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1987 GMC Suburban: The CheapBurban

Fullsize Power for A Downsized Price

Fred WilliamsPhotographer, Writer

I admit I like Toyotas, and I even considered getting one for CTC. But when Editor-in-Chief Rick Péwé bought and built his Trail Toy last month for our Cheap Truck Challenge (“Cheap Truck Challenge Build, Part 1,” Aug. ’12) I knew I had to outdo him with massive American iron! I’ve never owned a Suburban before, and I figured that if I were 17 and needed a way to haul all my friends out to the woods for some camping, wheeling, mud whomping, and bonfiring then a Burb would be hard to beat.

I started my search for the budget bro-hauler and was determined to come in way under the $2,012 purchasing budget. I searched long and hard on the various online classifieds for a $1,000 Burb, with little luck. Actually, quite a few were available for that price, but I was begging and choosing. I didn’t want a half-ton. I wanted a 4x4, and I definitely wanted the rear barn doors. I’m not sure why the barn doors were required, but they were. I quickly found a recurring problem with Suburbans: automatic transmissions that can’t survive. It seems that in every ad I found for a low-dollar crew hauler the Sub either had a dead trans, a slipping trans, or a recently replaced trans. To put it bluntly, I don’t think an automatic is right for a heavy bus like a Suburban, especially if I’m on a budget. This is really shocking since many 3⁄4-tons came with a TH400, a great transmission. I would definitely steer clear of the half-ton Burbs with the TH350 or 700R4.

Then I found it, a needle in a haystack of dead slushbox Burbans, the rare yet perfect ’87 GMC 3⁄4-ton Suburban with a four-speed manual! Plus, to seal the deal it has a fuel-injected TBI V-8 and barn doors out back. Sold! I test-drove it and hauled it home after parting with 13 of my hard-earned Benjamins. My new favorite wheeling, camping, mobile funhouse was about to be built and done cheap.

Cost Breakdown
Vehicle Budget $2,012.00
Vehicle Price 1,300.00
Savings 712.00

Upgrade Budget $2,012.00
Upgrade Spent 2,012.00
Total Spent 3,312.00
Budget 4,024.00
For Future Upgrades 712.00

What’s Next?
The CheapBurban is done for Cheap Truck Challenge, but I’m already planning on a handful of upgrades. First is a set of Offroad Design’s heavy-duty greasable shackles. The factory shackles are thin, and the ORD ones will raise the front slightly and be stronger. I’ll also add ORD’s steering box brace for additional support because these boxy GM trucks are notorious for cracks around the box on the frame, and I’ll add an ORD sway-bar disconnect kit for unrestrained front axle movement.

I have already ordered a new clutch and power steering pump from RockAuto. RockAuto is great for replacement parts, and I know the clutch is on its last legs. I’m not going to replace these parts prior to CTC because they don’t fit the budget, but the pump is whining and the clutch barely engages and slips bad in Fourth gear on hills with the bigger tires and stock 3.42 gears. The SM465 transmission also pops out of Third gear under deceleration, so that will be addressed eventually. And gears and lockers are always a good future upgrade, but for now the stock rear Gov-Lok limited slip will have to do.