David Freiburger Thinks Suburbans Are the Best Station Wagons Ever Made

a green truck parked in a parking lot: 001-david-freiburger-chevy-suburban © Petersen Publishing Archives 001-david-freiburger-chevy-suburban

I Love My Suburban

Twenty-plus years ago I went on record, via a Car Craft editorial column, with my belief that station wagons are America's finest automotive institution. If I believe that, then I must conclude that the Chevy and GMC Suburbans are the greatest of all, because they're nothing but plus-sized wagons. If they weren't, GM wouldn't have made 'em as fake woodsides in '70s, right? In a world where the glorious station wagon has been kicked to the curb in favor of the ubiquitous minivans and "crossover" SUVs, the Suburban still stands strong. Should I include today's GMC Yukon XL? I suppose so. It's mildly entertaining that they call them "XL" for "extra large." But you may guess that my heart is with the older models.

a vintage photo of a truck © Petersen Publishing Archives

The Suburban Carryall was introduced as a production vehicle in 1935 and is commonly referred to as the world's first SUV, though I don't understand why the far earlier depot hack bodies don't qualify. The Suburban is also said to be the longest-running nameplate in vehicular history, though I don't think a "Suburban" badge appeared anywhere on the vehicle until 1973.

a car driving on a road © Petersen Publishing Archives

Also, the Suburban name was used concurrently on Studebaker, Nash, Dodge, DeSoto, and Plymouth vehicles—none of which were under General Motors. GM itself used the name on the GMC Suburban pickup truck, a competitor to the Chevy Cameo, from 1955 to 1957, according to gmheritagecenter.com, and the Suburban name was not exclusively trademarked until 1988. Regardless, you say "Suburban," and people know exactly what you're driving.

a police car parked in front of a truck © Petersen Publishing Archives

In past years, I owned a '68 and a '72, which people often refer to as the "rare three-door model" despite the fact that all of them from '67 to '72 had three doors (driver, passenger, and passenger-side rear). These had 50 percent more doors than any prior Chevy/GMC Suburban other than the early custom-built woody four-doors.

a truck is parked in front of a car © Petersen Publishing Archives

History aside, I love these things. After my two sixth-gen trucks, my first four-door was a '78, I recently drove a company-owned '94 for a while, I drove late-model Chevy loaners for years on Power Tour, and I just scored an '87—so I can tell you that a Suburban is a near-essential hot rodding accessory. You can haul stuff in them, cruise with everyone you know inside, tow with them, and live in 'em when you need to. They can be support vehicles or hot rods, and you can slam them or lift them. You don't think of Suburbans as race vehicles, but I've dreamed of building one as the ultimate 10-second Drag Week rig (see cargo and housing commentary above). I'd shoot for quicker, but these things are monster heavy.

a car parked in front of a truck © Petersen Publishing Archives

It's come time to address the controversy, though: tailgate or barn doors? I'm a firm barn-door guy. Tailgate fans claim you can roll down the rear window for mega airflow, and you can sit on the tailgate for, well, tailgating. I say that rolling down a rear window just draws in exhaust smell. For cargo loading, a tailgate guy has to: 1) roll down the window with the crank that's hinky or the electric motor that doesn't work, all while keeping the window from catching on the weatherstrip because of the crack in the gate sheetmetal that exists on like half of every Squarebody ever built; 2) open the 100-pound gate while keeping it from slamming into the bumper when he drops it; 3) load cargo while throwing out his back reaching a long way over the opened gate, potentially having to crawl inside the truck because he can't reach all the way in; 4) get a hernia closing the 100-pound gate; and 5) battle the window to get it closed. Meanwhile, barn-door guy opens a door, throws the junk inside, and slams the door. Case closed.

a truck is parked in front of a body of water © Petersen Publishing Archives a car parked in front of a building © Petersen Publishing Archives

My latest '87 is a former U.S. Forest Service rig, so it's a stripper. Rubber floormats, no A/C, four-speed, and a 350 with the first-year throttle-body injection. On paper it's miserable to drive, but it's practically fantastic. I just put 2,400 miles on it in a single trip and bonded with the thing. Even after loving it, and after the prior 686 words that gushed on every Suburban ever built (barn-door ones, anyway), I may have to part with it for storage and vehicular volume reasons. And that will crush me. So do as I say and not as I do: Get yourself a Suburban, and never let it go.

a car parked in a parking lot © Petersen Publishing Archives
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