By on September 5, 2018

We’ve done a couple of ranking challenges before, starting first with the Accord, then the Corvette, and following up a few months later with the Mustang. Today we rank a nameplate which has been in production longer than any of those — in fact, it’s the longest-running in America.

It’s the Suburban.

Today is Part I of II in the Chevrolet Suburban ranking challenge, as pitching 11 generations together is a bit much for a single week. The first part of the challenge will cover generations one through six. There’s a marked difference in generations seven to eleven, which we’ll see next week. On with the challenge…


Suburban started out in 1935, bearing the full name of Carryall Suburban. The intent was a functional vehicle which could carry a family of eight and all their required luggage and other junk. Available only in two-door wagon format, Chevrolet did let buyers choose between rear swinging doors or a hatch. Four-wheel drive was not available.


Suburban’s second generation was interrupted by the occurrence of World War II. As such, GM only produced vehicles for model years 1941, 1942, and 1946, as all production in the interim years was devoted to military transport variants. Still two-door only, for the first time Chevrolet and GMC versions used different engines. The more basic Chevrolet had a 3.5-liter inline-six; the GMC had a 3.7-liter.


The third generation Suburban consolidated production for the first time, with all examples between 1947 and 1954 built at GM’s Van Nuys, California plant. The doors numbered two, but things started to take on a more boxy, SUV shape in this era. Seats in the front were now a split bench style, and slid forward to allow access to rear seats. For the first time, an automatic transmission was made available.


Fourth-generation Suburbans got a late start for the 1955 model year, not appearing until March. Instrumentation in this generation was shared with passenger car models as General Motors gathered a family customer base in suburbia. Cylinders added up to eight, while the I6 faded from popularity. And now customers could specify four-wheel drive. It was all coming together.


In 1960, the Suburban moved even closer to the shape modern consumers would consider “SUV.” Newly available this year was an independent front suspension. Revisions in 1962 and again in 1964 made its appearance more streamlined and conservative. This generation offered more choice to consumers than ever before, and available engines included I6, V6, and V8 versions.


In its sixth generation for 1967, the Suburban’s transformation into modern SUV was nearly complete. Not quite at five total doors yet, customers settled for three: One door on the driver’s side, and two on the passenger. 1970 was the final year a panel truck was available for purchase, and 1971 heralded disc brakes on the front wheels and an optional tilt steering wheel. Engines now included the familiar 350 and 396 V8s.

Six generations of Suburban, spanning American history from pre-War through early Malaise. In what order do you rank them, best to worst?

[Images: General Motors]

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27 Comments on “QOTD: Care to Rank 11 Generations of the Chevrolet Suburban? (Part I)...”

  • avatar

    Wrong picture for the 1955-1959. That looks like a 1954 or early 1955.

  • avatar

    More pedantry… The title of the article says *Chevrolet* Suburban, but you discuss the V-6, which was only available on *GMC* Suburbans.

  • avatar

    It’s amazing how little SUVs have changed over the last 80 years, in fact I believe the SUV/crossover “craze” is just us getting back to our automotive roots.

    Great pics, Corey. You always seem to find the best pics of the most obscure vehicles

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks! GM does a nice job cataloging historical models with quality photos. It’s more challenging with other manufacturers.

    • 0 avatar

      Going back a bit farther, the original Suburban predates General Motors. It was built in Detroit in 1911 – a 2-seater with a 20 horsepower 4 cylinder engine. Or you could pay a bit extra for a 6 cylinder with 28 horses. It was more of a forerunner of the Miata.

  • avatar

    1. Gen 3 – I’m still kicking myself for not buying one of these from Union Pacific back in the ’70s as they were only asking $150 to $200 each when selling off their old fleet.
    2. Gen 6 – Probably my favorite design for GM trucks.
    3. Gen 4
    4. Gen 2
    5. Gen 1
    6. Gen 5

  • avatar

    Eh a 1972 4×4 model with 396 V8 and a well appointed interior would be my #1 of these choices. Otherwise I can’t be bothered to rank them.

    However for this time period I’d rather have a IH Travelall.

    • 0 avatar

      ’61 to ’68 Travelall’s were my favorite. Not many survived the tin worm unfortunately.

      • 0 avatar

        John Wayne’s Travelall is a pretty nice rig.

