Observe, a brush guard that has been put to use
This was our second Chevy Suburban. Now you might well think we wouldn’t own another after our misadventures with the 1982 White Whale, but we did. And it brought us much adventure of a different sort (the good kind mostly). But first there are a few odd cars to cover, if briefly.
For those of you following the many follies of my sordid automotive history, I should take a moment to go over a few cars that were not worthy of a full post. There was another Subaru Justy that the entire stub axle sheered off on, causing the whole wheel to fall off. Which subsequently earned it a trip to the rightful home of all Justys, the crusher. And then there was a Volvo PV 444 or 544 that Michelle bought while I was away. It turned out to be completely un-restorable and almost killed me trying to trailer it home (note to self: never rent trailers with inertia brakes).
There was also Volvo 240 that Michelle bought while I was away that had a rod knock. I drove it until it exploded all over the road. There was a Jeep CJ2a that I traded a for pistol, but it was a complete heap and I sold it to the neighbors. There was a Ford Tempo I got for nothing; fixed it up, gave it away to someone in need, and got back. It was used as a rolling target. There was a Bridgestone motorcycle that never ran, and also a Honda Trail 90. I am sure there were a few more that I’ve conveniently forgotten, or repressed. And now back to our scheduled program.
We were just getting settled into our Toyota Van when one day in the advertisements I saw a Chevy Suburban. The key facts that caused me to look twice at the ad were that it was four-wheel-drive, had a full length roof rack, ran well, had a third seat, and was only eight hundred dollars. So off we went to buy it. It turned out to be a pretty good truck for the money. The floors were rusted through in a few spots, the seats were ripped, the doors were rusted out at the bottom, but it was a good old truck.
I don’t recall what axles or transfer case it had, but they were nothing special. The transmission was a TH350 and the engine was an SB400 with dual exhaust, and an Edelbrock carburetor on a stock 4 hole iron manifold. The reason I bought it was because I didn’t want to beat up my nice Toyota Van too much and thought the Chevy would be good to goof around in.
And indeed it was, here is a of us doing just that, and another. It was great at the beach and at the time my friend had a 1987 Suburban, the one that rescued my Dodge. So we had plenty of fun on the beach with our two Suburbans.
We were both big families with lots of friends, live in grandparents, etc. So a trip with both families might include up to twenty people. Hence the need for bench front seats and third seats!
The Suburban made a trip up to Tacoma Washington and back to Salem Oregon to move my friend’s brother and his large family down here. Throughout the trip it pulled a trailer with an International 392 engine, NP205 transfer case, and a few axle assemblies in it, plus a loaded roof rack and rear. It was the quickest rig out of our convoy, even out muscling his cherry 1973 Travellal at red lights. We averaged twelve miles per gallon. But one small problem came to light. The starter started to grind on occasion.
Now, I don’t know how many of you are familiar with Chevrolet starters, but they were all the same mounting style for a very long time in a very many engines. It is one of the stupidest mounting styles yet invented. Whereas other auto manufacturers simple bolt the starter strait into the bell housing to permanently and effectively align with the ring gear. Not on GM products though, the starter sits below and to the side of the ring gear. Two bolts hold the end of it on requiring a bracket for the other end to keep it from bouncing about. because of the location of the starter, it may or may not require shims to align it correctly with the ring gear. Furthermore, they have nasty habit of changing their alignment of their own accord. On top of the design issues there is the fact that many people simply eliminate the bracket on the end of the starter. Which someone had done long ago on my truck. This had let the starter vibrate and bounce for a long enough time to finally break the engine block at the starter bolt boss. There was still enough threads left to hold the starter on but not to keep it lined up for to long.
The starter problem became painfully apparent at the Portland International Airport. We were dropping Michelle’s friend off who had come to visit us from Iowa. The Homeland Security threat level was Orange for some reason or other and the airport cops were strictly enforcing a fifteen minute maximum curb time in front of the entrance After we saw Michelle’s friend off we started the truck. But we only got grinding. Try as we might, only grinding. People began looking in our direction. I had some tools with me and I jumped underneath. Many tries, much grinding, half shimming, the battery on it’s last gasp, security calling a tow truck, it started!
