensive boat, or a horse trailer, chances are that your cargo is worth more than the towing vehicle.

    That’s why International Trucks sell their XT line of uber pickups, and customizers sell a bunch of blinged out F-650s.

  • avatar
    stationwagon

    I like the suburban, except it got too damn big, the same with pick up trucks.
    getacargetacheck and Mike66Chryslers’ comments are very relevant. I would buy a suburban If I owned a ranch, probably not too damn expensive. I wouldn’t use it off the ranch though, I hate driving SUVs on public roads.

  • avatar
    OliverTwist

    Quigley 4×4 used to offer the right-hand-drive conversion for the 1992-2000 Suburban. They were drop-shipped by the GM factory, meaning the customer could walk up to any Chevrolet or GMC sales centre in the USA and order the right-hand-drive version on the spot.

    In 1998, Holden premiered the right-hand-drive version of Suburban for local Australian and Kiwi markets with either petrol or diesel motors. However, the sheer size and poor quality material doomed its first foray into the RHD market.

    Interestingly, General Motors chose to engineer and build the right-hand drive conversion rather than relying on Quigley 4×4, one of the approved and most experienced conversion specialists. Quigley 4×4 had done the exceptional RHD conversion utilising the high quality material and mirror-image dashboard. General Motors instead utilised a modified dashboard from 1995-2005 RHD Chevrolet Blazer.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Now that I’ve read this little history, it seems odd that my parents – who had 8 children- never opted for a Suburban. It actually would have been the perfect vehicle for our family.

    But, before the minivan, Mom’s chose car based wagons. I suppose it was the lack of doors. A four door Suburban in the ’60s would have been just the thing for us.

    • 0 avatar
      jpcavanaugh

      There WAS a 4 door Suburban in the 60s – just not one made by Chevrolet. It was the big Plymouth station wagon that was called a Suburban from the 50s to the 70s. I always wondered if that was allowed because one was a car and one was a truck.

    • 0 avatar
      paul_y

      @ jpcavanaugh: According to Wikipedia, GM didn’t copyright the name until 1988, for some reason. I had heard this before, elsewhere. It still seems strange, however.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Yes, the Suburban name was almost more of a body style description than a registered model name for decades.

  • avatar
    scottcom36

    I had the chance to ride 100 miles or so in a friend’s Yukon XL. It was astonishing how such a large, capable vehicle could ride so nicely and be so comfortable.

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    If I can’t even escape the us-vs-them outrage politics here, I’m not sure there’s much point in hanging around. If I want to listen to people scream until they spit blood I can read a news site forum. It’d be nice to escape it once in a while…

    • 0 avatar

      With the high level of involvement the government has in the auto industry these days it’s almost impossible to discuss the car biz without delving into politics. I’d rather talk about business than politics and I’d rather talk about cars than business. Sometimes, though, politics intrudes.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      OK, let me be a bit more specific: Politics is one thing. But at the moment, it seems that politics is a synonym for, “OBAMACARE WILL PAY ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS TO BOMB TIMES SQUARE!!!! LIBOTARD MOONBAT TRAITOR!!!”

      That’s what I can’t stand. I know that the opposition to any given government will tend to be louder than the center, but there’s a point where it stops being politics and is just hatred. I didn’t see any posts in this thread actually discussing policy.

  • avatar
    skor

    Why do people drive monstrously too big vehicles when a Miata could suit them just fine? Fear/contempt of/for their fellow humans. A few years a ago, a coworker parked his Ford Excursion(juiced up Chevy Suburban) next to my Ford Probe. The conversion went something like this:

    Coworker: I could fit your car in the back of my car.

    Me: Actually, you could fit two cars like mine in the back of your car. Why do you drive that thing anyway?

    CW: What do you mean? Why do I drive it?

    Me: I mean, I’ve never seen more than one person inside it, you. I’ve never seen you haul anything with it. I’m sure it sucks gas like it was designed by a Saudi oil sheik. I’m also sure that it handles like the Queen Mary, and probably takes just as long to stop.

    CW: You know why I drive it? Somebody pulls out in front of me, I’m not gonna die, they’re the ones that will die.

    At that point I looked at him like he was insane. He realized what an ugly thing he just said and try to make a joke out of it. Ha, ha! Sure, but like Freud said, “There are no jokes.”

