For Memorial Day 2020, here’s some truly large American iron.
I was working at the local Chevrolet dealership when a special-ordered Suburban Silverado came in with a 454. It was late in 1984—no passenger car was shipping with anything approaching a big block. But this C20 Suburban had a “rat motor” inside, and you could hear a distinct difference.
For 1985, Chevrolet changed little with the Suburban in the 13th model year of its seventh generation (Suburbans go back to 1935). There was a new grille, but that was about it other than minor trim changes.
The standard powertrain for the C20 Suburban was an LT9 160 bhp 5.7 liter/350 ci V8 with a four-barrel carburetor paired with a floor-mounted four-speed manual transmission. Engine options included an LH6 148 bhp 6.2 liter/379 ci diesel V8 and the aforementioned LE8 230 bhp 7.4 liter/454 ci V8 with a four-barrel carburetor (which required power steering and a heavy-duty battery). A three-speed automatic was available for all three engines, while a four-speed automatic was for only the 350 ci engine.
The Suburban was a substantial vehicle for 1985, with an 129.5 inch wheelbase and 219.1 inches of overall length. With a 4,705-pound curb weight, C20 Suburbans had a gross vehicle weight rating of 8,600 pounds—high enough not to receive fuel economy ratings, which was likely a good thing. A standard 27-gallon fuel tank kept the range respectable but filling it was painful to the wallet.
Standard equipment for the base C20 Suburban (which Chevrolet designated the Custom Deluxe) included power front disc/rear drum brakes, 16 x 6.5 inch wheels, a vinyl bench seat, and a heater and defogger. At $10,953, the C20 was approximately $26,700 in today’s dollars or about half of what a base 2020 Suburban costs—SUVs have moved substantially upmarket in the last 35 years. For most of the eighties, Chevrolet offered two upgraded trims:
- Scottsdale trim (about $425 for gasoline-engined Suburbans) included black body-side moldings, dual horns, two dome lamps, a cigarette lighter, and Scottsdale nameplates on the front fenders and instrument panel.
- Silverado trim (about $1,200 for gasoline-engined Suburbans) required Custom cloth or Custom vinyl seats. It included a Deluxe molding package, bright body-side moldings, Deluxe front appearance, dual horns, and Silverado nameplates on the front fenders. Inside, a cigarette lighter, a dome lamp, voltmeter, temperature, and oil pressure gages, and a Silverado nameplate on the instrument panel were included.
Beyond the trims, the 1985 Suburban’s options list was long and complicated. Suburban buyers first had to choose whether they wanted panel rear doors or a tailgate with manual drop glass. Next came seating choices: front seat only, front seat and folding center seat, or front seat, folding center seat, and removable rear seat.
Other exterior and mechanical options included deep tinted glass in two different configurations, halogen high beam headlamps, two optional gas tank sizes (31 gallon and 41 gallon), and a wide range of wheels and tires. Inside, air conditioning (front or front and rear), an electric rear window defogger, electronic speed control, power door locks, power windows, a quartz electric clock, Custom reclining bucket seats with a console, and a range of radios up to an AM/FM stereo with a cassette player were all available. Chevrolet sold 64,470 Suburbans in the 1985 model year—many of them heavily-optioned.
These seventh-generation Suburbans have their fans. According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1985 C20 Suburban Silverado in #1/Concours condition is $28,600, with a more typical #3/Good condition example going for $13,400. Suburbans frequently show up for sale in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors. As I write this post in May 2020, a 1985 Doeskin Tan/Frost White two-tone Scottsdale with a Saddle Tan Custom cloth bench seat, a 5.7 liter/350 ci V8, an automatic, and 42,000 miles is available on Hemmings for $24,900.
Make mine Apple Red, with Saddle Tan Custom cloth reclining bucket seats, please—just like that 454 all those years ago.