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The History and Evolution of the Chevy Suburban

The Chevrolet Suburban has been around longer than any other SUV, but when the first models were introduced to the world, the term SUV had not yet come into existence. From the time of its inception and presentation to the public in 1935, the Suburban has undergone a metamorphoses, and it has earned the distinction of being the longest running production vehicle, without interruption, or the need to replace the model with a successor. It has stood alone as an icon from the automaker and is worthy of a closer look at its history and impressive evolution.

The First Generation Chevrolet Suburban - 1933-1940

The first Suburban produced was Chevrolet's answer to the popular wagons made by Studebaker, Nash, Dodge and DeSoto. The original version came out in 1933 and the body was set upon a half ton truck frame with mostly wood construction. The vehicle had the capacity to hold eight passengers and was designed for use in the Civilian Conservation Corps and National Guard. This model was produced but just over one year.

The 1934 Chevrolet Suburban

After the first production year we already begin to see the evolution of the Suburban within the second year of its creation. Instead of the wood construction, sheet metal was used for the body, but the original design from the 1933 version held. Three rows of seats made this vehicle which was known as the "Carry All Suburban" a highly functional vehicle for transporting an entire family or group within a single automobile. Convenient side hinged rear panel doors or the option of a rear tailgate and lift window were the innovations that made it possible to access the rear cargo area.

1935 Chevrolet Suburban The First Generation

From 1935 through 1936, the Chevrolet Carryall Suburban was produced in a two door wagon style that became the official first generation of the vehicle produced for sale to the public. The majority of the seats were designed to be removable so the vehicle could be used to transport passengers, or used as a cargo van for hauling goods. The first generation Suburbans were powered by an inline six cylinder motor that generated 60 horsepower.

1936 Chevrolet Suburban

By 1937, the Chevrolet Carryall Suburban was given a slight face lift with enhancements to the styling and a more streamlined body. The six cylinder engine jumped in power output from 60 to 79 horse power.

1937 Chevrolet Suburban

1939 Chevrolet Suburban

1940 Chevrolet Suburban

We see a few more variations come out between 1939 and 1940 with noticeable changes in the body styling for aesthetics, but the basic shape and features of the vehicles remained the same with two doors for passenger and driver access and the rear opening for the cargo space.

The Second Generation Chevrolet Suburban - 1941 through 1946

It was during this era that the War caused a marked decrease in the production of automobiles in favor of producing war machines. A new four door model is introduced during this time period and the Suburban is a favorite with the military because of its capacity to carry multiple passengers, cargo, or a combination of both. You may remember seeing a few of the old Suburbans from the 1940s era in popular movies such as "Easy Rider," "Play Misty For Me," and "Clear and Present Danger." The second generation of the Chevy Suburban was built in 1941, 1942 and 1946 models

There were two new distinctions made in variants of the Suburban during this time. It gave consumers and the military a few choices in design. The 3106 designation featured rear panel doors with an alternate version called thee 3116 which offered tailgates versus the panel doors. The Suburban got a few more upgrades during this time with a 216 cubic inch 6 cylinder engine for the Chevy version with GMC taking it a step further with a 228 cubic inch 6 cylinder engine.

Third Generation Chevy Suburban - 1947 through 1954

By this time in the evolution of the automaker itself, new Chevy trucks were in full production and some of the design elements were borrowed for the third generation of Suburbans. We see an enlargement of the grill and the designers took it in a horizontal direction. The engine used to power these popular work vehicles was the Stovebolt OHV 16 3.5 liter, which would be replaced by the Thriftmaster 3.9 liter 16 after 1954. The horse power output of the inline six maxed out at 90 hp that pushed 174 lb ft of torque. the transmissions offered were a 3 speed manual, a 4 speed manual and a 4 speed Hydra-Matic automatic.

A split bench seat in the front and two seats on the drivers side with a single passenger seat on the side had the capacity to slide forward to get to the rear passenger seats in the second and third rows. It was during this time that the "Canopy Express" models were produced, but the end of the third generation would also signal the end of production for these variants.

Fourth Generation -1955 through 1959

The Fourth Generation of the Suburban was equipped with a 265 cubic inch V8 4.3 liter engine that cranked out 145 horse power or a 4.6 liter V8 delivering 155 horse power. The fourth generation models were available in 3 speed manual, 4 speed manual and 4 speed Hydra-matic automatic transmissions. The wheelbase was 114 inches. The biggest style and design changes were introduced in 1955 with a flatter hood, flush to the body front fenders and a trapezoid grill. During this era in the evolution, 4 wheel drive suburbans were available, and in 1958, the "Fleetside" all steel bed option came out.