So I had the pleasure of installing a new flexplate and starter. But I noticed something when I did. The flexplate was moving about a quarter of an inch forward and back, and so was the crankshaft. I had noticed a bit of a very deep vibration/knock at idle and this was the cause. As well as the true cause of my starter problems. Obviously the bottom end bearings were going out and the thrust bearing was shot. But what to do about it?
Drive it until it dies was my theory. The truck was rusty and old so it was not worth fixing. But it lasted quite a long time like that, until we finally got something “better”. The Suburban went to the junk yard and we bid a fond farewell to it. It was one of my favorite rigs.
Drive it until it dies was my theory.
I’m seeing a pattern here.
If it is too rusty and the value of restoring it would not be as great as the cost of the repairs, it’s a gonner to me. With some exceptions of course.
Youd laugh Michael but a burban like that here will ask 10K
I have always wondered if I would meet someone who spent a lot of time in both this generation of Suburban and the early 70s Travelall. You would be that guy. Can you give us a comparison of the two? I have always suspected that the Suburban was the nicer driver of the two, probably a little quieter and better ride, but this would be pure guess.
I have never been a Chevy guy, and you have now answered my question about why the sbc starters seem to grind in so many cars. I have replaced multiple Ford and Mopar starters, and they just bolted right up. Now I know.
I have driven a few of these. A place where I worked for awhile had a 77(?) with a 305/automatic. It was certainly not overpowered, and always had a hesitation on acceleration. I always preferred the Ford Econoline when I had a choice between the two.
Some relatives had a late 80s version. 2wd with a 350/automatic that they ran for a long time. The truck had come from Texas, so rust was not an issue. I seem to recall that it eventually developed a hunger for transmissions, going through 2, maybe 3. The owner also had a mid-90s version (at the same time) and told me that the older one was wider. I always sort of admired a two car family where both of the cars was a Suburban.
It has always been amazing to me that GM had this market completely to itself for so many years. IH discontinued the Travelall around, what, 1975? Nobody else hit this target straight on until the Expedition EL within the last few years.
Well, the Chevy is a much better ride, it’s like the difference between Julia Child and Megan Fox. Sure one might be a much better ride but the other can actually do some useful stuff. Not that the Chevy couldn’t but it was not as overbuilt as the Travellal.
If I wanted haul a bunch of loggers and their gear plus a trailer full of crap I would prefer the Travelall. But to take a family trip to the beach, I would definitely prefer the Chevy.
The 80’s Chevys ate up the transmissions because they were 700R4’s. We had to put one in my friends blue Suburban, but a good one that wont blow up cost us $2,500 at the time.
I broke the second gear band in my Travellal and just pulled out the tranny guts, put a new one in ($11.00) and put it back together no problem.
You need to qualify what type of Suburban/Travelall you’re talking about. The 4×4’s aren’t that much different in my opinion as far a ride goes, yes the Chev may have a slight edge 1/2 to 1/2, 3/4 to 3/4. In 2wd the Chev is superior to the straight axle T-all but the Torsion bar IFS kicks both of their buts in ride and handling. Haven’t driven any of the 74-5 Coil spring IFS T-alls so I don’t know how they compares.
The strange thing about GM having this market to itself for so many years is that Ford did make a 4dr pickup based station wagon that they sold in Mexico and South America.
You’re right, I only buy 4x4s so my comparisons are 4×4 to 4×4. And My 2wd IHC 1/2 ton pickup rode great. IHC 4×4 were overbuilt with lots of springs and big axles for their class most often. The 2wd suspension was quite nice, I had forgotten about that though.
Never sat in a Travelall; and never owned a Suburban. But I worked with 1970s Chevrolet trucks, pickup and stake-body one-ton; and we had an International pickup also…the boss’s truck, nominally.
The beauty-queen versus skilled-homemaker analogy works. But it doesn’t say WHY it works…Chevy trucks were built by what was still the world’s biggest corporation; parts designed in-house; durability tested but also subject to cost-analysis. As rugged as they needed to be – and not a bit more.
