Now after all these years, and no matter what damage it does to the B&B’s conception of me as a redneck reactionary from Bumpkin, Ohio, the story can finally be told: I was a full thirteen and a half years old when I first set foot in an honest-to-nine-pound-baby-Jesus pickup truck. Not the front seat of said all-American conveyance, mind you. The bed of a pickup truck.
The scenario was this: At the time, my high school was about 50-percent residents of a new tournament golf course and about 50-percent residents of the farms that didn’t get absorbed into said course. My pal Brent was dating a hillbilly girl from across the tracks. She had a stunning friend. I suggested a double date. The friend agreed, presumably driven by the kind of self-destructive farm-bound boredom that makes rural kids steal tractors, torture animals, and ingest crystal meth.
One of the girls’ fathers agreed to drive us to the local theater. He showed up at my friend’s house behind the wheel of a light-blue Dodge Ram 150 2WD Regular Cab, festooned in country fashion with a bubble-windowed cap in a fetching combination of gloss white and dull rust. There were silhouettes moving behind those bubble windows. I turned to run; I’d heard a plot summary of Deliverance from my father. But my friend grabbed my shoulder and dragged me to where the overalls-wearing father was dropping the tailgate to reveal not a pack of snarling hounds or a toothless rapist but our dates for the evening, prettily perched on a pair of carpeted boxes covering the wheelwells. “Get in,” Farmer Dad growled.
“I … don’t think I can,” I replied.
This was the quandary to end all quandaries. My dream girl was in that pickup bed, and I was desperate to make out with somebody besides the homely eighth-grader down the street. But I’d been told my whole life that riding in the back of a pickup was more than just a guarantee of a violent, lingering death in a country-road ditch; it also Simply Wasn’t Done By Decent People. This was my Hamlet moment, but it didn’t last; mistaking my diffidence for physical incompetence, the farmer picked me up by the belt loop on my 501s and tossed me forcibly into the bed of the Dodge before closing the tailgate and — horror of horrors! — locking the cap shut on us.
The rest of the evening taught me quite a bit about my own squeamishness and prissy class consciousness even as it failed to show me anything further about the mysteries of female anatomy. But perhaps I’ve revealed more than my own bourgeois roots in this story. I’ve also disclosed a lower limit to my age, because when was the last time you saw a cap on a pickup-truck bed? They were once as common as “styled steel wheels” on half-ton pickups from Key West to Anchorage. Today, they’re as common as … well, styled steel wheels.
Why did they disappear? Like the dinosaurs, they once ruled the earth; like the dinosaurs, pickup-truck caps are gone now. Or perhaps they merely evolved. The truth of the matter is that General Motors is more than happy to sell you a very nice factory-installed cap on their full-sized truck. It’s the best cap ever. Better than the aftermarket jobs, better than the removable cap on the F-Series-based Bronco.
The alert reader will have guessed that I’m referring to the steel roof and third-row seating that is provided to every purchaser of a new Chevrolet Suburban. That “cap” is what differentiates a Suburban from a Silverado Crew Cab. This is relevant, because I recently discovered that I am quite the fan of the Silverado Crew Cab. As part of my truck-ulent midlife crisis, and also as part of a 1,900-mile race-car towing odyssey to and from Road Atlanta by way of several lengthy detours, I recently managed to borrow a Silverado LTZ 4×4 Crew Cab with the 12,100-pound towing package and the absolutely spellbinding 6.2-liter V8. The loan was courtesy of another publication so you’ll have to go there next week to get the full details. Here’s the tl;dr version, though: for the first time in my adult life, I am pretty sure that I prefer the Chevy half-ton to its enemies both foreign and domestic.
The truck that I drove was just north of sixty-two grand. But if you skip a few of the more outrageous options, and you stick with the smaller 5.3-liter V8, you can get a very well-equipped LTZ Crew Cab 4×4 for a net sticker of $49,805. That truck will do everything from wireless phone charging to seat ventilation to actually steering itself. And it’s quite a bargain when you compare it to, say, a turbo-four-banger BMW 5 Series. I should just wait for the next Red Tag sale and buy one.