        • 0 avatar
          Michael Adams

          John Wayne’s Travelall used to be on display in the car museum at Don Laughlin’s Casino in, of all places, Laughlin NV and it was cool to look at. I lived in Las Vegas until 2015 and usually made at least one trip to Laughlin each year,and the car museum had some cool toys, and most were for sale. I remember hearing about the sale of this Travelall and thought that the musuem was going to be closed but it appears that it’s still there.

    • 0 avatar

      I like the 5th generation Suburban as well. However, by 1972, the big engine was a 402 (officially called “400” by Chevrolet).

  • avatar

    3G, hands down. Most attractive of all.
    6G, it looks like a work vehicle.

  • avatar

    1. 5th Gen, the most modern classic suburban. Available with 4wd, live axles, a V8 or I6, and 3 doors. Still overbuilt in the pre-war USA way. You could even get IFS just like a contemporary Ferrari if you lived on a good road.
    2. 2nd Gen, the generation that carried soviet Colonels through Ukraine. Built as a true 1-ton truck with running gear to suit.
    3. 3rd Gen, still made with thick-ass pre-60’s sheetmetal, but now it’s bigger and less spacious inside.
    4. 4th Gen, middle of the pack with derivative styling and a lack of engineering.
    5. 6th Gen, GM bean-counters are working on overtime here. Less brick sh*thouse and more tinfoil, thin chrome plating, and single-digit MPGs.
    6. 1st Gen, the minivan of the 1930’s. Not advanced to the point where this is anything more than a box on top of Chevy’s truck chassis. The default option in 1937 if you wanted to carry 6 adults.

  • avatar

    1) 5th
    2) 3rd
    3) 4th
    4) 6th
    5) 2nd
    6) 1st.

    One nitpick: despite being visually similar, the ’55-’56 passenger car and ’55-’59 instrument panels are completely different and non-interchangeable.

  • avatar

    I heard that the last sedan deliveries had the same body as the other Suburbans, but with welded in steel panels in place of the back windows. Anyone know if this is correct?

  • avatar

    I love both the 6th and 5th gen, though the 6th gen makes for a clear win for me. Although I agree with the other poster about preferring a IH travelall, all but impossible to find of course.

  • avatar

    1) 5th
    2) 6th
    3) 4th
    4) 3rd
    5) 1st
    6) 2nd

  • avatar

    When I was a kid, the 5th gen panel trucks were everywhere. The phone company (Southwestern Bell) used them, before switching to Chevy Vans.

  • avatar

    Thanks Corey, the cover shot looks exactly like the ‘burb I got my driver’s license in. Dad called it the CarryAll, my friends called it the 3-door. I’ll never forget the first time I picked up my buddies in it. One of them ran to the drivers side, grabbed at the handle for the rear door that wasn’t there…and the look on his face was priceless.

    I like the looks of the 5th gen, but for Carrying All the Things, Gen 6.

  • avatar

    From the desk of someone who’s only ever sat in a ’63 and ’70 and driven a ’49…

    1. 6th gen, mostly because it graduated to the long bed pickup chassis and added a 3/4 ton model.

    2. 5th gen, barely edging out the Advance Design thanks to its full-width body (78″).

    3. 3rd gen

    4. 4th gen, because winga-dinga styling doesn’t get my blood pumping as much as immediate-post-war pontoon styling.

    5 & 6. 1st & 2nd gens, tied. I can’t get into prewar vehicles at all. The cabins are too narrow and the engines are too agricultural.

  • avatar


    What can I say? I like progress, and the newer ‘burbs had more of it.

  • avatar

    I know the ranking for the second half of Suburban generations will be more fun, but we sort of had to do this part first.

    Next week!

  • avatar

    Objectively, each generation got dynamically better. Handling, brakes, suspension, engine all underwent incremental improvements. I’ve driven the pickup versions of the most recent four of these, and while none of them drive anything like modern vehicles, you really don’t want to spend much time in any of these previous to 1967.

    Stylingwise, I like the 1960s versions the best. Having had to drive many 50s-60s-70s vehicles, though, since that’s what my parents and grandparents had, I don’t suffer from old-car nostalgia much. There’s something to be said for mechanical simplicity, but much less for deathtrap brakes and extraordinarily vague handling. I owned a Suburban from the next generation, a 1979 454, and that’s absolutely as far back as I’d ever want to go again.

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