Chevrolet has been known to produce some of the finest examples of big trucks and SUVs this side of the Atlantic for many years already. The Chevrolet K1500 Suburban is just one such example and, perhaps, is the most popular. It’s so popular, in fact, that when General Motors acquired the marquee in 1918 the automotive conglomerate kept the name and designation for many long years. Through the years, the Suburban only got better and better, and continues to be one of the best associated brand names in automotive history.
1933-1972: Setting the Stage
It’s funny to think that what eventually became the most prolific and largest SUV in history began life as a station wagon. Little is known of the first Suburban that came out in 1933 save that it was built on a half-ton truck frame, and was built specifically for National Guard units. And odd quirk of this first outing was that a lot of the body was made out of wood! By 1935, the only improvement made to the design was to take out the wood and construct the entire thing out of metal.
The first truly “civilian” model of the Suburban was released between 1941 and 1946. It retained the all-metal design of the ’35 version, but started to take on the common form factor of vehicles in that era—a lot of sculpted, rounded shapes. One could get a Suburban with rear panel doors or a tailgate. This particular model came with a 216-cu. in., 6-cylinder engine that was later upgraded to a 228-cu. In. 6 cylinder for a little extra bit of power.
When 1954 rolled around, the Suburban got a Hydra-matic 4-forward-speed automatic transmission. Overall, however, no other significant changes were made to the Suburban—the engine, however, did get a small bump up to 235-cu. In. after 1954. It was between 1960 and 1966 that the Suburban finally got a whole slew of improvements put in. For one thing, the curves were out, and the station wagon slowly began to bulk up in size and take on an “SUV”-like appearance. It was in this time period that the “K”s started to come out—full 4-wheel drive.
The engine got bumped up to either an Inline-6 and smaller-block V8s which saw a considerable bump up in power output but a bit of difficulty with fuel economy. The years that followed saw small, incremental increases that would serve as a platform for the future, as it were. The addition of disc brakes on the front wheels came in 1971. And in 1972, older coil-spring rear suspension was discontinued in favor of the more modern versions.
1973-1991: Transition into Success
In 1973, the Suburban became a 4-door vehicle. The base engine was a small block 350-cu. In. V8, but there was a 454-cu. In. big block V8 available as well. The transmission system was upgraded to a Turbo Hydra-matic, which was a 3-speed and also more efficient and responsive than earlier outings. When 1987 came around, the fuel delivery system was upgraded to full fuel-injection—this brought on improved fuel economy, performance, and reduced emissions. In 1990, the K1500 Suburban got anti-lock braking as a standard. By 1991, the K1500 was at the peak of its success and having paved the way for future success, found its name an designation retired.