Chevrolet Suburbans have a long lineage dating back to 1935 when they were introduced as the Suburban Carryall. The new Suburban was an all-steel, eight-passenger station wagon. It was a two-door with a tailgate. That body style continued through several generations up to 1966. In 1967, Suburbans were enlarged and lengthened with an added third door. In 1973 the familiar four-door body style was introduced and it continues today.
The focus of this article is Suburbans of the Sixties, but since 1967-72 Suburbans are a single series, the 1970-72 models will be included too. In fact, it was the 1967-72 C/K series that boosted interest in earlier Suburbans. This was an extension of the high demand for 1967-72 half-ton pickups and Blazers.
As the popularity of the 1967-72 pickups grew, interest started building for the earlier Sixties trucks. This was true for pickups and Suburbans. A case can be made that 1972 Chevy/GMC pickups and Suburbans are the most popular, with a declining desirability ending at 1960. An exception to this sliding scale is the 1967 models, which are very popular for their slick front sheetmetal. This reverse popularity scale is related to the greater availability of fully loaded, more refined trucks in 1972.
A quick way to assess Sixties Suburban trends is to look at similar-year pickups. From the dashboard forward, these are the same vehicles and there's much commonality behind the dash as well. As with the pickups there are three style categories: lowered street rods, raised 4x4s, and totally original restorations. Popularity follows that order.
Restored Suburbans can be either two-wheel-drive C10s or four-wheel-drive K10s. The ¾-ton K20s are also popular because they're more-rugged versions of the K10s. The C20 Suburbans aren't very popular with the street rod faction, because they're tougher to lower and fewer custom wheels are available for their 8-lug hubs.
Whether stock, lowered, or jacked up, the vast majority of Suburbans are original in appearance. It's rare to see extensive body modifications. Fully loaded with deluxe trim and paint schemes is the most popular exterior theme. Large-diameter wheels (there's ample room for 20s) are favored by both C10 and K10 builders. The differences are in tire height and tread patterns.
Air suspension kits, dropped spindles, custom A-arms, rear axle flip kits, and lowering springs are all used to slam 2WD Suburbans. The 4x4 fans use lift kits, body spacers, huge tires, and off-road springs to raise their trucks. Restorers leave everything as delivered from the factory.
Since the factory appearance is so popular, it's easy to have a split personality Suburban. A simple change of wheels and tires can turn a stocker into a sharp street rod.
Under the hood the two most popular choices are performance versions of Chevy small-block and big-block engines. The engine bays are very spacious. Automatic transmissions predominate except for some of the most rugged 4x4s.
The 1966 and earlier Suburbans have a growing following. Their smaller size (compared to the 1967 and up models) is a nice compromise between functionality and maneuverability. The 1960-66 styling is very handsome, especially from the B-pillar back. The slanted B-pillar and sliding side windows are reminiscent of the iconic 1955-57 Chevy Nomads. The 1963-66 models are the most popular. 1962 grilles aren't as handsome as 1963-66 units, but swaps are easy.
The least popular Sixties Suburbans are the 1960-61 models, because their unique 1959 Impala-inspired hoods are kind of awkward looking. The look worked on 1959 Chevy passenger cars, but not on the less sleek truck versions. Another knock against the 1960-62 models is their unique torsion bar front suspension. Street rodders much prefer the easy-to-lower, 1963-and-newer coil spring suspension systems.
Sixties Suburbans came with two rear door choices–station wagon-style tailgates and panel truck-style side hinged doors. The double door models are popularly known as barn doors. The popularity of the two styles is pretty even.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Rust is a big problem for any older truck or Suburban. All the well-known pickup rust spots apply to Suburbans, plus there are extra issues associated with the rear doors. Besides rust at the rear of the vehicles, they also seem to be vulnerable to body damage around the taillights and the lower corners of the quarter-panels.
Body rot is common around the wheelwells and lower rocker panels. The rocker panels underneath the doors are notorious for rot, but inexpensive replacement parts are readily available. Front fender rust is common, but again, replacement parts are plentiful.
Many Suburbans were used like trucks, especially the base models. As such, the rear cargo areas can be dented and rusted. Tailgates can be pretty hammered. Suburbans that were used as large station wagons tend to be in better shape.
The more deluxe a vehicle is, the more important completeness is. Trim items and accessories can be expensive. Any items related to factory air conditioning are important to have.