The IH equipment, on the other hand, was made by an agricultural-implement company which had built trucks and pickups as a sideline, and at that time were unsure which way they were going and were marking time. Parts-bin engineering was the order of the time; AMC engines; Borg-Warner or Torque-Flite automatics; outsourced gearboxes and transfer cases. Overbuilt? Yes. It needed to be, as it was a rolling collection of unrelated parts…without a smooth syncronicity between the pieces, each had to be field-engineered to high limits, or specified to such, to avoid its being the Weakest Link.
It goes without saying which was the more successful approach. Chevrolet was making money with its trucks while International threw in the towel in a huff. Which is the more useful? Hard to say…the International might not be broken as often; but with legions of parts sources and acres of donor junk trucks, a failure was more likely a nuisance with a Chevrolet.
Wooh now on those AMC engines. The majority had IHC engines and they were phenomenal for truck work. As far as parts bin drivetrian goes, Chevy used an assortment of axles, be it Dana, or corporate or a combination thereof. T case was usually New Process, but their own transmission unless it was a Saginaw. So not much difference there. The IHC trucks were built with work in mind and the Chevys were built with everybody in mind. That’s my opinion and I’m sure Eric has something to say about all this.
The AMC engines are just a drop in the bucket especially in the full size trucks. The Diamond series of 6 cyl engines were designed for truck duty as was the SV 8cyl. As such they were heavier and designed to run flat out all day long.
I agree with Micheal that IH built their trucks primarily for Farmers and Commercial users. The parts bin drive train components were industry standard pieces. AMC also used BW auto trans and the 727 which of course was also in the Dodge. Ford and AMC used BW manual trans. New Process T-cases were common to all 5. The only thing IH did different was they didn’t have a car based axle for the rear of their 1/2 tons. Chevy had the advantage of having full transmission, brake and steering component divisions in house, while everyone else bought those components, some from GM.
The big difference was that IH often spec’d out a heavier duty version of those components. For example BW offered a number of different versions of their AT depending on power output of the engine. The BW-6 was intended for 6 cyls, the BW-8 for 8cyls. But the IH version was the BW-11 essentially the BW-12 designed for the Jag V-12 with an IH bellhousing and shift schedule suited to the low revving IH engines. When it came to manual transmissions IH’s base offering was on par with others but they also had transmissions that were used in heavier applications on the options list. Early Bronco and CJs had to make due with light duty 3sp as the only choice while with the Scout you could get the same close or wide ratio 4sp used in much larger trucks, even behind the 4 and 6 cyl versions.
So IH chose to spec out heavier components, either as standard or as an option that the other guys didn’t match, as part of an overall design philosophy, not just a haphazard selection of parts. One of the ad campaigns tag lines was “We overbuilt it, in case you overload it”.
Living in texas and without road salt, cars tend to last a long time. I would love to have had an old suburban with 4wd. Sounds like a junkyard 350 would have kept this going a long time without losing much.
If you think Chevy starters are a pain in cars & trucks, try dealing with them in boats! After 20+ years I have perfected the art of changing them with one arm/ hand! STUPID mounting system….
That GM starter is a horrid design and weighs like ten tons, too. Mounting one is always a real pain in the butt. I have replaced many of them over the years. Funny, though, I have never replaced a Denso starter on a Japanese car. Maybe I am just lucky.
Just drive it into the ground thats a solution Ive used several times on old dungers just keep bodging them up a weld here some wire there always carry duct tape it amazing how long some junk will keep going.
The only Suburban story I can relate is a friend owned one of this generation and loved it, but he’s a rather big guy too. He had quite a spirited discussion with a very proud, but somewhat arrogant Cadillac owner. The Caddy owner bragged about his Caddy and all the luxuries he enjoyed. My friend countered to the following: “My truck has leather, power seats, cruise, etc, etc, etc. But there’s one thing your Caddy doesn’t have: 4WD, which means my Suburban can pull your Caddy out of the ditch that you find yourself in when it snows!” Conversation over, Caddy owner humbled!
I have an 84 suburban great condition. I want to put a roof rack on it. Any suggestions? Where did you get yours?