Suburban vs suburban

zachammer85

New member
In a bit of a dilemma between two suburbans. The first is 1986 k1500 that's been offered to me for 600 bucks. It runs and drives and all the stuff to make road worthy, safe and legal is intact. It has random rust, some body damage and a leaky roof plus some electrical problems. My biggest concern is it's a carbed engine, which I have no experience with. There's also a 2wd parts suburban for 200 bucks. Hasn't ran in 10 years but it's all there.

The other suburban is a 1997 2500 with a 454. I like the square body style above as far as looks go a bit better than this style. But this one is mostly flawless from what I see. But it's at a dealership and they want 4,000 for it, plus all the fees, etc. Both are 4x4 and would serve my purposes well. Looking to hear pros and cons of each from experienced owners. The goal is to be able to do basic maintenance and get it trail ready for expeditions asap.


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CampStewart

Observer
I love the square body Subs for a number of reasons but for 600 you are going to get nothing but a beater that will need thousands in work to keep it roadworthy. Leaky roof can be sealed with caulk in the short term but will cost quite a bit to get fixed properly. Wiring issues may cost thousands. 454 is going to use a lot of gas. Are there only 2 suburbans for sale in your region?
 

nitro_rat

Observer
Carb Subs are pigs. It will have an early 700R4, you're going to be chasing gremlins constantly. You can get mid teens highway if it's in perfect tune with 3.42's or 3.73's with 235/75r15's or 31x10.50's. If you need a weekend beater for around the yard fine. You'll have way more than 4k in it to make it reliable. Basically nothing but body parts and maybe engine from the 2wd will help you...
 

zachammer85

New member
I should also add this is a bit of a project/fun truck. I have a daily driver already.


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zachammer85

New member
I love the square body Subs for a number of reasons but for 600 you are going to get nothing but a beater that will need thousands in work to keep it roadworthy. Leaky roof can be sealed with caulk in the short term but will cost quite a bit to get fixed properly. Wiring issues may cost thousands. 454 is going to use a lot of gas. Are there only 2 suburbans for sale in your region?
There are many others here but some of the asking prices are a bit silly for what you'd get. I too love the square body but my be better off looking at a more refined model, preferably with fuel injection.


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Martinjmpr

Wiffleball Batter
There are many others here but some of the asking prices are a bit silly for what you'd get. I too love the square body but my be better off looking at a more refined model, preferably with fuel injection.


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Do you have the time/money/skills to drop a modern engine into the 1986? You wouldn't be the first to do that, not by a long shot. Should be plenty of resources out there. But it would be a "project", big time! Lots of time, money, effort, etc. You could put in the crate motor and transmission of your choice (if it was me I'd want a manual but I'm funny that way.) Rust and body rot will be your biggest issues.

I'm in the minority here in that I really don't care for the square body. I think it's ugly and every one I see is shot through with rust. I think that time period of the mid 70's to the late 80's was the absolute worst in terms of overall build quality for Detroit.

My absolute favorite Suburban body style is the 1967 - 72 3-door style. If I won the lottery I'd be rocking a resto-mod 3-door 'burb with a 6.0 crate motor and a 6 speed auto. :D

IMO 4k is a lot for a 22 year old GMT-400 platform suburban but it would be more or less "turn key." The GMT-400 is also a much more "modern" vehicle in the sense of having modern electronic ignition, EFI, brakes, steering, etc. Easier to find parts for (although I have never heard of anybody with a square body having any difficulties either - that body style was made from 1973 through the early 1990's so there are a LOT of them around!)
 

Yroundrdn

Observer
I have the 97 2500 and mileage isn’t too bad. Post 96 are supposed to be better. I also have the G80 rear end with 410 and I get 11mpg with roof rack and 285s. I like the look of the square body but the HD drivetrain and reliability is what I need for overland. These go for no more than $3k in so-cal. $4k seems a little high but may be in better condition than most.
 

nitro_rat

Observer
In 1987 the squarebody got fuel injection. In 1988 the 700R4 was updated with an auxiliary valve body. In 1989 the np208 gave way to the more desirable np241, the accessory drive became serpentine, and the front end got a facelift. In 1991 the 2500 had a 4l80e instead of t th400.

Any of the fuel injected trucks makes a much better base for a project than the older carb trucks. All 1991's have an electronic speedometer that is compatible with the signal from a modern speed sensor for a seamless LS swap.

The '97 454 2500 is a pretty bullet proof rig. $4k is a little high but if it's nice and well maintained...
 

vargsmetal

Active member
Normally I'm all for a squarebody but in this case between these options I would get the 97. The 86 will have the 700R4 which is a light duty trans, 10 bolt axles front and rear which are also light duty. The 97 has a good big block, 4L80e, 14 bolt rear - all heavy duty components.

But as always it comes down to what you want to do with it. If you're looking for a chassis and shell to modify then the squarebody would be better. LS or 8.1L swap with a 4L80e (or 6L80/6L90), dana 60 front, 14 bolt FF rear, etc would all be relatively easy. If you just want a suburban to drive as is I would get the 97.

