By on November 27, 2012

A 2000 Ford Mustang GT is not exactly a car that I would like to call a second home.

It’s a tad claustrophobic. The plastics are borderline industrial grade. And the Ford 4.6 Liter Modular V8 is not especially known for offering the level of fuel efficency needed to make this car a long-term money saver.

Thankfully, this vehicle was quickly disqualified thanks to a Carfax that showed it only had 123k miles back in 2010.

300k a year? Two years in a row? I think not!

Therefore I am awarding this week’s award to a far distant runner up. A 1999 Chevy Suburban that offered all of 414,268 miles before finally being sent to the trade-in world we affectionately call at the auctions ‘wholesale heaven’.

A loaded Suburban was once seen as an example of wealth and opulence.  Stop laughing!

This particular Suburban offered all the niceties of the Clinton Era. Thick leather seats that could fit 98% of American posteriors. A premium sound system with a cassette AND a CD player. Running boards. Tow hitch. Plastic buttons galore that all seemed to be derived from Tonka surplus.

Everything but all wheel drive and a minority interest in a nearby oil well.

These models were absolute marvels to own back when gas was hovering between $10 to $30 a barrel. Millions of Americans wanted to give themselves the infinite luxury and bloat of an SUV. Although the Suburban offered all the sophistication of a ballpienhammer, it regularly outsold every full-sized SUV in the marketplace.

The world that once was is, of course, no more. The late 1990’s were a unique time when trucks and minivans collectively outsold cars and little cars were produced mainly to susbsidize CAFE requirements and the real profit makers.

As crazy as it sounds, these large vehicles also helped out the average small car buyer back then. Strong demand for SUV’s at the auctions resulted in cheap retail prices for those smaller late model cars. In 1999 I could buy a two year old mid-level Ford Escort at the auctions for less than $6,000. Retail was only around $7500 to $8000 at best. We’re talking about a near 50% drop in price within a two year period.

Small cars were to resale value then, what Suzukis and Saabs are to resale value now. A towering financial cliff worthy of a cheapskates consideration!

On the far lower end of the market. you could have found plenty of perfectly fine $500 to $1500 cars at the auctions that needed only minor mechanical or detail work. Transportation was cheap thanks to the low price of gas and the anti-small orientation of American car buyers.

By the way folks, this particular car had no announcements on the auction block. No engine issues. No transmission lurches. Not even a scuff on the body on frame. Nothing but wholesome old-school Americana. Everything was up to snuff. Even the odometer!

I’ve always thought that Suburbans were the ultimate hoarder rides.

Want to buy some Yoohoos and never throw them away? Or a go on a neverending shopping trip?

The Suburban was nowhere near as good for that purpose as the creaky old full-sized vans that get plenty of steel storage shelves and a lipstick refresh every 10 years or so.

Too bad they drove like ox carts. On the road those full-sized vans were as appealing to the fairer sex, as scooters are to Hell’s Angels. Even dozens of conversion van outfits couldn’t stop the SUV from becoming the undisputed kings of profit; with the Suburban and Ford Explorer raking in billions for GM and Ford respectively.

With a Suburban a mom could pull a trailer along with a brood of childlike creatures and feel right at home. Except this happened to be a home where you could visit hundreds of drive through windows. Talk on a cell phone. Cut off the poor schmoe driving the Ford Escort, and enjoy a gas bill that would rarely go above forty dollars.

They sold well back in the day because they filled a need… along with a neverending list of wants.

Today despite CUV’s, crossovers, and glorified mini-wagons eating away at the Suburban’s market segment, there is still a healthy demand and profit to be had with these models.

I would even be willing to bet that if gas ever goes back to the party that was 1999, SUV sales would once again rock n’ roll.

In big countries like ours, small doesn’t sell unless big costs too much.

In the future I will miss these Suburbans… so long as I don’t see so many of them. Too much time driving a lowly Escort made me averse to all things SUV.

But how about you? Has there been a Suburban that helped you become a mobile entrepreneur? Or perhaps a LeMons hauler? What pleasent valley 1990’s styled Suburban has ever graced your driveway? Or your neighbors?

Do you think the Suburban will become the Murilee Martin hooptie of the future? Or a lurid hangover of the past?

You decide.


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40 Comments on “(Late) Monday Mileage Champion: 730,837 Miles!!!...”

  • avatar

    I remember lusting after these ‘burbans during my high school days in the mid nineties, even more so than the Supra Turbo at the time.

    My neighbor’s 2dr Tahoe has a rear roll pan and a butterscotch paint job. Every time I catch a glimpse of it’s deflated profile I become more ashamed that I ever thought these were cool.

    • 0 avatar

      A 2-door Tahoe Z71 was the dream vehicle for many of us in the 90s. I still wouldn’t mind one.

