The Original SUV - Editor's Desk

May 21, 2014
Writing the cover blurbs for this issue, I never thought I would spark controversy around the all-new GM SUVs. I simply stated that the 2015 Chevrolet Suburban, now beginning its 12th generation, is the original sport/utility vehicle. This was met with squinty eyes and crinkly foreheads and drones of, "Well, sorta, I guess." But here's the way I see it:
I figure that most believe this to be true by way of GM's recent ad campaign, in which a 1935 Suburban Carryall is prominently featured and sets the timeline in motion. I believe it to be true because when I was very young my father brought home a 1938 Chevy Panel Truck to tour with the Vintage Chevrolet Club of America. (I still have the Panel; I'm still a member of the VCCA.) I quickly learned to differentiate among the Sedan, Sedan Delivery, Panel, and the least common of the bunch, the Suburban. It may carry passengers as a car does, but the profile, trim, and rear barn doors are all truck. In fact, a couple windows and a couple seats are the only things that distinguish it from the Panel. Admittedly, the Suburban could also be considered the nexus to the modern station wagon, but I would argue that the various woodies built throughout the 1930s are better candidates for that role, since nearly all the models I've seen have car trim and profiles.
"It may carry passengers as a car does, but the profile, trim, and rear barn doors are all truck."
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Another good argument for the Chevy Suburban is the simple fact that it became available before World War II. If that weren't the case, the Bantam design, Willys MB, or Ford GPW would surely snatch the title. After the war, things really progressed and models began to pop up all over -- the Willys Wagon (1948), Land Rover (1948), International Harvester Travelall (1953), and the Jeep Wagoneer (1963). Some were smaller and sportier, some slightly sleeker, but all undeniably influenced by the Suburban. Never to be outdone, GM's 1960 model featured a radical new design as well as a factory 4WD option.
Meanwhile, the Jeep CJ was gaining ground, offering a sportier, go-anywhere lifestyle, and just like that, the two-door, short-wheelbase revolution had begun. In this class were the Toyota Land Cruiser (1958), IH Scout (1961), Ford Bronco (1966), Chevy Blazer/GMC Jimmy (1969), Jeep Cherokee (1974), and Dodge Ramcharger/ Plymouth Trailduster (1974). The significance here is that GM now had two- and four-wheel-drive versions of light- and heavy-duty pickups as well as of long- and short-wheelbased SUVs -- all derived from the same truck design. There was genius in its simplicity and it became a proven business model followed, and copied by many, for years to come.
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