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The Chevy Suburban Turns 75

Posted in Project Vehicles on October 1, 2010
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Photographers: Courtesy of GMSource Interlink Media ArchivesGM Archives

Whenever a person or thing reaches a major milestone, reflection is in order. So when I told my friend Dave that the Chevy Suburban was turning 75 this year, he cracked himself up recalling the blue Sub that traumatized him in high school-every time he made a left turn, the horn would start up and get stuck that way for blocks. Another friend reflected on numerous family camping trips, with all the siblings and gear piled into the SUV. It seems that nearly everyone has a memory starring the Suburban.

Its history began in the '30s, when there was serious demand for a truck-based wagon. While car-based wagons already existed, truck versions were mainly for professional use. So Chevy popped an all-steel wagon body onto a commercial chassis, and the Suburban Carryall was the go-to machine of 1935. What you'll find on the following pages is a taste of the Suburban's life story-and one with no end in sight (tough, new fuel-economy standards be damned).

America's Next Top Models: Names and Nomenclature
The "styling era," as GM called it, referred to the Streamline Era, which lasted until 1940, and the Art Deco Series from 1941 through half of 1947. From late 1947 to 1955 was the Advanced Design Series, and 1955 to 1959 reflected the Task Force. From 1992 until 1999, it was called the GMT400 platform, while '00 to '06 models were built on the GMT800 platform. And since 2007, it has been the GMT900 platform.

The '35 Suburban Carryall.

Meanwhile, the model/series was ever changing-like annually, it seemed. The Sub debuted as Model EB, and then the following year it changed to FB, then during the next few years rolled through GC, HC, JC, and KC. For 1941, it was AK, followed by BK from 1942 through 1945. CK referred to the Interim Series in 1946, followed by the Late Series DP that same year and through the first part of 1947. In 1947, when the Second Series kicked in, it was EP, then FP, GP, HP, JP, and KP, which brings us to 1953, or H. Model D was the '54 Sub, and then 1955 it was Model H again. By 1956, it was simply the 3100 Series, lasting through 1959. Come 1960, it was the Apache 10, which lasted through 1961. The following year, and in 1966, it went by the moniker C/K-14. In 1967, when the 1/2-ton Sub was joined by a 3/4-ton model, things went to C/K-10 and C/K-20, which lasted until 1984, when it was referred to as C/K-1500 and C/K-2500 through 1986. (Throughout this production run, "C" denoted a two-wheel drive, while "K" stood for the 4x4 version.)Then things went awry again in 1987 when the C/K nomenclature was dumped for R/V; by 1992, all was right in the world again, returning to C/K through 1999. After that point, the C and K notations were removed, and the Sub became just the 1500 and 2500 Series.

The '54 model.

How's It Look? Body Stylings and Designs
Two doors marked the first year of the Suburban Carryall, a design that hung in there until 1967. All-new sheetmetal brought exterior upgrades in 1937, and the following year saw the introduction of optional twin rear doors much like the panel wagon's. The next year, the front end got a makeover; ditto in 1941. Another major redesign in 1947 was to the Advance Design series, including a five-bar horizontal grille and unisteel cab styling. By 1949, a chrome grille was standard for the Sub. In 1954, the front end was again rehabbed, and the next year brought the Task Force styling, including an egg-crate grille. Yup, there was another new grille in 1957, and a new front fascia the next year. This repeated in 1960 and 1961, respectively-and again in 1962.

The '60 Sub.

In 1967, the Sub had another major redesign, and it was the first year for three doors (the driver's, plus two on the passenger side). By 1969, someone alerted management that the grille hadn't been redesigned for two years, so it happened that year and again in 1971. In 1973, the third-generation Sub was introduced and featured four doors. Four years later, yup, more grille action, with only 15 openings as opposed to 32. With 1980 right around the corner, there was no better time for another new grille, this time with 33 openings. Three years later, well, you can guess what happened. And for 1992 and the GMT400 platform, the pickup's styling was borrowed. In 2000, we met the GMT800's new look, and five years later brought the death of barn doors. The GMT900's face arrived in 2007.