      • 0 avatar

        True, but nowadays, I can’t imagine a more useless vehicle.
        -Big on outside, small on the inside.
        -Can’t carry anything.
        -Basically a 2-seater, not a people carrier.
        -Not the best off-roader (I’m assuming. I’m sure a jihad will commence).
        -Poor gas mileage.
        -Not fun to drive.

      • 0 avatar

        What crabspirits says is why we no longer have Broncos, K-Blazers/2-door Tahoes, and Ramchargers. It doesn’t make that much economic and practical sense to use a full-size truck chassis for a vehicle with this many limitations.

        As for the off-roading, a short vehicle can be useful for certain things, but a narrower chassis also helps, which these full-size trucks don’t have.

  • avatar

    I drive a 99 Suburban as my daily commuter, family hauler, and trailer towing vehicle. It’s not hard to justify its 15 mpg against the 19 mpg our minivan got (or the 18 mpg our G6 GTP got), considering its usefulness and reliability. However, my small wife dislikes the jittery ride and the feeling she’s being tossed about as we drive.

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    I have a 1997 that runs and drives like new @ 141,000. As long as you don’t use them as a commuter vehicle (like people did in the 90’s) they are a fabulous, ultra-practical thing to own. Just did an 800 mile round trip in mine and averaged 19 mpg fully loaded with three people and all their gear, including two bicycles……stuffed inside. One of the rare times it hasn’t been towing a trailer. Have pulled 12,000 pounds of granite boulders on a flat bed trailer, 4 yards of garden compost and three yards many times of gravel and sand. Pulled a 25 foot cuddy boat with 8 people inside and four huge ice chests in the back with room to spare. On snow and ice, during the few dire days of winter when the roads are horrific, it is unsurpassed.

    OTH, since most people do not tow or go offroad with their SUV’s the much-reviled CUV is a much more practical vehicle.

  • avatar

    Love it it hate it, it worked for 414K miles.

  • avatar

    As crazy as it sounds, these large vehicles also helped out the average small car buyer back then. Strong demand for SUV’s at the auctions resulted in cheap retail prices for those smaller late model cars. In 1999 I could buy a two year old mid-level Ford Escort at the auctions for less than $6,000. Retail was only around $7500 to $8000 at best. We’re talking about a near 50% drop in price within a two year period.

    In 2000 I bought a 1997 Escort LX wagon, LOADED for $7000, with 21,000 miles from a Ford dealer in Detroit, MI. Original sticker was somewhere around $15000. (That $7000 BTW was tax title and the whole kit and caboodle.)

  • avatar

    My family has a 2000 Yukon XL, basically a Suburban sold under another dealer network. I took my drivers license in that thing, took girls out on dates until I got my grandmother’s 1999 Toyota Avalon.

    That Yukon is glorious — three rows of leather seats, seats for eight (AND their luggage), embarrassing gas mileage. People hate on these vehicles, and with reason, but…. This is the absolute definition of American luxury — huge, comfortable, soft ride, easy steering, cold and bellowing AC. These things will absolutely become hoopties in the coming years, and will dominate that market in the coming years, along with the last Pontiacs, the Caddies, the Impalas, and probably the latest Taurus and Lincolns. Fo shizzle.

  • avatar

    Yep, had a 1997 Suburban SLT with the 5.7L Vortec and 4×4 for years and it was one of the best vehicles I’ve ever owned.

    Took it on a road trip from Detroit to Tulsa OK and got 20 mpg with 4 people and loaded with gear. I filled up the tank in Ann Arbor, and drove straight through to Springfield Missouri to fuel the beast and ourselves.

    Towed countless cars to races, auctions, scrap yards and storage spaces on open and in enclosed trailers, including the aforementioned LeMons racer.

    Parts were cheap, and most of it was fairly durable. It isn’t suprising at all to see these keep on keepin on with that kind of mileage. Something you won’t see most of todays CUVs do.

  • avatar

    What is amazing is that I have seen many old Mustang II’s with 2.3 stickshifts as high mileage champs, really!

    I have met Irv Gordon with his nearly 3 million mile Volvo P1800 at several of our meets. Yep, I had to look under the car. It is amazing how nice he keeps the undercarriage of that car.

    Rust always kills all my cars up here in Michigan when they get around 170,000 miles. The drivetrain is still strong.

  • avatar

    Wow, I hardly consider the 2000 Mustang GT to be some sort of penalty box. I owned a 2000 for 12 years, I would decribe it as simple in a good way, enough power, decent handling, that industrial grade plastic interior holds up great, as did the paint. The only problem was a fuel pump going out at 80,000 and it never required a dealer visit for any kind of warranty work. Hardly up to BMW or Mercedes standards I guess. It was a tearful goodbye when I traded it in for my 2012 Mustang.