Fifth generation -1960 through 1966

The fifth generation of the Chevrolet Suburban ushered in the Chevrolet Apache in 1961, also known as the GMC Carryall. The two door SUV was featured in both two wheel and four wheel drive editions with a C/K series platform. a range of powertrain choices included:

  • Engine 230 cu in (3.8 L) I6 (63–65)
  • 235 cu in (3.9 L) I6(60–62)
  • 250 cu in (4.1 L) I6 (66)
  • 283 cu in (4.6 L) V8 (60–66)
  • 292 cu in (4.8 L) I6 (63–66)
  • 305 cu in (5.0 L) V6 engine
  • 327 cu in (5.4 L) V8 (66)

The transmissions were offered in a 3-speed synchromesh manual or a 4-speed synchromesh, Powerglide.

Stylistically, the fifth generation Suburbans took their inspiration from the design of the 1950s models of Chevrolet cars with large oval ports above the grills. The 1960 model sported a new front independent suspension with a wrap around windshield and the same choice off panel door or tailgate rear openings. A more conservative hood styling emerged in 1962, and the door glass became larger and the windshield flatter in 1964.

Sixth Generation -1967 through 1972 C10

The body style of the sixth generation in North American featured a 3 door wagon with a 5 door option in Brazil. These vehicles were offered in rear wheel drive and four wheel drive options with a range of engine choices including:

  • 305 cu in (5.0 L) V6
  • 250 cu in (4.1 L) I6
  • 292 cu in (4.8 L) I6
  • 283 cu in (4.6 L)V8
  • 307 cu in (5.0 L) V8
  • 327 cu in (5.4 L) V8
  • 350 cu in (5.7 L) V8
  • 396 cu in (6.5 L) V8

The available transmission options were a choice of 3-speed manual, 4-speed manual or Powerglide, Turbo-Hydramatic. The wheelbase was lengthened to 127 inches with a total vehicle length of 215.5 inches. The 1970 model would be the last to sport a Cc10 and C20 panel truck model that was popular for use in commercial endeavors. Disc brakes came out in the 1971 models on the front wheels and the 1972 models were the last in which the coil spring rear suspension on the 2 wheel drive models would be used. 1971 saw the addition of the Comfort Tilt Steering wheel as an option. The sixth generation of Chevy Suburbans became recognized ass an ideal recreational vehicle.

Seventh Generation -1973 through 1991

We see several changes take place within the seventh generation of the Chevy Suburban. Consumers had their choice of Diesel engines in the form of a 5.7 L (350 cu in) V8 or a 6.2 L (379 cu in) V8, with Brazilian models sporting a 4.0 L straight-4 Maxion S4/S4T. The gasoline engine choices were 5.7 L (350 cu in) V8,

6.6 L (400 cu in) V8 or a 7.4 L (454 cu in) V8 with the 4.1 L straight-six offered in the Brazilian version only. Transmissions were either a 3-speed manual,4-speed manual,3-speed automatic or a 4-speed automatic. The wheelbase grew a few more inches to 129.5 inches.

The 1973 models came out with two doors on each side verses the one driver's side door from the previous generation, with air conditioning in both front and rear, a heater under the third seat, a baggage rack ,easy access step plates and a new Eaton Automatic differential lock for the rear differential. Nine passenger configurations were made available and with new health issues arising, the automaker made certain to remove all asbestos from the rear brakes. Thee new grille was introduced in 1985, giving it a more modern aesthetic.

Eighth Generation -1992 through 1999

The 1990s saw the Chuck Jordan designs with the 4 door body style SUV in four wheel drive or rear wheel drive. The engine choices were a 6.5 L (395 cu in) L56 & L65 Turbo Diesel V8, 5.7 L (350 cu in) L05 V8, 5.7 L (350 cu in) Vortec L31 V8 (1996–1999), 7.4 L (454 cu in) L19 V8 or a 7.4 L (454 cu in) Vortec L29 V8 (1996–1999). The 4 speed automatic transmission was popular during this era with the option for a more heavy duty variation in the 4L80 4 speed automatic that was in the 2500 series.