'50 barn doors.

Growing Pains: Vehicle Measurements
When the Carryall debuted in 1935, it had a 112-inch wheelbase, and stayed that way until 1940, when it was stretched to 1131/2 inches. In 1941, it grew to 115, and then in 1947 it added another inch. For 1955, things downsized to 114 inches, then back up to 115 in 1960. In 1967, the wheelbase jumped to 127 inches, and was 1311/2 by 1992, but then down to 130 inches in 2000. Its overall length at birth was almost 184 inches, growing to 1941/2 by 1937, and continued to get longer, longer, and longer, clocking in at 199 in 1941, which stayed through early 1947, save for a switch to 198 from 1943 to 1945. From late 1947 through 1955 the overall length went to a bit over 196 inches, until 1955's version cleared almost 198 inches, followed by 200-and-change over the next few years. It jumped all the way to 201 inches in 1960, and by 1967, the Sub was 215 inches long, with steady increases until it reached 222 by 2007.

The '67 Suburban.

Overall height stayed in at the 77-inch-and-change mark until 1949, increasing then to nearly 79 inches. It finally reached 79 in 1954 and hovered there until 1959. From 1960 to 1963 it was a little over 72 inches; 1963 to 1991 brought the low- to mid-'70s range. For 1992, it got shorter, to the tune of 69, but then back up in 1995 to 70 inches, more than 73 by 2000, and more than 75 inches until 2006. It hit close to 77 inches by 2007.

The Major Trim Levels
It seems that around 1967 marked the model year when different trim levels were officially offered, starting with a base model, Custom Appearance Option (Z61), and Custom Comfort Option (Z62). The following year it became the Custom Comfort and Appearance Option. In 1971, trim levels were base and Custom Deluxe, while in 1974 things changed to Custom as the base, Scottsdale, and Silverado. Come 1988, Scottsdale was the new base model, and Silverado remained. To keep you on your toes, 1992 introduced the Cheyenne as the base model; Silverado was still hanging on, but that ended in 1995, when the available trims were base, LS, and LT. In 2002, the base was dumped, leaving LS and LT, and in 2006, those two were joined by the LTZ, which remain for 2010.

An LTZ Sub.
$$$: What They Cost
Base price, '35 Suburban Carryall $700
Base price, '10 Suburban $41,585

The 4x4 Suburban
Chevy offered a four-by Suburban starting in 1957, featuring the NAPCO Powr-Pak system, the same year the 3/4-ton model became available. In 1960, a new independent front suspension for two-wheel drives was unveiled, or "Torsion-Spring Ride," as Chevy called it, replacing the previous I-beam technology, while the four-bys had tapered leaf springs at all four corners. The 1/2-ton rear has run coil springs, while the 3/4-ton has sported leaf springs; rear coil springs were available in standard format or heavy-duty. The '63 Sub saw the introduction of a coil-spring front suspension. The front coilover design came in 2007.

The '73 K-10.

Early Suburbans started with the Rockwell T221 transfer case with 1.86:1 low-range gearing, then made the switch to the NP205 transfer case (1.96:1) in about 1969, which got the boot in 1981 for the NP208 (2.62:1). The full-time gear-driven NP203 (2.01:1) was also used in the Suburban. The late-model Suburban has seen the chain-drive NP241 and NP243 (both 2.72:1) as well as the NV246 (2.72:1), which allowed five different drive modes including 4-Hi Lock. Automatic locking hubs arrived in 1981.

Early Suburbans got a floor-mounted three-speed manual synchromesh, and by 1941, the shifter moved to the steering column. But 1946, it was back to the floor, and by 1948 the locale was the column again. The Hydra-Matic four-speed joined the SM 330 three- and SM 420 four-speed manuals in 1954. For the '60s, there were the Powerglide and the three-speed synchromesh, while a heavy-duty three-speed and SM 465 four-speed were also available; the late 1960s included the Powerglide and the hi-po Turbo Hydra-Matic automatics. In 1993, the Hydra-Matic electronic 4L60-E four-speed auto was introduced, and over the following years, trannies included that model as well as the Hydra-Matic 4L80E and 4L85E. The all-new '07 Sub retained the 4L60E and 4L80E and added the 4L70E four-speed. And in 2008 the 4L80E was dropped for the Hydra-Matic 6L80 six-speed automatic. By 2009, the six-speeds were the last man standing: 6L80 and 6L90.

