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Chevrolet Suburban 75th Anniversary Event – Click above for high-res image gallery

Quick, what's the longest-running nameplate in the car business?

If you said Honda Civic, you deserve to be smacked upside the head with a four-inch exhaust tip – it's merely 37 model years old. The vehicle we're talking about is positively prehistoric by comparison. The Porsche 911? Wrong again, as it only predates the Civic by a decade. You're getting closer if you said the Ford F-Series, but still, FoMoCo didn't launch its best-selling pickup until 1948.

You've got to go all the way back to 1935 for the launch of the auto industry's Methuselah, the Chevrolet Suburban. That makes 2010 the 75th anniversary of the full-size SUV archetype. To celebrate, Chevy opened its vault on one of the Dog Days of August to let journalists drive a handful of vintage models.

It was something of a belated party, as GM stopped building 2010 model year Suburbans in June, including the special Diamond Edition model. But we're not going to complain about being given the opportunity to get seat time in eight of the ten historic "Caryall" generations. Model years 1936, 1946, 1951, 1966, 1972, 1990, 1999 and 2002 were on hand, most thanks to GM's Heritage Center.

We decided that the only proper way to approach the task was to drive back in history. This served well to highlight not just how much the Suburban has changed in recent model years, but how much the auto industry has evolved since the pre-war era. But it also showed how consistent the Suburban has been over all these years, offering eight-passenger capability in a roomy wagon body mounted on a heavy truck frame since its inception. History has shown this formula's a winner; Chevy estimates it has built between 2.25–2.4 million Suburbans in total.

Follow the jump for a taste of our experience driving the Suburban back in time to its beginning.

Ninth and Tenth Generation
2002 Chevrolet Suburban
2002 Chevrolet Suburban

As you might imagine, there weren't a lot of surprises to be found in the 2002 or 1999 Suburban. Representing the ninth (1992-1999) and tenth generation (2000-2006), this pair was baked from fundamentally the same recipe as the current Suburban. You've got to give GM credit, as it really got it right when it introduced the 1992 model.

Eighth Generation

1990 Chevrolet Suburban

It was behind the wheel of the 1990 model that things got interesting. This is the Suburban that truly defined the breed, the eighth generation that was produced from 1973 through 1991. Yes, that's 18 years, meaning that this model served through five presidential administrations. It was the first Suburban to offer four doors, and the first to have a big-block V8 engine option, the 454-cid in 1973. The eighth-generation Suburban received plenty of upgrades over the years, as interiors were revised and the front end was restyled. A diesel was offered and engines became fuel injected in the late 1980s. Its base price quadrupled, from a mere $3,832 in 1973 to $16,720 in 1991. While this era of Suburban was the first to seem tame enough for everyday transportation when judged by modern standards – that having four doors thing really helps – by 1990 it was certainly a truly medieval vehicle, dated from the inside out.

Seventh Generation

1972 Chevrolet Suburban

The 1972 Suburban was our favorite, with an interior that looks like it could have been pulled from a contemporary Impala, and a classy two-tone exterior. It drove like a vintage pickup, which is to say its three-speed manual transmission (with a "creeper" first gear) and over-boosted power steering was a not-unpleasant reminder that SUVs were once work vehicles, but it was still modern enough that we wouldn't hesitate to drive one in today's traffic. Surely you could keep up thanks to the classic Chevy 350-cid small-block V8, even if it was rated at just 175 horsepower. The 1967–1972 Suburban (the seventh generation) betrays the subtle attention to detail that defined the Bill Mitchell era of GM design, when the company could seemingly do no wrong. This was the generation of Suburban that introduced the three-door design (one on the driver's side and two on the passenger's side, like a van). It was also the first Suburban to assume more modern proportions, with a 127-inch wheelbase and 215-inch overall length.

Sixth Generation
1966 Chevrolet Suburban

It was behind the wheel of the 1966 Suburban when things started to get a bit primitive. This was a two-door model, like all that preceded it, and it was noticeably smaller than the newer generations we'd already driven. Like other early 1960's vehicles (we're thinking mostly of the Corvette), this sixth generation of Suburban – produced from 1960–1966 – served as a transition for the nameplate. It's interesting to note that GM has no production records for the Suburban prior to 1963.

Fourth and Fifth Generation
1951 Chevrolet Suburban

The fifth-generation Suburban was not represented, but Chevy did have a fourth-generation 1951 model there to show off what the vehicle looked like in the immediate post-war period (1947-1954). This was the first model that seemed overly antique, thanks to its 92-horsepower "Stovebolt Six" with a "three-on-the-tree" manual transmission and a floor-mounted starter. At least it had a much nicer interior (with a radio, even) when compared to the 1946 model.