  • avatar

    I had a ’98 that was the same color as this one. No leather but the same sound system. Mine was 4wd.

    I have 2 kids, so no need for a Suburban you’d think — but whenever we went anywhere, the only way to keep the peace was for each to take a friend. Plus, I had a horse trailer to drag around as well.

    One thing that wasn’t mentioned above is how comfortable these beasts were. We live in central California and once we were meeting some friends flying into Jackson Hole. Since we had the perfect vehicle for 6 adults and their luggage, we drove.

    What a great freeway cruiser this was! We returned from Wyoming all in one long day’s drive, stopping only
    to eat, void and refuel (all too often). At the end of 13 straight hours we emerged perfectly relaxed and comfortable.

    By ’05 the kids were grown, one of the horses had died and the other was (and still is) lame. I had a job that required lots of driving and gas prices … well, you know about that.

    The car had it’s share of repairs but it was incredibly tough. One day I was driving down a mountain road, moving from 4th to 3rd to save the brakes. At one point I shifted from 3rd to 4th — or so I thought. I inadvertently shifted to reverse at about 45mph, downhill. Immediate engine stall and stop. I first looked in the rearview mirror to see what parts of the transmission were strewn behind. Nothing visible. I held my breath and turned the key… and drove off, no problems whatsoever. 40k miles later, the transmission was still going strong.

  • avatar

    “the Ford 4.6 Liter Modular V8 is not especially known for offering the level of fuel efficency needed to make this car a long-term money saver.”

    Strange that you say this as a condition not to have the ‘Stang, but then go to a notorious gas pig such as the ’90s era ‘Burbanator as the perfect choice.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      My T-Bird has the 4.6 Liter Modular V8. MPG ranges from mid-20’s highway to teens around town. Far better than the mastodon Suburban. Quite reliable as well, one of Ford’s most reliable motors. The only engine issues on this car was the recall to replace the plastic intake manifold with a cast one and the usual sensors, EGR, MAF etc.

  • avatar

    Could we please just all agree to stop saying “ox cart”. Jeremy Clarkson first said it describing the suspension of a Corvette, and now it seems every auto-journalist must use it.

    I don’t know what an ox-cart looks like, I don’t know what their suspension consists of and I’ve certainly never been in one to know what their ride is like. It’s just being lazy to describe every poor riding vehicle as driving like an ox cart.

  • avatar

    My family loved Suburbans. We had three, from 1990 to 2003. The first was a 1984 diesel 4×4 in blue, with blue stripes, with blue interior. You could remove the key while the vehicle was running. When you were finally able to stop the engine, the flywheel would come to rest in one of three positions… one of which had the starter gears stripped. Instead of the expense of replacing the flywheel we had a 2-foot long screwdriver that we stuck in the flywheel and turned the engine over by hand to the next position. I believe we replaced the transmission twice, both times on cross country road trips. When it started slipping a third time we bought a new one – a 1989 diesel 4×4 GMC with heavy customization… running boards, pin striping with initials, Mack Bulldog hood ornament, and an aftermarket turbocharger. It was a tow vehicle in it’s previous life. We took many many trips across country with our family, sometimes our dogs, sometimes pulling trailers full of blacksmithing equipment. The transmission failed a total of four times in that one, and we had the engine rebuilt once. Shortly after we used it to move across country for good, we found it needed another engine rebuild, so we sold it for next to nothing. We replaced it with a 1997 gasoline 4×4 Suburban, which I drove occasionally in high school, once with 9 passengers.

    On all of these trucks, we used 4-wheel drive regularly, and towing and hauling capacity often enough that it was worth keeping them around. None was particularly reliable and all needed expensive repairs. My parents have moved on to small cars and a pickup, now that they don’t need to cart the whole family, plus gear, on cross-country road trips.

  • avatar

    I like the T900 suburban the most.

  • avatar
    Angus McClure

    If the open bed of my pickup wasn’t so useful you could talk me into one of these in a heartbeat. If you don’t live in the city or if you are doing some sort of service work this is a useful, comfortable vehicle. I would prefer to find one of the really old ones with the four door cab on the passenger side only. Too old for smog which makes it open choice for engines.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Drove a 1991 Suburban for a little while and for the life of me I can’t see the appeal for the way most people seemed to use them. They were great tools with a lot of utility, but a complete handful for carting a couple of kids around town on errands. Ponderous, vague, sloppy, difficult to maneuver, expensive but felt cheap as hell.

    Given that limited experience, it is odd for me to hear that they were perceived as a luxury vehicle. It struck me as a vehicle you bought out of necessity for towing/hauling, and the bad road manners you had to endure driving it as a commuter was just the price you had to pay.