The four-speed 4L60-E transmission.

War Burban
The Suburban saw active military duty from 1943-1945, and was used as transport on U.S. naval and army bases as well as in government motor pools. Among its features were special military bumpers and the absence of chrome and trim.

If we broke down the annual horsepower and torque increases and decreases, your head would spin, explode, and explode again. So we'll give you enough of an engine overview here to fake your way through a Sub-off with a Sub-geek.

The 216ci inline-six.

The Suburban came out of the womb with a 206.8ci "Stovebolt" inline-six worth about 69 horses. In 1937, horsepower climbed again, thanks to the 216ci inline-six worth 78 hp and 170 lb-ft of twist. The "Thriftmaster" then had an increase to 235 cubes and saw a bump to 112 horses and 200 lb-ft of torque in 1954. By 1962, the final year for that engine, it was up to 135 horses and 217 lb-ft of torque. The 230 "High Torque" inline-six was introduced in 1963, which made 140 hp and 220 lb-ft of torque. If you're old enough, you might recall meeting the 250ci Six in 1966; it was worth 155 hp and 235 lb-ft of torque. In 1975, the small-block 350ci V-8 was introduced, and it made 160 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque. The 250ci six-cylinder in 1976 was worth 100 hp and 175 lb-ft of torque. In 1980, the base engine was the 350 V-8, cranking out 170 horses and 270 lb-ft of torque. In 1987, the 5.0L 305 EFI V-8 made 170 ponies and 255 lb-ft of torque, and the following year the 5.7L 350ci V-8 put out 210 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. The Vortec engines debuted in 1996; the 5700 V8 made 255 horses and 330 lb-ft of torque. A new base engine arrived in 2000, the Vortec 5300, which made 285 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. Following performance increases over the next couple of years, the 5.3L is now ranked at 310 hp and 335 lb-ft of torque.

Vortec 8100

Miscellaneous: Up to four engines were available in 1967: 250ci and 292ci as the Sixes and 283ci and 327ci V-8s. Up to five appeared in 1968: The 250, 292, 327, and two new V-8s, the 200hp 307ci and high-performance 325hp 396 (also sometimes known as the 400ci). The '73 Sub dropped the 400 for the new 454 V-8, and by 1975, the engines were the 250 Six and 350 and 454 V8s. Three years later saw the introduction of the 350ci V-8 diesel, followed by the new 6.2L diesel in 1982, which was killed off in 1991; a new turbodiesel 6.5L came in 1994. The Vortec family also included the 364ci (6.0L) 6000 (which started at 320 hp and 360 lb-ft of torque) and the 496ci (8.1L) 8100 (birthed at 340 hp and 455 lb-ft of torque). By 2007, the 8100 was dropped and a new aluminum 6.0L V-8 was available, while a heavy-duty iron-block 6.0L was also up for grabs; the 5.3Ls also had either aluminum or iron blocks. The 325ci 5.3Ls made 320/310 horses in iron form and 340/335 torque as aluminum, respectively; the 6.0Ls produced 366/352 hp and 380/383 lb-ft in those same categories, but with slight increases/decreases over the years.

The Sub of 1992.

Odds and Ends

  • GM didn't trademark the Suburban name until 1988.
  • GMC got the Suburban in the 1936 model year.
  • The wraparound windshield disappeared in 1964.
  • 1994 was the best-selling year for the Suburban.
  • The '03 2500 models could get Quadrasteer.
  • In 1998, Australia got a right-hand-drive Sub via the Holden brand.
  • For 1965, the emblem moved from the fender to the cowl.
  • In 2002, the Vortec 5300 got regular and ethanol fuel capability.
  • The Z71 package debuted in 2001.

There will be only 2,570 of the special 75th Anniversary Diamond Edition Suburbans produced.

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