DETROIT - Born from the marriage of passenger seats and a panel van, along with several windows from which to see out, the Suburban from Chevrolet celebrates a milestone that few other models can compare to; a 75-year legacy. Who would have thought 75 years ago, just as America was starting to emerge from the Great Depression, that a utilitarian vehicle would grow-up to be one of the most prestigious vehicles to own, according to Kelley Blue Book.
It was a novel idea in 1935 when Chevrolet combined the heavy-duty ruggedness of a light-duty commercial vehicle with a purpose-built passenger vehicle. What started out as a bare-bones mode of transportation has grown into one of the most sought-after and popular modern day vehicles.
When first released in 1935, Chevrolet's Suburban Carryall was in a league of its own.
These vehicles were popular with construction companies when transporting work crews to remote locations, and for small rural school districts that needed transportation for fewer than 10 students. During World War II, the Suburban came into its own in a number of military applications, ranging from VIP transportation to moving troops to use as ambulances.
At the end of the war, the need for commercial vehicles was great and the Suburban was more popular than ever. Just as it does today, styling was shared with light-duty pickup trucks, and the versatility of this vehicle seemed limited only by the customers' imagination.
When the very popular "Advanced Design" trucks were introduced in the late 1940s, the Suburban gained an even bigger customer base, still limited to just two-passenger doors, but there were options for the rear opening with "side-by-side" or "clam-shell" lift and tail-gate combinations.
By the 1950s, some larger families were looking to the Suburban as a way to get the entire brood from home to school to the little-league practice, and on weekends to the country for camping or picnic duties. In 1960, one of the greatest innovations for the Suburban came when a third passenger door was introduced, allowing for easier access to the rear passenger seats. Also, Chevrolet realized that more and more civilian buyers were lining up to buy these ultra useful vehicles, so more creature comforts were added such as premium radios, heating and air conditioning systems, as well as conveniences such as automatic transmissions, power brakes and of course, power steering. Even four-wheel drive Suburbans could be ordered for those needing to explore the outback.
During the 1970s, when more restrictions were being placed on fuel economy for passenger cars, the once-mighty station wagon market started to shrink, especially with the innovation of the minivan in the early 1980s. However, there were still those looking for the comfort and safety of a full-size vehicle, and now more than ever, the Suburban fit the bill.
As more restrictive laws came into effect for passenger cars, light-duty commercial vehicles were taking a larger market share and the Chevrolet Suburban was a leader in the industry. By the late 1980s, any convenience item found in even the grandest of luxury cars (as well as a few that weren't) could be ordered from the factory for these massive family cruisers.
Despite some calls for the demise of these vehicles, their popularity has continued to grow, spawning luxury editions and even seeing names such as Cadillac, Lincoln, Lexus, BMW and even the sporty Porsche coming into the fold, all owing their heritage to the original Chevrolet Suburban, now popularly grouped into the sport utility vehicle classification.
In today's collector market, original editions of the Suburban have been treated to top-quality restorations usually reserved for such marques as Duesenberg or Rolls-Royce, and the prices they command have been just as impressive.
"It isn't unusual to see Suburbans from the early 1950s fetching as much if not more than the brand-new models," said Phil Skinner, collector car market editor for Kelley Blue Book. "While vintage pickup trucks have recently been gaining in value, the prices realized on many of these carryalls and similar vehicle have been strong for the past several years, and they are ahead of the curve for most other vintage vehicles."
As Chevrolet celebrates its 75 years of leadership with the Suburban, it is hard to believe that what originated as solely a commercial workhorse has now helped spawn a new vehicle category (SUV) and remains one of the safest family haulers around.
In fact, the expert editors of Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com just named the 2010 Chevrolet Suburban as one of the Top 10 Family Cars for 2010. To learn more about the 2010 Top 10 Family Cars, visit www.kbb.com/Top10FamilyCars.