Third Generation
1951 Chevrolet Suburban

This was a holdover of the third-generation Suburban that debuted in 1941, prior to World War II, and cost just $837 at the time. Its three-speed manual transmission was floor-mounted, and its inline-six rated at just 90 horsepower, though with 165 lb-ft of torque, was still a contemporary towing machine. It's worth mentioning that Suburbans from this era did not have four-wheel drive, which didn't come along until 1957. The one thing that really caught our eye about the 1946 was its polished wood floor, which was just beautiful. The steering wheel, however, felt like it came from a bread truck, with a circumference like an extra-large pizza. Seats had exposed metal frames, which seem shocking in this era of side-impact airbags.

First and Second Generation

No second-generation vehicle was on hand, but Chevy did have a 1936 model, an "original" Suburban. We weren't able to drive it, but we did get a good look at the interesting way it was built. You could actually see exposed nail heads where the sheet metal had been bent around the wood frame and nailed in place. GM claims the Suburban was the first steel-bodied station wagon built on a truck frame. This 1936 model was the first with hydraulic brakes, and was powered by a version of the original Stovebolt Six that made just 79-horsepower.

  • 75 years of Chevrolet Suburban (clockwise from left), 1936, 1946, 1951, 1966, 1972, 1990, 1999, 2002 and 2010 75th Anniversary Diamond Edition (center).

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      I learned to drive in a 1986 Suburban. It served our family well for 180K miles, performing well on family trips, towing boats, moving two kids to college, working on home projects and pretty much everything else. The rear air conditioner unit was great at keeping the Texas heat at bay, and I learned a lot about how to fix/maintain a vehicle, working on it with my dad.

      It wasn't perfect, though -- the paint peeled and the carburetor setup had some issues. Towards the end of our tenure, it also lost a few gear teeth on the flywheel so every once in a while you had to rock it back and forth to get the starter to engage, too.

      But when we sold it, it was still running generally OK and I think we got something like $3K for it.

      There's some part of me that would still like to own one, but filling up a 40 gallon fuel tank can be painful, and the price tag is pretty steep for a new one, too.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I'm with you Jason. I learned to drive in a 1993 GMC Suburban and took my driving test in it as well. I remember having to do the parallel parking test between the cones, which were slightly wider apart then that length of the vehicle. I didn't hit the cones, but I did go over the curb from having to take such an extreme angle. Still, I passed. I later used that car in college, where it served as the crazy fun-mobile, taking as many people as I could through the Holland tunnel and into lower Manhattan on the weekends... NYC traffic wasn't such a problem, people moved out of my way when they say me coming, haha. After 160k miles my family sold it and replaced it with a 2001, and later a 2008 - all great vehicles, especially the 2008. My favorite thing about the newer models was the cylinder-deactivation system. I was able to drive from Chicago to Minneapolis on a single tank of E85, and using careful driving on the highway, tires at the correct pressure, no real cargo, with only fresh air (no AC), I was able to get about 37mpg through most of Wisconsin - its an addictive game watching that instant mpg counter :-)
      • 4 Years Ago
      The 67-72 'Burbs could be had with a factory 396.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Happy Birthday Suburban.
      Contrary to modern belief I feel sometimes these trucks really are necessary.

      Still remember as a kid riding with my friends & family down to the lake towing the friend's boat and jetskis...that was a late 80s model, good stuff.
      • 4 Years Ago
      God, I love the Suburban! will there be a full test on the current one soon?
      • 4 Years Ago
      I've owned multiple Suburbans over the years, going back to the 60's. Still own a '95 diesel 2500. Out of all the vehicles I've owned over the years, the Suburban is my absolute favorite. If I could only have one vehicle, it would be a Suburban.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Our family had the 7th and 8th gens.
      The 7th gen was bulletproof and awesome.
      The 8th Gen was garbage and along with the steaming pile of crap malibu wagon that replaced the 8th gen that we had to dump, soured me on GM forever.
      Two mega Lemons in a span of just a few years.
      • 4 Years Ago
      That sixth generation - is that a genuine GM 4x4 setup, or NAPCO? I know that when GM pickups started offering 4WD back in the'50s, that they were conversions done by NAPCO.

      Also, who owns all these Suburbans? Are they from the GM Heritage Collection? And why no second or fifth generation available?
      • 4 Years Ago
      I love how the 6th generation had a body that flared out way past the wheels.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I still kick myself regularly for not buying a clean early Eighth Gen I saw that was for sale for $1200. :(
      • 4 Years Ago
      From the eighth generation summary: "It was the first Suburban to offer four doors"

      Scroll down to the seventh generation. Strange, that looks like four doors. (?)
        • 4 Years Ago
        That is odd. But correct.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Count carefully.


        The rear hatch doesn't get counted.
      • 4 Years Ago
      It amuses me greatly that the early Suburbans were 2-door 3-row haulers.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I thought the same thing, I bet it was fun loading/unloading 3 rows worth of passengers in those things!
      • 4 Years Ago
      I have been driving a Suburban for over 40 years now. My present one is a 2001 that is still performing well. My previous Suburban had over 250,000 miles on it and it was still going strong. I hope the Chevrolet engineers are reading these comments and updating their design accordingly.
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