What you’re looking at right now has got to be General Motors’ single biggest hit in the last 15 years. Literally. Smack-dab in the middle of the SUV-craze, they pulled together their resources and did what the GM of old was known to do best: Make the best-in-class vehicle in America.
Now, I know it sometimes seems we’re a bit harsh on the good ‘ol General here at CC but it’s simply because we know that GM can and will do better if it’s so inclined. GM’s Hits are so prolific they don’t need introductions; their names have transcended from mere corporate placards into legends: Camaro, 4-4-2, LeMans, DeVille, Corvette, Toronado, Bonneville; it goes on and on and on and that’s for passenger vehicles only.
GM also made the best in public transport vehicles. The Powerglide is used to this day in Dragsters. It’s such a comprehensive collection of high-notes in every single strata they competed that it makes every failure have considerably more weight. A lot of people will tell you that GM really didn’t made anything worth noting after the 1996 B-Bodies. Gobbledygook; one of the best products ever to come out of GM was about to be released and it would tick all the boxes that GM ticked at their best.
For starters the timing was perfect. In 2000 the wagon market was irrelevant and had been for a couple of years. SUV’s were the family haulers of choice now. Why wouldn’t they be? They were bigger and stronger than wagons (or at the very least looked like it) and, unlike minivans, they didn’t shouted to the world that you had completely given up on excitement and adventure in your life and resigned yourself to ferry children from one side of town to another for various plays and little league sporting events or whathaveyou. Gasoline was cheap so you could get away with bigger is better. It wasn’t like gas was going to rise spectacularly fast was it? (Hindsight is quite a marvelous thing) Still; the people wanted carlike refinement in their SUV’s, but not at the expense of size or perceived strength. Which is where the GMT800 platform came into its own.
Far be it from me to suggest that the wide acceptance of SUV’s started with this platform, far from it. We have two jeeps to thank for that. But it certainly was more refined and better done than its predecessor and the competition (Read: Ford Expedition/Excursion).
Okay, the interior was very GM parts-bin, but it somehow managed to work, even when you got to the higher trimmed and leather-lined LT and Denali. And because fuel was cheap and plentiful you also had some enormous engines to make sure that your neo-Caprice wagon was quick to boot. I’m pretty sure that this was the last time you could order a medium-duty (2500 series) vehicle with an engine of more than eight liters of displacement (Vortec 8100). For those that didn’t need to tow a house there were more modest 5.3 and 6.0-liter offerings. And if you wanted extreme luxury there was the Escalade.
Now, there had been an Escalade before this one and, believe me, its day on the CC spotlight at my hands is coming. I just haven’t decided if it’s worth a DS or not. Like I said at the beginning of this article the monumental success of one GM product only serves to make their bad products look that much worse. And really they blew it out of the park considering its popularity with its main gentry demographic and its extreme popularity with a new-found periphery demographic.
So the Cadillac version was a hit with the affluent person that wanted to flash some cash (and would shoot you if you tried to bash). The GMC Denali was successful with the people that wanted similar equipment and refinement but didn’t want to be quite as conspicuous about it (taking over from Oldsmobile). And the Chevrolet Suburban, if I may make so bold a claim, was Americas equivalent to the Volkswagen Golf as a truly classless vehicle. This became even more conspicuous as they started hitting the used car market. You could see them at soccer practice, towing farm equipment or ferrying the cream of the crop in Washington D.C. That was only in America though.
As a salesman, my father used to use his car as much as using whatever was available in the company roster. Usually some old truck or something but on occasion there was this: a crimson Silverado. Fully loaded of course. On one very memorable occasion He was around the university when I was leaving class and offered to pick me up. For a moment I could answer the Beatles’ question about the feelings of the beautiful people, and it did elicit some questions the very next day. I admit that the idea of such reactions being caused by a common Chevrolet Pickup truck seems a bit preposterous but you’d be surprised of what rarity can do for a cars’ image.
The GMT800 platform would give way to the improved GMT900 in 2007. And at this point in the game the world was going greener, the Hummer became the poster child of the evils of gas-guzzlers, fuel was going up and it’d be silly to think it would plummet back down all of a sudden (that hindsight thing again) and not even a hybrid version was going to be able to appease all the bad press that GM was getting and would get in the next couple of years. The vehicle was still good but the timing wasn’t. Not that it was entirely their fault you understand.