Manual transmission options from the previous generation were no longer available and we also saw the wheelbase extend to 131.5 inches. The addition of live axle and leaf springs in the rear was a new feature of this generation with various aesthetic changes and creature comforts made within the interior. From 1994 forward, each year would see new changes and revisions as technology became more innovative.

Ninth Generation -2000 through 2006

The wheelbase was shortened slightly to 130 inches and engine offerings were:

Engine 5.3 L (325 cu in) Vortec 5300 LM7 V8 (Gen III) (1500 only), 5.3 L (325 cu in) Vortec 5300 L59 flex fuel V8, (Gen III) (1500 only) (2002 - 2006), 6.0 L (364 cu in) Vortec 6000 LQ4 V8 (Gen III) (optional on 1500 in 2006; standard on 2500) and a 5.7 L (350 cu in) Vortec L31 V8 (2000-2002 Mexico Only) and a 8.1 L (496 cu in) Vortec 8100 L18 V8 (optional on 2500 only).

The transmission choices were a 4-speed 4L60E automatic (1500 only), 4-speed 4L80E automatic (2500 w/ 6.0 L engine only) and a 4-speed 4L85E automatic (2500 w/ 8.1 L engine only). Pushbutton 4 wheel drive with low range transfer case emerged during this generation with the option off a tow hitch with trailer wiring plug.

The spare tire was moved to the underside of the vehicle, freeing more cargo space. LS and LT models offered puddle lamps within the exterior mirrors. A new instrument panel with a driver message center, electronic climate control on the LT models and four wheel disc brakes were offered. The ninth generation was more modernized with power windows, front seats, heated rear view mirrors and the base models were no longer produced ass the LS and LT stepped up to the plate.

Tenth Generation -2007 through 2014

The tenth generation featured a 5 door SUV body style for greater passenger convenience with engine offerings of a 5.3 L (325 cu in) Vortec 5300 LY5 V8 (1500 only), 5.3 L (325 cu in) Vortec 5300 LMG flex fuel V8 (optional on 1500 only), 6.0 L (364 cu in) Vortec 6000 L76 V8 (1500 only) (optional from 2007 - 2009),

a 6.0 L (364 cu in) Vortec 6000 LY6 V8 (2500 only) or a 6.2 L (376 cu in) Vortec 6200 V8 (GMC Yukon XL 1500 Denali only). Transmission options were a 4-speed 4L60E automatic (1500 only) (standard from 2007 - 2009), 4-speed 4L80E automatic (2500 only) (standard 2007 only), 6-speed 6L80 automatic (1500 only) (optional in 2009, standard from 2010 - 2014), and a 6-speed 6L90 automatic (2500 only) (standard from 2008 - 2013). The wheelbase held firm at 130 inches. The styling of this generation was less boxy and more modern in appearance with the use of aerodynamic shaping, making the angle of the windshield steeper for the sake of aerodynamics. Modern conveniences such as two tone interiors, GPS, DVD players, navigation systems, enhanced radio and touch screens were added.

Eleventh Generation (2015–present)

The eleventh generation of the Chevrolet Suburban is a continuation of the tradition that brings us to the most recent developments. The engines were upgraded to a choice off a 5.3 L (325 cu in) EcoTec3 V8 FlexFuel, or a 6.2 L EcoTec3 V-8 FlexFuel in the 2019 edition. The 10 speed Hydra Matic 10L90 automatic transmission is standard in the RST Suburban package for 2019. The vehicle has come a long way since it's original production model in 1934 and the military vehicles made in 1933.

The aesthetics are neatly in line with public expectations regarding modernity and sleekness. Chevrolet offers multiple build your own features which began with the production of the 2015 models and continues through the present. New designs and choices are available but the front fascia remains distinct. Thanks to the use of new materials, the weight has been significantly reduced for a leaner, more streamlined vehicle with extra room on the inside. New technology is installed in each vehicle including radar detection for avoiding crashes, an anti-theft system, and multiple sensors within the interior. With each passing year, new color options have been made available in addition to on board navigation systems, enhanced GPS, safety systems and infotainment.

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Garrett Parker

Written by Garrett Parker

Garrett by trade is a personal finance freelance writer and journalist. With over 10 years experience he's covered businesses, CEOs, and investments. However he does like to take on other topics involving some of his personal interests like automobiles, future technologies, and anything else that could change the world.

Read more posts by Garrett Parker

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