Or … I could get a new Suburban. It offers nearly as much cargo capacity and you don’t have to worry about somebody stealing your toolbox or your spare wheels out of the bed when you’re asleep at the hotel the night before race day. The only thing it can’t do as well as a Silverado is carry fuel jugs, which is a big part of club racing but maybe there’s something to be said for putting the jugs on the trailer anyway.
The net sticker of a new Suburban is $49,610, which sounds very close to the $49,805 of my dream truck. That’s where the similarities end, because that price gets you a fleet-spec base Suburban LS, which is considerably simpler fare than the LTZ Silverado I drove. So we should price a Silverado LTZ instead. There is no Suburban LTZ this year. Instead, we get a Suburban Premier, which is about the same thing with a different badge.
Equipped to match my Silverado configuration, the ‘Burb is $67,925. And for that money you still don’t get a sunroof. Eighteen grand for a folding bench and a cap to cover it. I’m not suggesting that Chevrolet needs to match the $400 total cost of the “seats” and cap in that Dodge Ram I encountered thirty-two years ago, but I’m also not sure that the markup should be greater than the average street price of a brand-new Sonic LT.
It gets worse, because the Silverado offers something that you can’t get in a Suburban at any price, and that’s the aforementioned 6.2-liter V8. Trust me, you want it. The big-hearted small-block would be a perfect fit for a towing-focused Suburban, but thanks to the dim-witted dinosaur-descendant vestiges of the Sloan Plan, you’ll have to drive across town to your combo GMC/Cadillac dealer in order to get it.
The final bit of information we need to consider is this: the incentives on a Silverado almost always outshine their Suburban equivalents, in large part because the Suburban really has no direct competition and won’t have any until Ford manages to field an “EL” version of a modern Expedition some time in the next year or two. In practice, the price gap is probably more than twenty thousand dollars, even after you pay nearly three stacks for the optional 6.2 in the crew cab.
Traditional TTAC practice demands that I tee off on the General and its dopey SUV buyer base here, but just this once I’m going to swallow my bile and look at the situation rationally. The markup on the Suburban is outrageous, true — but it’s still a much better deal, and a better long-term value, than almost any other large SUV on the market. The 2017 Toyota Land Cruiser costs $84,775 and I’d roll my eyes at anybody who suggested that it will last any longer or run any better than a modern Suburban. You can quibble about the way GM engineers and builds its passenger cars but the full-sized trucks have been very good for a very long time.
It’s better, and maybe even more accurate, to look at this as a $20,000 discount for taking an open bed in place of a third row. Plus you get the option of the brilliant 6.2-liter engine. Unless you really need the social camouflage of the station-wagon roofline, you’d be fool not to take the Silverado. A quick look at the sales charts suggests that most people aren’t fools.
Yet there’s still that voice in the back of my head telling me that the Silverado is for country mice. Since I’m not really a country mouse despite my best intentions in that direction, maybe I’d better spend the extra money to keep that voice quiet. What freedom it would be, to never suffer from these delusions of socioeconomic adequacy, this vestigial tail of my upbringing that still pins me with indecision the way it did when I quivered at the thought of climbing that tailgate all those years ago. Just six years after I tumbled out of that Dodge at the end of the evening, still virginal in all non-pickup-truck-related matters of substance, I met a professor who told me one of the truest things I’ve ever heard. “The poor,” he said, “are free. And the rich are free. Only the middle class knows what it means to suffer.” Thinking back to the way I quivered fearfully on that rough-hewn carpeted box, eliciting the contempt of my date even as I hated myself for doing so, I cannot bring myself to disagree.
[Image: © 2017 Mark Stevenson/The Truth About Cars]