Happy 75th birthday, Chevy Suburban!
The Suburban began life as the Suburban Carryall in 1935, a two-door utility vehicle with a wooden roof that cast a footprint no larger than a modern Chevrolet Malibu sedan. It was outfitted with a 60-horsepower, six-cylinder engine and cost just under $700 — a pricetag that would barely fetch an Aveo in converted 2010 dollars. It had seating for eight, but GM Heritage Center manager Greg Wallace pointed out that “people were smaller back then.”
Although the body style and wheelbase eventually grew larger, respectively, the six-cylinder engine continued to power the Suburban Carryall until 1955, when a V-8 became optional for the first time. And it was only in the mid-1960s that the Suburban became available with four doors, and the “Carryall” moniker was dropped.
After that, as they say, the rest was history: the four-door V-8-powered Suburban set the pulse for the Heartbeat of America virtually unchanged from 1973 until 1991. By the time the current GMT-900 Suburban was introduced in 2007, the Suburban’s overall length had ballooned by 39.1 inches, and its basic level of kit would shame even the most luxurious of the ’30s Suburban’s competitors.
With so much invested in the Suburban nameplate, Chevrolet marketing manager Mark Clawson stands firm that it will stick around for years to come.
“There’s no sign of the Suburban name going away,” Clawson said. “The Suburban name will definitely outlive me, as well.”
Clawson was resolute that preserving the Suburban’s name and character is a “balancing act,” between maneuverability and size, and hinted that the Suburban isn’t likely to grow any larger than the current model. At an event to highlight the Suburban’s evolution over time, at which Chevrolet unearthed pristine examples, Clawson pointed to a white ’66 example, a version of which he used during his days as a volunteer fireman. From my perspective at the event held on Belle Isle, a short distance from GM’s Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit, it looked to be eight feet off the ground, and not particularly suited for family hauling.
“And that was the stock ride height for four-wheel-drive models that year,” he noted.
Most of the models were examples taken from the GM Heritage Center, but two employees volunteered their own Suburbans for the event. Analyst Scott Fricker, who has worked with GM at Pontiac and Saturn, offered his 1999 Suburban, pushing 140,000 miles, which is his wife’s daily driver.
“I wouldn’t have anything else,” Fricker said. “For the type of activities we do, the Suburban is still the one I’d choose, and I average 18 miles per gallon. My neighbor was proud of that figure in her newer, smaller SUV, and was shocked to hear I get the same mileage.”
And as for the 75th-anniversary model itself? The model run of just over 2500 started life as top-level Suburban LTZ models, and were outfitted in Diamond white paint and special badging. Since the model debuted at the 2010 Chicago Auto Show, Clawson estimates that 600 already have homes. In addition to the in-car goodies, Chevrolet included an iPod and commemorative “Diamond Edition” case, preloaded with an app that details the Suburban’s history, with each purchase.
Full press release below. Clawson was tight-lipped about what’s to come for the Suburban, but confirmed that it would “never” be a Lambda-based crossover (“we have the Traverse for that”). He hinted that the next Suburban, still several years away, will focus on retaining the capability of a full-size SUV while making improvements in fuel economy. In the meantime, the 75th-anniversary model is a way to honor the Suburban’s name and impressive history.
Chevrolet Suburban At 75: A Historical Look At An American Icon
In 1935, the United States’ population was a little more than 127 million. A first-class stamp cost three cents, Technicolor was introduced to motion pictures and the Detroit Tigers defeated the Chicago Cubs in a tough World Series. It was also the year Chevrolet introduced the Suburban.
In the seven and a half decades since its introduction, the Suburban became an icon and the industry’s longest-running model. In fact, Suburban is the first vehicle to reach 75 years of production and Chevrolet is commemorating the milestone with a special 2010 75th Anniversary Diamond Edition model.
“Times have changed, but the Suburban remains a fixture in the industry for private and professional customers who need truck-like towing capability with maximum passenger and cargo space,” said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet general manager. “The Suburban’s core capabilities and dependability have remained constant for more than seven decades and generations of people know that a Suburban will haul people and their gear.”
The original Suburban could seat eight, while easily removable seats provided a large, 75-inch-long by 77-inch-high (1,905 x 1,956 mm) cargo area. The 2010 Suburban seats up to nine, but offers up to 137.4 cubic feet (3,891 L) of cargo space when the second-row seats are folded and third-row seats are removed.
History of an icon
The idea for the Suburban was born out of a need for a heavier-duty, truck-based wagon. Through the early 1930s, most manufacturers offered car-based wagons for professional use. Open models with windows and rear seating were known as depot hacks, and were used to ferry passengers and their cargo around train stations and boat docks. Enclosed models, typically without rear seats, were known as sedan deliveries.
Bodywork for these early vehicles often consisted of wood sides and canvas tops; and while they were versatile, their car-based chassis and damage-prone bodies were compromises. Chevrolet began experimenting with an all-steel wagon body mounted on a commercial chassis in the mid-1930s, and the Suburban Carryall was launched in 1935.
The base price of the original, eight-passenger Suburban was about $675, or the equivalent of about $10,900 in 2010 dollars – although the 1935 model didn’t come with frontal and side air bags, OnStar, XM Satellite Radio, anti-lock brakes and stability control, a six-speed automatic transmission or remote keyless entry. In fact, a radio, heater, clock and even a rear bumper were extra-cost options. It might well have been called a sport utilitarian vehicle.
After the Suburban’s introduction, car-based commercial vehicles, including sedan deliveries, remained in production, but the heavy-duty chassis of the Suburban increasingly found favor with professional customers. In the post-World War II years, its popularity with private customers who appreciated its uncompromising capabilities increased steadily.
The Chevrolet Suburban hit the mainstream in the early 1990s, with the overall popularity of sport-utility vehicles. But while many customers were new to the Suburban then, it had garnered a legion of longtime owners who had purchased multiple examples over the years – using them to haul Little League teams and their equipment, tow a horse trailer or seat a work crew on the way to a job site.
Chevrolet is one of America’s best-known and best-selling automotive brands, and one of the fastest growing brands in the world. With fuel solutions that range from “gas-friendly to gas-free,” Chevrolet has nine models that offer an EPA-estimated 30 miles per gallon or more on the highway, and offers two hybrid models. More than 2.5 million Chevrolets that run on E85 biofuel have been sold. Chevrolet delivers expressive design, spirited performance and strives to provide the best value in every segment in which it competes. More information can be found at www.chevrolet.com.
via General Motors/Chevrolet courtesy of Automobile Magazine Staff