What a unique 1951 Chevrolet Suburban for our Feature Truck Series! It is certainly a one of a kind. The owners are Jeff & Brenda Kuhn of Plainfield, Illinois. Their dream is now complete after 4 years in the making. The goal was to restore or find a totally original Suburban and then add special performance features that were usually available during the 1950’s and 1960’s with a few modern features. Here are the results. It is not only a “show stopper” where ever it is seen but it easily keeps up with freeway traffic even with its 60 year old inline 6 cylinder engine.
Here is a big plus, Jeff’s wife Brenda is great supporter of his enthusiasm in the old GM truck hobby. She gets involved!
Jeff has been a lover of Advance Design (1947-1955) Chevrolet / GMC trucks most of his life, even long before he married Brenda in his 40th year. At that time his interest was very strong in drag racing late model stocks cars, which he built and raced personally on local dirt tracks. Now the racing has been placed aside and he is totally into the hobby of Advance Design ruck enjoyment. He has owned and rebuilt over 10 of these trucks since he stopped dirt track racing. He puts them together in such a unique way that other truck enthusiasts just want to own them. It was not always the plan but sometimes offers come very difficult to turn down. His last, a 1948 Chevy ½ ton, was quoted to a potential buyer at above the six figure amount just so it would not sell. Well, it sold anyway! Therefore, don’t price your truck unless you really want to sell it. Probably a good selling point for this 1948 pickup was that it had been the feature truck in 8 national automotive magazines! Yes, Jeff knows how to create very special Advance Design trucks.
The dream that had been in Jeff and Brenda’s mind was to rebuild an early Suburban. With the sale of the 1948 pickup the money was available to make a Suburban into the vehicle they had hoped for. He discovered this Suburban 4 years ago. It was found in Wichita, Kansas and had been totally restored over 20 years exactly like it came from the factory. It had the correct Seacrest Green paint, all the seats were covered with the proper brown Spanish Grain vinyl, and even the grill back splash bars had been painted the proper Waldorf white.
Jeff and Brenda had always thought of having a Suburban because they can take other couples to car shows or just go out for fun. The changes Jeff added to this “people hauler” allows it to stay up with traffic at most any speed, and keep the engine at a lower RPM, and have an easy smooth ride.
The interesting surprise: No body cutting or frame alterations: The all stock body, windows, paint, interior, engine block, and most accessories are like it came from the dealership 60 years ago.
Here are some of the Suburban modifications available 50 and 60 years ago and a few that are very modern updates.
Engine: 1957 Chevrolet 235 high oil pressure inline six cylinder, however, there are some changes on the top end. Jeff added Fenton dual intake and exhaust manifolds. The two exhaust and tail pipes plus mufflers are all stainless steel and correctly run along only one side of the frame rail.
The two carburetors on the Fenton intake are early Zeniths from a GMC, not the original type Rochester’s. This provides a lean burn system with the correct amount of fuel to the engine. Thus, no high lift cam shaft required.
To catch more attention at shows when the hood is raised, Jeff found a Wayne polished aluminum valve cover and side plate for the 235 engine. (This was a high performance supply company in the 1950’s) What a nice touch!
Transmission: Jeff discovered this special transmission in his many years of racing and rebuilding Advance Design trucks. This 5 speed overdrive is the main feature that allows this Suburban to stay with fast moving traffic. It is manufactured by the Tremec Company and fits perfectly against the 1951 bell housing. Even the original clutch pressure plate and flywheel are still used. Only its fine spline input shaft requires a different hub on the clutch plate!
Differential: Jeff added a complete drum to drum assembly from a 1958 Chevy ½ ton. (He keeps 6 bolt wheels) This allowed him to remove the stock 3.90 ratio ring and pinion and exchange with a 3.38 ratio system. It gives about a 20% lower engine RPM. Another nice touch! This 1958 differential attaches to an open drive line system that is needed to connect to the above described modern Tremec 5 speed overdrive transmission.
Front Axle: A 4 inch “dropped” axle is just like they did it in the 1950’s. In addition the two leaf springs are multi leaf Posies brand called “Super Glide” and add another 3” drop.
Rear Suspension: By using special 1 ½ inch blocks between the axles and springs plus using Posies leaf springs the total lowering is about 4 ½ inches, not radical, but just right for this Suburban. Original hub caps are still used. The front and rear Posies springs make it ride like a passenger car!
Wheels: The 15 inch artillery wheels are a great copy of the 1937-45 Chevy ¾ ton six bolt units that have become so popular in recent years. However, these are modified so the calipers on the disc brakes do not rub them. Jeff found these at the Wheel Smith in Santa Ana, California.
Electronic Ignition: Here, Jeff went modern. He used a currently popular Pytronics electronic system. It is hidden inside the original distributer. He starts the old 235 engine now in a split second in even the coldest Illinois days.
Outside Trim: This was a major hunt! Originally on the deluxe panel truck as an option, but they fit a Suburban perfectly. A two year search found this set of trims and spears in Hawaii. The panel truck owner on the islands was building a street rod and decided to not use them (Probably because of their high value to a restorer!)
Jeff was soon the new owner and made the repairs to their scrapes and dings. He recalls his nervous feeling while drilling the 68 holes in the Suburban body for the trim clips and hoping they were placed in the correct position.
Fulton Sunvisor’s and Spotlight: Jeff got lucky on the Fulton Sunvisor. The windshield GM accessory is being reproduced just like they were in the 1950’s. The almost impossible item to locate is the Fulton side window visors. What a find for Jeff! Most of us would have no idea what they were if not in an original box. Another lucky find is the amber lens fog lights. They are now being reproduced to exactly copy those sold 60 years ago! They look great on the Suburban.
Interior: Just look at the authentic inside. This Suburban is mid-1951 due to the lack of bright work on the dash. (Korean War Shortages) Some accessories include tissue dispenser below dash, radio, flash light on steering column, right sunvisor and factory fresh air heater.
Front Protection: This single horizontal bar design was a very rare dealer installed accessory offered from 1951 through 1953. Chevrolet defined it as a “Radiator Grill Guard”. Not only attractive, but designed to protect the grill and radiator from minor accidents on or off the road.
Jeff and Brenda Kuhn certainly have a one of a kind Suburban. It’s a mixture of the old and new, and is great fun to drive. There is no doubt, it will be their keeper for many years. For once they have a 60 year old vehicle that does not have to be trailered. Just turn the key and go! It’s a part of automotive history for all to see.
You can Contact Jeff and Brenda at email@example.com.
Engine on display
The trim and spears make it complete!
GM’s idea: Lower the mirror arm to protect it’s glass from an open wing vent
Suburban dealer installed accessory rear turn signal light
Side view of dual Zeniths, manifolds, and filters
Wayne valve cover and side plate
Mounted on firewall instead of intake because of the slope of the Fenton manifold
A photo view of front Fulton sunvisor
The left edge of the front Fenton visor
“Very” rare Fulton side window visor
Dual pipes on an inline six cylinder. Side by side just like they should be!
Accessory GM safety treads to prevent slips when running boards are wet
New Spanish Grain brown seat upholstery
Late 1951 dash. The Tremec 5 speed shifter is just right