Almost everyone has heard of a Chevrolet Suburban, and it’s no wonder.
The model has been sold longer than any other American vehicle. The forerunner of the Suburban was a 1933 truck-based station wagon made mostly of wood. It could carry up to eight people using the tried-and-true Chevrolet “Stovebolt” six-cylinder, 60-horsepower engine.
This first vehicle, designed for the National Guard and Civilian Conservation Corps, was only manufactured for one year. The problem was the body wasn’t strong enough to be driven over rough roads and terrain without damage. The size was good, but some improvements were needed.
The 1935-36 Chevy Suburban is considered the model’s first generation. These vehicles had all-metal bodies and were designed so most of the seats could be removed for hauling cargo. In 1937, the engine’s horsepower was increased to 79 along with minor styling changes occurring through 1940. The vehicle kept the same features, though, with two entry doors and cargo doors in the back.
The second generation of Chevrolet Suburbans was built in 1941-1942 and in 1946. There were no civilian Suburban vehicles built during America’s World War II years. The Suburban was popular for military use because it could carry cargo and passengers.
There were two models: The model 3106 had two rear panel doors while the model 3116 had a tailgate. Both were powered with a 216-cubic-inch straight-six-cylinder engine with 90 horsepower. They used a four-speed floor-mounted manual transmission and sat on a 116-inch wheelbase.
This turned out to be a very important vehicle for the auto industry. Many experts would say the Suburban was the first SUV or crossover vehicle, built before those terms were even used. There were six North American assembly plants that produced the Suburban, including a plant in Oakland. This generation of Suburbans was used in several popular movies, including “Easy Rider” in 1969, “Play Misty For Me” in 1971 and “Clear and Present Danger” in 1994.
This issue’s feature is a second-generation 1941 Chevy Suburban. The owner of this unusual vehicle is Matt Macy, of Oakland, who’s an assistant coach at Moraga’s Campolindo High School.
“I got it in 1995,” Macy says. “I also have a 1941 Chevy pickup. My dad had a moving company, Macy Movers. There were five kids, and we just grew up around trucks. Since my dad had them, I had to get one. I bought the ’41 pickup when I was in college at Cal. I kind of restored it over the years. Then one day, a new neighbor moved in next-door with this Suburban. They unloaded it and put it in the garage, but it wasn’t running.”
A few years later, the neighbors moved and the Suburban was hauled to Salem, Oregon. Macy said because he had his ’41 Chevy pickup, “I got a call one day from the wife of the neighbor, who asked, ‘Do you want the Suburban?’ I didn’t have much money at the time, and I told her I couldn’t afford it. ‘No,’ she said, ‘I’ll give it to you.’ So I borrowed one of my dad’s trucks, drove to Salem and brought it back.”
It turned out the Suburban had been owned by the neighbor’s first husband, who had been restoring it but got ill and died before the job was completed.
“When I got the Suburban down here, a lot of the parts were in the back of the van, and it was like a time capsule. There were all the receipts and parts in boxes from 1973, when he had passed away.”
So Macy started to put the old Suburban back together.
“It was half-primer, half-rusted. It needed some work. I wanted it painted, but what color?”
He showed me a toy Suburban.
“I found this toy Suburban in a toy store that was painted the same color. So I took it to my paint guy and asked, ‘Can you paint it like that?’ ”
And he did. The model was designed to haul eight people, but Macy is looking for the rear, three-passenger seat, which is still missing. He got the middle two passenger seats, which had been used in an International Harvester Travelall, almost for free (the man asked Macy for $1 so he could tell his wife he sold the seat).
Macy did some of the restoration work himself.
“I put some of the fenders back on and did some minor work, but the paint job was painted by a shop in Oakland, and I had the upholstery done. The engine had been sitting for over 20 years. I took it to my mechanic, changed the oil, put new plugs in and a new battery, and it fired right up.”
It has the original motor and transmission and the six-volt electrical system. About the only modernization Macy has done is to add turn signals and new tires. Other than paint and upholstery, the Suburban has just required routine maintenance. It’s definitely a keeper.
Have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at MOBopoly@yahoo.com. To view more photos of this and other issues’ vehicles or to read more of Dave’s columns, visit mercurynews.com/author/david-krumboltz.