Problems related to engines, transmissions, and suspensions aren't a big deal unless an original restoration is planned. The ability to install newer Chevy engines, transmissions, brakes, and suspension systems makes much of the original equipment superfluous.
Sixties Chevy/GMC Suburbans are multi-purpose utility vehicles that are plentiful, affordable, easy to build, and fun to drive.
Everything that can be done to a Sixties Chevy pickup applies to the Suburbans. Jeff and Jennifer Galbraith's two-tone 1966 has a slammed suspension, big Torq-Thrust wheels, and a body that was restored to better than new.
The lowered street rod stance predominates, but plenty of Suburban enthusiasts like the lifted 4x4 look, too. In this case painted bumpers, grille, and wheels work better for a rugged, purposeful look rather than the chromed look favored by the lowered crowd.
Like the Chevy Nomad wagons, the 1960-66 Suburban side windows slide open. This was an efficient way to get fresh air without expensive window crank mechanisms.
GM light-duty trucks were redesigned for 1960. Suburbans and pickups share front fenders, hoods, and grilles. The unique hood shows obvious styling influences from the wild 1959 Chevy passenger cars. The bowtie emblem is big.
The 1961 models had the same hood as the 1960, but with different inserts. The 1961s came with dual headlights like the 1960s, but this one has a 1963 grille with single lights. That illustrates the great interchangeability among different-year Suburbans.
The twin side-hinged doors are known as barn doors. This is the more commercial version of the two tailgate/rear door designs. Barn doors were used on panel vans. Both designs have their fans.
GMC Suburbans were very similar to their Chevy cousins except for grille, trim, and engine differences. The unique engine lineup is the most noticeable difference between the two brands. This beautifully restored 4x4 GMC is powered by a 305-cubic-inch V-6.
Sixties Suburbans have spacious engine bays that will accommodate any GM small-block or big-block. This is a beautifully detailed 350.
GM trucks were redesigned in 1967. Suburbans were noticeably longer. 1967-68 hoods were more slanted than 1969-72 hoods. 1967 models didn't have side marker lights. Grille trim could either be chromed or painted.
The most unique feature of 1967-72 Suburbans is their third door on the passenger or curb side. The additional door made access to the second- and third-row seats much easier.
Like the previous-generation Suburbans, the 1967-72 models could be ordered with either a tailgate or barn doors. The added length behind the second row meant there was room for an optional third row and 40 cubic feet of cargo space behind the seat.
This 1971 GMC Suburban looks almost brand new, because it only had 21,000 original miles at the time of this photo. Low-mileage, unmolested Suburbans are extremely difficult to find, because most of these trucks were worked hard.
This little decal is quite desirable, because it means the Suburban has factory disc brakes.
Rust is a big problem with 1960-72 Suburbans, especially in the rear quarters and around the rear doors. They also share the front fender, front door, and rocker panel rust problems associated with Chevy pickups.
The gray primer spots on this Chevy panel truck are indicative of common rust areas. Big bumpers and beat-up rear doors are hints of hard commercial use. Amateur window additions and sunroofs are difficult to restore.
Starting in 1968, Suburbans could be ordered with 396-cubic-inch big-blocks. Factory air conditioning is a very desirable option. Dashboards in A/C trucks are different than non-A/C models.
This is a very popular "look" for street rod-style Suburbans. Fully optioned (this truck has the rare roof-mounted rear A/C), deluxe trim models with original color schemes seem to be universally desirable. Lowered suspensions (often via airbags) and 20-inch five-spokes with low-profile modern tires complete the look.
Suburbans were made in ½-ton and ¾-ton versions. The smaller ones were C/K 10 series and the big trucks were C/K 20s. C stands for 2WD and K symbolizes 4WD. This lifted 1970 Chevy is a K20 with oversized wheels and tires that are so popular with the 4x4 crowd.
It's more common to find a basic Suburban than a fully loaded one. Even single-color models with faded original paint look great when lowered and fitted with Chevy pickup Rally wheels and slightly larger than stock tires. This Suburban has typical rocker panel rust.
Here's an interesting variation on 1967-72 Suburbans–a phantom Tahoe. The wheelbase was shortened 23 inches and the body was shortened 12 inches behind the rear wheels. Unlike the Blazer, this truck has a solid-metal roof and barn doors. It looks like a factory conversion.
Published Dec 7th, 2015
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