  • avatar

    Even as a child in the 90s when I would ride in one (a friends mom’s) occasionally, I knew the interior was crap.

  • avatar
    Angus McClure

    In a prior life I had inlaws on Long Island. When I would visit them I would see the suburbans treated like work trucks. I remember one particularly beat up burban owned by his neighbor who used it for work (he owned a nursery). When I moved to Texas it was considered the “national car of texas”. Yes it is confusing but the very crowded suburban environs (IMO) around the Islips in long island is nothing like the wide open spaces here in the Houston area.

    Two different worlds and the Suburban might as well be two different cars.

  • avatar

    When I was growing up my best friend’s family had an 86′ with a two tone light blue and white paint job. 2WD loaded with running boards and white walls. This was around 1997 but hey had bought it new. Despite having 4 kids grow up in it it wasn’t in too shabby a shape. They upgraded to a 99, which wasn’t as cool to look at but still a durable, comfy truck for a large family.

  • avatar

    As much as I loathe SUVs, the Suburban is a (relatively) nice iteration of the genre, with a history that goes back maybe even before the Eisenhower years (to those too young to remember, Ike was most of the ’50s). My sense is that these have been more durable than most of what GM has produced in the last half century. I would imagine you’ll see a lot of Suburbans at the Big Carlisle in the ’20s and ’30s.

    But like Trend-Shifter, I think Irv Gordon is beautifying the roads keeping his P1800 on them. Not so much the Suburban drivers.

  • avatar

    Count me amoung those who took his driver’s test in a Suburban. My folks were into RV’ing when I was in High School (mid ’80s), first with a diesel Suburban and a humongous Airstream, later with a diesel GMC pickup with a huge slide-in camper. Both were pretty much crap. many a transmission, many a hydraulic brake booster, many a trim piece self-ejecting onto the floor or road.

    Those old diesel V8s made a nice roar when you legged them though! Too bad they had no grunt at all.

  • avatar

    Like it or not the burbans will be around for a long time to come. It can fit you and eight other people, all your gear and a trailer behind ya and you can put a plow on it. Have a buddy that has an 85 with a dually conversion and a 502 under the hood, ever seen a 4 wheel burnout before?

  • avatar

    if you have a use for them well than I guess I can see it , but i never know anyone who needed one here in metro Ny and god there were/are everywhere here, just what you need for the 75 minute 12 mile commute to NYC!

  • avatar

    I think I have an explanation for the mileage figure for the Mustang. The odometer has been running backwards all along. The original owner knew this and subtracted the indicated mileage from 1,000,000 to arrive at 123,000. But once it was traded in, the odometer was taken at face value. The actual mileage is 1,000,000 – 730,837 = 269,163. The car has traveled 134,581.5 miles in each of the last 2 years, which is more reasonable (albeit still high) number. At this rate, our little cream puff will read 10 miles in no time!

  • avatar

    Those old Suburbans are great! I had a 2002 Tahoe and it was a fantastic vehicle. Gas millage wasn’t why one bought one of these, it was the utility.

  • avatar

    Do you check the VIN on the block on these high meileage finds to see if they have the original engine? If not then there is no way of knowing whether they have the original engine or if they are on their second or third.

  • avatar

    Quigley van > Suburban

  • avatar

    The ‘burb rocks! Friends family had one that we put through hell. My buddy drove it into a tree while hammered on Jack and ‘ludes… Always started, reliable as sunrise, and loaded to the gills, including that rear mounted A/C unit. In its waning days it blew an upper radiator hose and my friend’s sister drove it home until it seized. After it cooled down it started again and she drove it until it seized again. Cooled down and she finally got home. A new hose and she ran again! Became a bit of an oil burner after that abuse, but they used if for awhile before trading it in. If that truck could talk!

  • avatar

    We could totally use something like this to park in our turnaround for occasional use. Family hauling, towing, vacation use, this would be much, much better than our Vera Cruz that will soon be traded for something else.

  • avatar

    Whenever I see one of these parked in my neighborhood, there are two scenerios that usually play out:

    1. If the vehicle is stock, missionarries will be knocking on your door shortly. Get ready to tell well meaning but deeply entitled/annoying children to get off my lawn and please-oh-please put my house on the bad list. These things seem to be a risk factor for door-knocking.

    2. If the vehicle is hooptified, one of the teenagers in the neighborhood is getting technical support for his stereo or car. Even odds of having to demand that they stay off my lawn or helping them calculate the impedence of the speaker system. Bonus points if a scantool or EE equations are required.

    A suburban would be a fantastic and cheap “do everything my LEAF can’t do” vehicle, except that it won’t fit comfortably in my driveway comfortably and would look “off” in my neighborhood.

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