COAL: 2003 Chevrolet Suburban LT – The Truck In A Tux

It’s funny how your perspective changes as you age – before college, I was not into truck ownership and believed that my Sedan deVille or Brougham was enough car for any purpose aside from offroading or hauling more than six people. Well, life has a way of changing your notions of what is necessary – especially when you get older and become a homeowner. My life has been chaotic the last year – lost my job in Pittsburgh, found a job in Westchester NY, moved to Bridgeport CT, got a promotion, started seeing my current fiancée and then moved back to Pittsburgh and bought a house. With home ownership comes home improvement projects – and while my Fleetwood Brougham has a 4 body trunk, it isn’t useful for hauling furniture or 2×4’s.

With that in mind it was time to find a truck or truck based SUV for Home Depot runs and jaunts to the antique store. What happened to the 1999 Suburban LT I purchased a year ago? Well after dumping money into it and the engine still not running right, I ended up donating it to a friend’s church during my hasty exit from Pittsburgh for the new job. I tried selling it, but ended up getting frustrated with lowball offers and people attempting to string me along. My Jersey came out when I ended up screaming at someone that I would rather light the motherbleeping truck on fire than sell it at that price. I also at that point had my 07 Mercury Grand Marquis, the 91 Sedan deVille, and my 88 Brougham to deal with (at that point it was undergoing transmission repairs).

The usual go to of the 1995 to 1999 Suburban was off the table, as I thought it was time to move up to the GMT800 platform since the wife to be would also be using this truck, and I wanted more creature comforts for the both of us than the GMT400 came with.


My fiancée found a 2003 Chevrolet Suburban LT about an hour away from us in Kittanning PA on Facebook – and after the past few automotive escapades we made a pact to not buy anything without working AC. We met up at Sheetz and I took the ‘Burban for a spin – no Check Engine light, the AC worked, and the only rusty spot was the gas cap. Those creature comforts I wanted? Tri zone electronic auto climate control, Bose sound system, power memory drivers seat, adjustable pedals, second row captains chairs, leather, and a rear entertainment center. Aside from no 6.0 LS V8 and the grille, it was an Escalade ESV clone! 173k miles, but mostly highway and zero body rust aside from the gas cap.

The first of (many) fillups

The missus gave it her stamp of approval, and we were off and running! I yanked out the stock 6 disc changer and installed a Kenwood HD Radio to take advantage of the Bose system – the factory unit sounded dull even with the treble all the way up and would blend to mono at the slightest hint of multipath. In keeping with tradition, we took it on a New England roadtrip the week after we bought it – from Pittsburgh to Provincetown, up to Portland, over to Concord, thru Vermont then back to PA. All in all averaging 16.2 MPG over the trip. Not too shabby given we were either crawling around cities like Boston or doing 70+ on the Interstate.

Under the hood is one of GM’s finest engines of the last 30 years – the L59 Vortec 5300. Producing 285 horsepower and a creamy 320 ft/lbs of torque to get it off the line, this is not a fast vehicle by any means but it can be hustled about with authority. Plus, the engine note above 2500 RPMs is a beautiful thing with the windows down.

The FlexFuel Vin Z Vortec 5300

2003 was the 3rd year in the 9th Gen – and brought with it a new steering wheel, revised HVAC controls, modified center console, new sound systems featuring built in XM & FM RDS capability, and the instrument cluster-mounted Driver Information Center was improved with more vehicle functions monitored. This year was also the first for the factory Panasonic DVD player/LCD screen.

Out with the old, in with the new – and Igor in the garage out of the sun

However, even with all the trappings of luxury this 21st century station wagon still rides and handles like the big truck it is. On the highway, you have the usual GM jet smooth ride, but the second the pavement gets rough, it brings on not so good vibrations, road noise, and feeling it in the steering wheel. The General did improve stopping power thanks to rear discs finally replacing the drums, and traction control teamed with the Auto 4WD helps get the big bus moving safely. It does have a more secure feeling than my GMT400 ‘Burbans, but you still don’t forget just how big this thing is. Better ride and handling will have to wait until we can afford a 2007-2014 Escalade – my parents have a 2013 and it feels very car-like with only a slight ride penalty vs. my Fleetwood Brougham.

But we don’t care too much about the drawbacks, given the Suburban excels at hauling lots of people (or lots of stuff) in comfort. So much so that it has become my fiancée’s daily driver instead of her 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander! The timing was right, and her son’s Jeep Liberty was becoming a money pit – he’s using the Outlander since the Suburban is for all intents and purposes her vehicle during the week. That leaves me with either the 93 Fleetwood Brougham or the 88 Brougham – either way, I’m not slumming it and I am happy that the wife-to-be has a vehicle she truly enjoys driving.

Antiquing made easy!

I can see why this generation has been called one of GM’s Greatest Hits (write-up here) – the drivetrain is smooth and powerful, the interior is a big upgrade from the previous generation, and the styling has aged well over the last 20 years. The interior has held up, but you would think GM would have used a bit better materials in a $43,000 vehicle. No matter, we still love it – and given that they sold 135,221 others that year, many others overlooked the plastic fantastic interior as well. Anytime I would see these Suburbans as a kid I would think they were owned by someone fairly well off, especially in LT trim with the rear LCD screen. And now we have one of our own!

Anyone have a DVD?

Of course the (over)reliance on trucks and SUV’s eventually led to GM going thru bankruptcy when gas prices skyrocketed and the economy stalled. As much as I love their cars from the late 90’s and early 2k’s – I realize am in the minority. Full size vehicles, be it cars or trucks, are one of the things the General could do right. Which is why, time after time, I keep coming back to Suburbans. It’s the closest thing I can get to a B-body Custom Cruiser/Electra Estate wagon – unfortunately my fiancée won’t let me put the DiNoc vinyl on the sides. Ah well… maybe on the next one!