CHICAGO – In 1935, the United States’ population was a little more than 127 million. A first-class stamp cost 3 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 new 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.
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.
Here’s a timeline of significant moments in the Suburban’s first 75 years:
1935: Suburban Carryall introduced with a signature two-door body style that would last through 1967. Power came from Chevrolet’s stalwart “Stovebolt” inline-six that produced 60 horsepower (45 kW) for the half-ton chassis.
1937: New, streamlined exterior styling carried Art Deco cues, and horsepower from the Stovebolt six increased to 79 (59 kW).
1942: Production of almost all civilian cars and trucks halted during America’s involvement in World War II, although many Chevy trucks – including the Suburban’s body style – were pressed into military duty.
1947: The first significant redesign of the Chevrolet’s truck line – including Suburban – since before the war. Torque from the inline-six engine was 174 lb.-ft. (217 Nm) at only 1,200 rpm, giving the Suburban excellent towing capability.
1950: Suburban models are offered with either a tailgate/top-opening rear window configuration or conventional “barn doors” at the rear.
1955: Revolutionary new styling is introduced midway through the model year. Known as the “second series” design, it features a wraparound windshield and the elimination of running boards – the body is flush with the fenders for the first time. The second series model also introduces the ubiquitous small-block V-8.
1957: Factory-installed four-wheel drive is offered for the first time, with the famous NAPCO-supplied “Powr-Pak” system.
1960: Chevrolet institutes the C/K designations to denote models with 2WD (C) and 4WD (K). Front-end styling is also new.
1967: All-new styling of Chevy’s half-ton trucks is introduced, including Suburban. It carries a unique three-door arrangement with a single door on the driver’s side and front and rear doors on the passenger side. This configuration makes the Suburban popular with ambulance companies.
1973: A new generation of Chevy trucks is launched, with Suburban offered in a conventional four-door body style introduced for the first time. Its 129.5-inch (3,289 mm) wheelbase was only 0.5-inch (12.7 mm) shorter than the 2010 model’s. Also debuting is the Suburban three-quarter-ton model, which could be had with a 454 big-block engine that delivered 335 lb.-ft. of torque (455 Nm).
1975: Increased focus on interior comfort and amenities in the 1973 models bring more customers to Suburban for use as a personal vehicle. Chevrolet responds with more comfortable seats and greater amenities, including simulated buffalo hide vinyl upholstery, wood grain dash inserts, fully trimmed door panels and more.
1981: Updated styling brings stacked rectangular headlamps for the 1980s. The 4WD system adds automatic locking hubs and the 454 big-block is still offered, giving customers great towing capability.
1987: Electronically controlled fuel injection and a four-speed overdrive transmission bring greater efficiency.
1992: An all-new Suburban features sleek styling with flush glass and composite headlamps. The 5.7L small-block V-8 powers 1500 models, while the 454 (7.4L) engine is still available in the 2500 series. Other updates include four-wheel anti-lock brakes, Insta-Trac on four-wheel-drive models and a suspension system designed to provide a more carlike ride.
1998: OnStar and the full-time AutoTrac all-wheel-drive system are added. In Australia, right-hand-drive versions of the Suburban are offered through GM’s Holden brand.
2000: Launched in 1999 as a 2000 model, the next-generation Suburban brings new styling, new interiors and new powertrains. The engines include the Vortec 5.3L and 6.0L V-8s that were from the same Gen III V-8 “LS” family that debuted a couple of years earlier as the LS1 in the Corvette. Other new features include four-wheel disc brakes and a load-leveling suspension system.
2007: The latest generation of the Suburban is introduced, featuring a wind tunnel-shaped exterior and the elimination of traditional chrome front and rear bumpers. More efficient, comfortable and capable than ever, the Suburban continues to offer customers of all walks of life uncompromising capability and versatility.
2010: The 75th anniversary is marked with a limited-edition model, the 75th Anniversary Diamond Edition Suburban.