    There are some vehicles that just scream, “creep-mobile”. The Suburban is one of them.

    • 0 avatar
      Juniper

      Skor, no offense but I have ridden in a co workers Miata numerous times, but only in the summer with the top down. Nice car but a POS if you are average height or taller. Which means half the world can’t drive a friggen Miata. My cousin drives his Sub two miles a day to the train station and uses it on weekends to help his kids and tow his camper. Is that so bad? I suppose if he drove a Prius 80 miles a day to work it would be better?

    • 0 avatar

      I love sports cars, but I sometimes have to pick up boxes of blank shirts and hats for my embroidery shop, so a Miata wouldn’t make much sense for me.

      Just because a car isn’t 100% suited for a particular task doesn’t mean that that vehicle doesn’t meet almost 100% of the owner’s needs over time. If you tow a trailer and take your family camping, you might want to get something with 4wd and a decent towing capacity. If that means you end up commuting in an SUV, so be it.

      As for contempt. I think there’s some projection involved. Your comments about SUV drivers, including calling them creeps, are fairly contemptuous themselves. Just remember, when your index finger is pointing at someone else, your other fingers are pointing at yourself.

      Why do people drive monstrously too big vehicles like a Ford Probe when a 50cc motor scooter or a bicycle could suit them just fine? Who says you need a motorized vehicle in the first place? I commuted by bicycle 7 months a year for years.

    • 0 avatar
      IronEagle

      Don’t mind Skor. I am sure he thinks we should all be driving Trabants. I would like him to tow my 20 foot enclosed car trailer with the Miata. Or better yet try stopping on a 5% decline.

  • avatar
    ChevroAmerican

    Some other website is featuring an article saying that what we really need are minivans, which is probably true, unless you want to take yourself and a bunch of stuff up mountain logging roads, which I know I do. My old ’64 did that very well–we camped out of it just like the sepia-toned picture at the beginning. That picture is not so unrealistic. People did camp back then, and often the family vehicle was simply father’s work vehicle taking a vacation.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    “And its successor is also featured in today’s other CC. The longer 1967 – 1972 generation had three doors to facilitate entry to the rear.”
    Odd, my copy off TTAC seems to be missing the 67-72 Suburban CC. Can I get my money back?

  • avatar
    scottcom36

    I bet three people riding in a Suburban is better for the environment than three Prius drivers each alone in their car. Eight people in the Suburban, so much the better. Viewed in terms of capability vs operating expense, the Suburban would beat a Prius hands down.
    And by the way, pollution is measured in grams per mile, not per gallon of fuel burned. The dastardly Ford Excursion was a certified LEV, or Low Emissions Vehicle.

  • avatar
    Big Beat

    Our family owned an old Suburban in the 1980s. There were 6 of us, we went camping every summer, and during the week it was dad’s work truck. No other vehicle would do. Suburbans are beautiful and serve a legitimate purpose. Just because a bunch of soccer moms use them too, don’t let it persuade you otherwise.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Meh, Why does a tasteful piece of automobilia have to get dragged through the political mud? Sheesh! Enjoy Paul’s article on a piece of automotive history and art. The vehicles depicted are on display in a museum somewhere.

  • avatar
    jose carlos

    Although they may be difficult to justify in most situations, in a perfect world they are the right vehicle.

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    I like them up to and including 1955 gen. I really like them. These are potential lifetime projects, like a small inboard Chris Craft or Piper Cub, to me.

    After that ugly and/or worse although durability and longevity probably improved.

    If you need one for its utility, then fine, OK. No problem. Admit space and ground clearance is available.

    I got a ride in 1980s version in surburan Boston a while back. Owned by a 5″2 healthy fit intelligent professional European woman with normal Boston husband and no kids or boats or anything. Hideous wallowing lumbering rattletrap slow thirsty s**tbox when used as a car. May I mention the injection molded interior where not a single fastener was properly installed at the factory? And the rust? It was the only really stupid thing she was doing in her life that I knew about. She admitted it.

    I knew people who bought them for the fantasy, imagining they would become outdoorsy types (refer to my Chris Craft dream.) Hard to sell. This was in early 80s. Then I knew people who profited during the late 80s SUV boom, buy and drive for couple years then sell.


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