|1977 GMC C-15 Suburban Sierra Grande
|234,992 (all 1977 GMCs)
|Original List Price:
|Tune Up Cost:
|Chassis Number Location:
|Spot-welded plate on the driver’s door-lock pillar
|Engine Number Location:
|Passenger’s side of the block near the distributor (I6), passenger’s side of the block on the forward edge of the cylinder head deck (V8)
|American Truck Historical Society
|1973–91 Chevrolet C-1500 Suburban, 1969–75 International Travelall, 1963–87 Jeep Wagoneer / Wagoneer Limited, 1988–91 Jeep Grand Wagoneer
This truck, Lot K4, sold for $7,560, including buyer’s premium, at Mecum’s auction in Kissimmee, FL, on January 18, 2014.
The now-ubiquitous General Motors “Suburban” name first emerged for the 1935 model year as the Chevrolet Carryall Suburban. It was an early offering of a factory-built, steel-bodied, 8-passenger station wagon at a time when most similar vehicles sported bodies built, at least partially, of wood. The Suburban has gone on to become the longest-lived model nameplate in American automotive history, now in its 80th year. By 1937, GMC had its own version of the Suburban as well, and in the years since, it has shared all but a few trim pieces with its Chevrolet counterpart.
A family truck
The 1973 redesign of Chevrolet and GMC light-duty trucks was not just the start of a 15-year design cycle for the pickups — it also lasted almost 20 years for the Suburban. In some ways, that was the Suburban’s debut as an honest-to-goodness competitor to the industry’s largest car-based station wagons, and its only true side-by-side competition, the International Travelall.
One of the biggest improvements introduced by GM in ’73 was the addition of a fourth door at the driver’s side rear position. The previous generation (1967–72) had just three doors, and the generation prior to that had only two. Travelalls, on the other hand, had been built with four doors since 1961. For both the Suburban and the Travelall, that door count didn’t include the choice of access to the rear — either double “barn doors” or a tailgate with a station-wagon-like roll-down rear window.
Adding extra side access in ’73 was key in making the Suburban more attractive to families, and although GM was slow in adding that fourth door, it made a big difference in the truck’s appeal — here was a utility truck that could be used as a wagon, and it could be configured to be pretty comfortable, too, with dual a/c units, power steering, power brakes, cruise control and more.
The Travelall versus Suburban stand-off only lasted until 1975, when International left the light-duty truck market, except for the Scout II. For 1976, International Harvester tried to hold the Travelall’s market share with an extended-wheelbase model called the Traveler. While it allowed greater rear passenger room, it still wasn’t a four-door, so this time around it was a weak competitor to the now four-door ’burban.
As for the Suburban, it now held a unique place in a changing market. “Because some people need more than a wagon,” said a ’73 Chevrolet commercial, “Suburban has a tough truck chassis, so you can carry up to a ton-and-a-half of people and cargo.” Thanks to that, and the available 4×4 system, it was even better suited to explore the country than a traditional station wagon, and its popularity took off over the next two decades.
This Suburban was in generally good condition overall with what could have been only 40k miles from new. If that figure were true, this example is pretty rare, as this particular generation of GM truck hasn’t traditionally been collectible. Most of them were used up over the years — especially ones configured to work hard, such as those with the 454-ci V8 and a 10,000 GVW tow rating like our subject rig.
Any 454-ci-equipped Suburban will consume fuel at what many would call an unacceptable rate in today’s world, and it won’t perform like a ’70 Chevelle SS 454, either. It will, however, tug big-time with its 245 net horsepower and 370 lb-ft of torque — all day and all night, if necessary. It’s easy to imagine that the ideal buyer for this particular vehicle would use it to pull a vintage travel trailer, such as an Airstream. I can tell you from experience that one of these is perfectly suited for that task.
A former employer of mine maintained a fleet of Chevrolet and GMC Suburbans as transport for its many publication divisions. Most were equipped with 350-ci V8s. Over the years, however, a few were ordered with the mighty 454. These vehicles were driven coast to coast and back again to the tune of many hundreds of thousands of miles. The staffer who spent the most time behind the wheels of the corporate caravan said that the 454s were good for eight miles per gallon whether pulling a load or not.
When I retired, I bought a 1973 Airstream Globetrotter Land Yacht and matched it up with a 1990 Chevrolet C-1500 Scottsdale Suburban. Based on my experience of 40,000-plus miles of towing with the combination, along with Suburbans I’ve owned before — all with the ubiquitous 350 small-block under the hood — I can attest that the ’burban is a wonderful tow rig and that the 350 is more than adequate for the job. A 454 may be thirstier, but it would also do a better job flattening out the grades.
A good deal
The explosive increases in prices of vintage SUVs (Land Cruisers, Broncos, and Scouts) over the past few years hinge greatly upon their all-wheel-drive prowess — something that two-wheel-drive Suburbans don’t have. Even 4×4 Suburbans are not quite on that same plateau, as they are longer and less nimble off road. As such, their values still lag compared with other vintage SUVs, but their values are at worst equal to commensurate C/K pickups — and Suburbans are arguably a tick better than their truck counterparts, at least in terms of usability.
All that said, the best hope for long-term value appreciation of these vehicles is with the station-wagon set — the Suburban, is, after all, the ultimate station wagon. And good, original-condition wagons have done pretty well in the market over the past few years. Could these be next?
This generation of GM truck is building momentum in the market, with excellent examples occasionally exceeding established prices. But the vast numbers built and still out on the road may be keeping values in check — there’s still plenty of supply to meet the demand. However, in a few years, we may lament how cheap these were selling for “back in the good old days” of the early 21st century.
The buyer of the subject vehicle has acquired — at the very least — a dependable, inexpensive, and easy-to-maintain heavy-duty workhorse at approximately one-seventh the cost of new today. Add in its good condition and low-mileage figure, and you’ve got a pretty decent buy on a capable highway hauler that’s got some potential collectible upside. Call it a fair deal at a market price — for now.
(Introductory descriptions courtesy of Mecum Auctions.