Growing up, I never saw myself as a truck guy or a wagon guy – always Mister Sedan deVille. I usually looked upon with scorn anyone driving around a behemoth as wasteful, especially if it wasn’t hauling a bunch of people or towing a trailer. But what looks wasteful to a 16 year old kid with his learners permit and a ’84 Sedan deVille now is a godsend to a thirtysomething that needs to haul lots of radio equipment and make Home Depot runs.
So here is the latest addition to my fleet of vehicles – a 1999 Chevrolet Suburban LT 4×4. For some reason the color scheme and cladding makes me think “Family Truckster 2.0,” but I like it. The almost ubiquitous 350 Chevy resides under the hood, in Vortec form making 255 hp along with 330 lb-ft of torque, connected to a 4L60E
CC has covered plenty of Chevy & GMC Suburbans, with some here going so far as to call the next generation GMT800 one of GM’s Greatest Hits – and on the flip side of that coin was the tail of woe and misery of JerseyFred and his 1990 GMC Suburban. But not the GMT400 based truck that seemed to be everywhere growing up as a kid in Houston during the 1990’s – these things were “Cowboy Cadillacs” before the Escalade came along in 1999.
When I was in elementary school, one of my classmates mom had one that we would use for field trips and I would always be amazed at how comfortable it was with leather seats and acres of space. I also loved the styling of this generation – one of the few ‘80s GM designs to age well and still look fresh 30 years later. And they sold like hotcakes, with the GM Arlington plant being converted from the beloved B/D body to make even more of these to fill suburban (pun intended) driveways across the USA.
But when I see this generation Suburban, I think of one guy – Tony Soprano. The fictional North Jersey mob boss drove one for the first four seasons of The Sopranos, and it fit his dual life perfectly. Tony needs to haul the wife and kids around, make runs to the hardware store, and on occasion rescue his other family associates from the Pine Barrens when they screw up disposing of a certain Russian package.
The other guys in the show drove stereotypical Mafia cars like Silvio’s Seville, Paulie’s Deville, or Bobby with his Lincoln Mark VII – but Tony went for the understated (but luxurious) Suburban LT in the beginning. And you would have to be getting no show jobs to afford to fill the 44 gallon tank, even back then when gas was a buck a gallon in NJ.
This is my third Suburban over the last 10 years – my first was a ’97 Chevy Suburban LT 4WD. I wasn’t looking for a truck to replace my 95 Buick Regal, but a coworker was buying another vehicle and offered it to me at a decent price. I took it for a test drive and loved the high seating position, comfy leather seats, and the instant torque from the 350 Vortec. It also came in handy hauling around my drunk friends, DJ equipment, and sleeping in it on occasion after late nights at the station. I had the 97 for a year until I hit a patch of black ice while driving to the radio station in a snowstorm and hit a tree head on. I didn’t have a scratch on me and waked away, but since I didn’t have collision insurance the truck had to be scrapped.
The second was a ’99 GMC Suburban SLE 2WD – I purchased this truck in North Carolina to keep miles off of my CTS, and to haul stuff. It wasn’t as nice as my 97 – cloth front bench, no overhead console, and no running boards, but it was versatile and a comfy highway cruiser. It was the vehicle I used to move myself to Pennsylvania – the truck didn’t complain at all about being stuffed to the gills and towing a trailer up the Appalachian Mountains. But this did expose one flaw in this series of truck – the brakes. In all three the brakes always felt like they were undersized for such a heavy truck. Once I moved to PA, I sold the truck as I wanted something with AWD or 4WD for the winters – and I thought I found such a vehicle in a 97 Mountaineer. I still see the ’99 GMC driving around Monroeville PA, so I’m happy it lives serving its new owner well.
But much like JerseyFred and his GMC, the Mountaineer was too far gone once I started to repair it – for once I had some sense and junked it when my mechanic told me it would need a new exhaust (cats included) plus a new gauge cluster. So the search began again for a winter vehicle that could be used for my contract engineering business – and to keep miles off of the Grand Marquis. I found this ’99 Suburban LT with 220k on the odometer for sale at a dealer about 30 minutes from my home in Pittsburgh – I had to wait a bit to test drive it due to the battery being dead, but it performed flawlessly and I purchased it for the no so bargain price of $3100.
The interior is almost exactly like my 97 – grey leather , captains chairs, center and overhead consoles, and third row seat. I’m a sucker for the two toned paint job and the little bit of extra cladding on the exterior – only thing I’m not a fan of is the rear barn doors vs the tailgate, but I can deal with it. The one option it has that I love are heated front seats – I’m sure I’m getting soft in my middle age, but they really do make all the difference in the world on a cold Yinzer winter morning. I can see why Arlington was cranking out so many of these – for a truck they ride great on the highway, aren’t too jarring on city streets, and miles fly by on a road trip with the front and rear climate controls keeping you comfy and the six speaker stereo (separate amp for the rear door speakers) blasting your favorite music.
So far the only issue has been some rust on one of the rear barn doors that I will replace when I find a replacement door, and a hesitation issue when the car is cold – I think the spider fuel injector needs to be replaced, but that can wait a little bit until it gets warmer outside. I did upgrade the stereo in the truck – I need a head unit with HD Radio and RDS for my side job, plus the stock system didn’t sound that good. That’s the other thing I love about these vehicles – easy to work on, especially the dash.
Is it the most economical box on 4 wheels? No – but with age I’ve learned that sometimes it’s worth being able to just throw stuff in the back and not have to play Jenga to fit everything in. And that a command seating position is worth a few less MPG’s – I just hope my 16 year old self understands.