The Chevrolet Suburban is 85 years old, a child of the Great Depression, having achieved the reputation of carrying the auto industry’s longest-running continuously-produced nameplate.
“While the world has changed significantly, the Suburban is just as relevant today as it was in 1935,” said Paul Edwards, Chevrolet marketing vice president. “Suburban created the sport utility vehicle – offering unprecedented combination of passenger comfort and cargo capacity that has earned Suburban the trust of a wide range of people.”
Over the years, Suburban has built an impressive, unrivalled and celebrated legacy, as a beloved part of the family, trusted bodyguard and member of the armed forces, first responder and even a movie star.
“The Chevrolet Suburban – the forerunner of the modern SUV – has stood the test of time,” said Leslie Kendall, curator at the Petersen Automotive Museum. “From family road-trips to dignitary protection, to TV and film and everywhere in-between, over the last 85 years the Suburban has become a fixture of Americana.”
The original 3-row Suburban could accommodate eight, with removable third-row seats that when they were out could boast cargo capacity to 3,259 litres, when the second-row seats were folded. Its “Stovebolt” inline 6-cylinder engine produced 60 hp.
The most current Suburban seats nine and offers up only slightly larger capacity of 3,446 liters, when the second- and third-row seats are folded. Its available 6.2-litre V-8 makes 420 hp.
Contrary to production practices at the time, the heavy-duty 1935 Suburban Carryall used an all-steel body bolted on a commercial chassis, whereas others at the time were basically car-based vehicles with bodies that couldn’t stand the rigours of commercial use.
It went through motoring life basically unnoticed until the 1990s, when it started to gain favour as part of the SUV boom that also gave life to much tinier wagons. It became a staple for getting entire kids’ sports teams to their practices and games, towing recreational trailers that carried boats or horses, and shuttling travellers and work crews to their destinations.
The first generation Suburban (1935-1940) started as a 2-door wagon that would be produced through 1967, when it received a name change to Blazer, Art Deco exterior design cues were added mid-cycle. The second generation (1941-1946) was primarily a military vehicle, as pretty much all civilian vehicles stopped production through the World War II years.
Redesigns occurred following the war years, for the third-gen (1947-1955) and fourth-gen (1955-1959) vehicles, with the latter receiving revolutionary new design (such as a wraparound windshield and the elimination of running boards) and technology improvements, such as the introduction of 4-wheel drive to the line.
The 1960s brought the Chevrolet C/K designation (C for rear-wheel and K for 4-wheel drivetrains), a new look and a ladder frame. Passenger comfort started to gain importance, with air-conditioning and rear seat heat heaters added for the first time, mid-decade.
The elimination of the 2-door Suburban for the sixth generation in 1967 introduced a 3-door model (front and rear doors on the passenger side), which proved a popular design for ambulance conversions. It paved the way for the first 4-door Suburban in the seventh generation (1973-1991), which necessitated a longer wheelbase (3,289 mm).
Technology upgrades were again on tap for the last generation of the century (1992-1999), with 4-wheel antilock brakes, Insta-Trac “shift-on-the-fly” 4WD and available AutoTrac AWD, OnStar and a car-like ride.
The new millennium brought generation 9 (2000-2006) with new interiors and powertrains, 4-wheel disc brakes, load-levelling suspension and StabiliTrak stability control, and the following generation (2007-2014) introduced driver-assistance features such as trailer-sway control and blind spot alert.
Suburban was completely redesigned for its current generation (Generation 11) in 2015, becoming more efficient with new engines and aerodynamic design, and added more technology including Wi-Fi Hotspot, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capabilities.