1956 Chevy Suburban

This is my current project. My wife left me alone one day to go visit her high school girlfriends. I was scanning the Washington post auto classified ads, like I do every Sunday, the 1956 Suburban caught my attention since I had never actually seen one. I called to ask how much it was since the ad did not list the asking price. He told me it was a project that has not run in several years. I must have been bored because I decided to take a 70 mile ride to look it over. It was sitting in the corner of the garage with years of dust and the front sheet metal parts piled inside, 4 flat tires, and rust holes in the front floors. I was able to view the glove box and found the P.O. plate the Army attached back in 1956. The data plate indicated a special order paint code and the rear tailgate is the clamshell design instead of the more common barn door design. Some of the side glass was broken but it is flat glass so I was not worried about that. The second and third seats were missing along with the short 1 foot right front seat. I negotiated a fair price and left a deposit. I would have to return with a trailer to bring it home. My wife could not believe I bought another truck in just a few hours. Now she reminds me every time she leaves me alone, “don’t buy anything while I am gone!”

Remember your dad telling you to always check the VIN#! The Suburban was still registered in Kansas, the owners lived in Virginia and I would be transfering it to Maryland. The Kansas motor vehicle department transposed 2 numbers in the serial number years ago and the owner never noticed it. I made him go through the nightmare to get a clean title. This turned out to be a real problem. Usually the DMV requires the vehicle brought to the DMV building to verify the error before issuing an amended title. The previous owner had to get a Virginia state trooper come out to the house and notarize a form verifying the correct VIN#. This whole process took him over 2 months to clear up. All I can say is better him than me dealing with out of state motor vehicle burocracy.

From 1995 through 2002 my garage project was a 1957 Chevy truck. I had parted out four junk trucks along the way and still have a lot of spare parts. My thinking at the time was to use many of my spare parts already in the garage on the Suburban. I parked the Suburban in my front yard and bought a very large tarp to cover it. My first task was to sort through the parts included and throw out the junk. In just a few hours of tinkering I had the 235 engine running. To appease my wife I suggested that she could pick the exterior color the Suburban would eventually be painted. She has been threatening to pick hot pink with a white interior. I think she is starting to mellow and is considering Arctic White with a traditional flame job on the front. I would like to do it in vintage burgundy.

Step 1

I proceeded to gut the Suburban. Demolition is what I do best and soon had it stripped of the engine, transmission, everything mounted to the dash was removed, wiring, gas tank, master cylinder, brake lines, and seat. I rented a power washer and proceeded to clean the inside and outside firewall. some of the small floorboard holes became bigger but at least I knew the remaining sheet metal was solid.

Step 2

I have contracted with my cousin in Frederick, Maryland to replace the cab panels since I do not weld. He came down and picked it up in November 2001 and it is still at his shop. My cousin is the proprietor of his own street rod fabrication shop so I know he can do the job right. Why pay some stranger when you have relatives who are willing to do the work. This is not a free deal, I have contracted with him an hourly rate to do all of the patch panels. I think the time spent replacing sheet metal at this stage will be appreciated for years to come after the project is finished. The following panels will be replaced: entire floor from the rear of the front seat to the firewall, weld in the trans cover to strengthen the floor, the lower firewall on both sides, lower door hinge pockets on both sides, the entire step area and supports on both sides, most of the holes in the firewall will be filled smooth.

While my cousin works on the cab I have searched and purchased the original right one foot wide right front seat for the Suburban. I have a spare original pickup seat that I may use as the rear seating. I went to Carlisle and picked up new springs front and rear with a 2 inch drop. I was able to save on shipping charges and purchased them before the spring price increase. Plans call for power front disk brakes with dual master cylinder mounted on the frame under the cab, 350 engine hooked to a turbo 350 automatic and a later model 10 bolt rear end with gears in the low 3:00 range. I already have a set of Corvette 8 inch rallies with caps and trim rings waiting to be mounted. Hopefully a fellow club member will sell me his front suspension this winter. He is changing to a Camaro front clip to improve the ride in his 1957 pickup and will have a perfectly good suspension with sway bar and front disk brakes already done. The original steering box has been rebuilt. I have a new 3 core radiator, and a heater box already restored. At this point I am waiting on my cousin to finish welding. I cannot complain too much. He has had it at his house for 14 months and is not charging me a storage fee. When it gets back to my house it will have to sit in the back yard until I can make room on the front driveway.

The overall plan is to make the Suburban a good looking weekend driver. I do not want to build a show truck the caliber of my 57 truck but I cannot help myself when it comes to detailing parts before reassembly. The biggest difference will come down to me doing some of the bodywork and my own painting. I purchased a TIP HVLP painting system a few years ago and I want to try it out.

All of the reference books I have found for Task Force trucks fail to distinguish total production by model number. My research shows that a 1/2 ton truck base price was $1,700.00, the Cameo came in at around $2,100.00 and the Suburban was $2,300.00. Only 1,452 Cameos were produced in 1956 and they were all filled with deluxe features considered optional on base trucks. By deductive reasoning I would think that the Suburban production was very limited. A base Suburban cost $200.00 more than the very expensive Cameo and all of the chrome options and 2-tone paint was not included. If anyone knows where more information on Suburban production numbers can be found, please let me know.

January 2003 – I have purchased a 1976 El Camino 10 bolt rear end with 2:73 gears. I called a local trailer supply store and purchased a set of 2 inch wide spring pads. A friend of mine is cutting off all of the old rear end spring and shock mountings. I have a complete rear wheel disk brake setup from a 1979 Trans Am that should be a direct bolt-on. I will grind smooth the old welds and detail the whole rear for paint in the spring.

July 2003 – I drove 150 miles to Virginia Beach to pick up an original 50,000 mile truck front suspension. The owner was installing a late model suspension and was giving the original away. I have more time than money so I made a day trip. I assume my front suspension is in need of a total rebuild since I have no conception of how many miles it has. Knowing my suburban is a former military vehicle makes me think it has been abused for much of its life.

September 2003 – I met a fellow enthusiast from Gettysburg, PA who owns a 1956 GMC Suburban. I first noticed his suburban at our club annual Alzheimer’s car show. After talking to him for about an hour I found out he still had the original stock front bench seats and a rear seat. I arranged to see them the following week and purchased them on the spot. The overall condition is much better than the seats I have.

November 2003 – My cousin finally returned the Suburban with all of the major welding and replacement panels done. The ground is too wet to push it into the back yard. I purchased an 20 X 30 foot tarp and covered it on the drivway. I do not have time or funds to start the rebuild this year. It will probably be moved to the back yard when the grass is dry.