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Frogprince

Observer
I run a 98 K2500 with a 454 with the 410 gears and average 14mpg on the freeway and 11mpg for anything else.

I paid 3k for mine a year ago in the Portland area and it needed some work. Mainly AC, Fuel Pump and maintenance and minor odds and ends. It has been a very reliable truck and it easily goes where I want to. Even took it in some places my father said it wouldn't.

I purchased it for camping, towing and hunting. I would love an older body style but creature comforts are nice.
 

gnel

Observer
I have had both ( 84 and 95) 4x4 with diesel motors. I can´t comment on your motors but my 84 1500 with a solid front axle was not very comfortable and the brakes where terrible. They would heat up and fade away on long downhill grades with some weight on board. It scared me more than a couple times. The 95 was a 2500 and much more comfortable and easy to drive plus the brakes where WAY better!
 

zoomad75

Observer
Squarebody nut here. If you have the ability and time, buy both, swap the drivetrain minus the IFS and drivers side drop t-case. The L29 Vortec 454 is a stellar engine for torque and way undervalued with everybody going nuts on LS swaps. Granted fuel economy sucks but as I can say from direct experience so does the fuel economy in my heavyweight K5 with a 5.3 swap in it. I've got a buddy that just finished an L29 swap with an NV4500 trans into a K5 with the same FWC camper and we got similar mileage numbers going to Moab from Colorado. The big difference was he never went over 3000 rpm on the hills and I was buzzing north of 5500 rpm on grades in second gear.

But the 97 in the OP's example has the 4l80e trans and a 14bolt full floater axle out back. The 97's axle width is a little better (closer to the front than the stock axle) but would need spring and shock mounts relocated to fit under the square. Get a 241 out of a 90-91 for the electronic speedometer output which would be needed for the PCM to control the trans correctly. Brakes get the upgrade when you go to the 3/4 ton rear axle and swap out the 6 lug rotors for 8 lug and use the 3/4 ton calipers and add hydroboost over the vacuum booster. They will stop better than the 1/2 ton version.

It really comes down to use. Do you really want a solid axle 4x4 Suburban because you are actually going to hit something more than fire roads for trails? If you do but don't want to do the drivetrain swap action, get the 97 and do an SFA swap with a Ford D60. Many kits are out there to do the swap with basic leaf springs to links and coil-overs. Again that comes down to ability and how are you going to use it.

If you aren't planning on aggressive trails the stock 97 setup is usable as many have indicated before and documented in threads here. Upgrade key parts in the steering for better durability then go for the trails. The 97 does have better ergonomics over the squarebody for sure. Still they aren't as nice inside as the GMT800's that came after it.

It really comes down to preference. Again I'm a squarebody nut so my preference is pretty easy to see, but even with the 80's quality they still lack the metric ton of crappy plastics that abound in the GMT400 trucks. Dashes crack like mad (out here in the west at least) and are nowhere near as easy to replace as the upper dash pad on a squarebody. The Squarebody to me is more nostalgic as it's the era I grew up in. My Dad had a couple Squarebody Suburbans as state trucks during his career with the Colorado highway dept as a surveyor. I can remember going out with him in them. It's a much more simple truck with less electronics to deal with. Which makes it a great blank canvas to build into an off road camping/overlanding rig.
 

rayra

Expedition Leader
shtican that Rochester in the '86 and put an Edelbrock Performer carb and intake in it. It's a straight-up replacement with none of the bowl leakage problems rochester / Q-jets have AND it and all its linkages will be shiny new. I'm on my 3rd carb rebuild in my '85 C-10 and should have done the Edelbrock swap a long time ago. Did do the intake and it really improved mid range and top end performance.

'85-86, about the only electronics in it are a spark retarder computer (mounted in the dash, up behind the glove compartment) for engine knock, which also triggers a solenoid on the carb put more gas in (IIRC).

The '97, $2000 get you a much nicer GMT800, 7-9yrs newer.
But get a 3/4ton with the 4L80E trans if you are going to be towing much.


If you can turn wrenches and do most of your own work, any of them are a viable option. If you can't, don't, or won't, it's all going to cost you $$$.
 

vargsmetal

Active member
But the 97 in the OP's example has the 4l80e trans and a 14bolt full floater axle out back. The 97's axle width is a little better (closer to the front than the stock axle) but would need spring and shock mounts relocated to fit under the square. Get a 241 out of a 90-91 for the electronic speedometer output which would be needed for the PCM to control the trans correctly.
Being a 97 it may have both speed sensors in the 4L80e already. The transfer case output on some of them was just used for the speedometer. I've seen it that way in 95-97 4L80e trucks. Naturally, the 97 4L80e I bought doesn't have the rear sensor ring installed inside.

Problem with the early NP241s is they don't have the 3 wire 4wd switch and pawl inside to tell the pcm when you're in 4 low. Easily solved with a switch on the dash but it's easy to forget to flip it on or off in the moment. That's how my 1990 is setup now and its annoying enough that I'd like to find a 4L80e with both sensors so it will shift correctly no matter what range I'm in.

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