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Category: SUV

Junkyard Gem: 1985 GMC Suburban K1500


General Motors has been selling Suburbans since 1935, outlasting the DeSoto Suburban, the Nash Ambassador Suburban and the Plymouth Fury Suburban. These days, the US-market GMC-branded twin to the Chevrolet Suburban wears Yukon XL badging, but GMC Suburbans were sold here from 1937 through 1999. Today’s Junkyard Gem is a four-wheel-drive example of the very successful 1973-1991 Suburban generation, found in a car graveyard just outside of Reno, Nevada.


The Service Parts Identification sticker on the glovebox lid tells us that this truck was part of a fleet order with some interesting RPO codes, including one for “Retail Amenity Delete.” Yes, the cigarette lighter was an extra-cost option.


The original engine was a good old carbureted Chevrolet 350-cubic-inch (5.7-liter) small-block V8, and this small-block may even be the one that was installed on the line in Flint, Michigan. The power rating was 165 horsepower and 275 pound-feet, not a lot of power (by our current standards) for a truck that scaled in at nearly two-and-a-half tons, but it was enough for the era.


The transmission is the optional 700R4 four-speed automatic. The seat is a bench, as is proper.


This is a half-ton with four-wheel-drive and the base Sierra trim level. The High Sierra and Sierra Classic packages (corresponding to Chevrolet’s Scottsdale and Silverado names at the time) got you nicer-looking decorations plus some convenience features.


The 1985 GMC and Chevrolet Suburbans had identical price tags, which started at $11,650 for the K1500 with 350 engine (about $24,682 in 2024 dollars).


The eighth-generation Suburban showed up as a 1992 model, and it received the luxurious independent front suspension that had lived beneath C/K-series GM pickups since the 1988 model year.


At some point, the tailgate from a Chevrolet Suburban was installed.


Rust works slowly in Nevada, though we don’t know where this truck resided before it came to the Silver State.


An owner of this truck was a proud member of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 12, which covers California and Nevada.


What broke and sent this truck here? We can’t know.

The Suburban doesn’t show up in this commercial for the 1985 GMC trucks, but it’s still worth a view.

Most of the Suburban advertising dollars went to the Chevrolet version.



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Junkyard Gem: 2006 Isuzu Ascender


Things got a little unsettled with the lesser-known players in the GM Empire during the years leading up to the company’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy, with plenty of mix-and-match branding efforts. Suzuki badges on Daewoos? Sure thing! Rebadged Subarus for Saab? Why not? One of the sadder stories during this era was the fate of once-proud Isuzu, which was down to just two rebadged Chevrolet passenger vehicles for its final few years in the United States: the I-Series pickup (Colorado) and Ascender midsize SUV (Trailblazer). Here’s an example of the latter type, found in a Silicon Valley self-service car graveyard recently.


Isuzus first entered the American automotive mainstream in 1972, when GM started bringing over Isuzu Faster pickups and selling them with Chevrolet LUV badges. Isuzu began selling I-Marks, P’ups and Troopers here in 1981, followed by Impulses and Styluses (and their Chevrolet/Geo-badged siblings). Isuzu’s real sales success here proved to be with its well-priced trucks; the final U.S.-market Isuzu cars were 1993 models but Rodeos, Troopers and Amigos continued to fly out of American Isuzu showrooms during the decade.


Then sales slumped as the 2000s dawned. The aging Trooper couldn’t compete against a bunch of fresh new rivals and got the axe after 2002. The VehiCROSS was too radical to succeed and was done after 2001. The Amigo (aka Rodeo Sport) went away after 2003, leaving just the Rodeo and the Axiom in the Isuzu lineup. For the 2005 model year, there were no genuine Isuzus left here, just rebadged Chevrolets (Isuzu commercial trucks continued to be sold, of course, and you can still buy a new one today).


GM introduced its new GMT360 SUV platform with the 2002 Chevrolet Trailblazer, GMC Envoy and Oldsmobile Bravada. Sales of those trucks were brisk, and American Isuzu dealers got their own version starting with the following model year: the Ascender, which was supposed to replace the Trooper.


The only meaningful difference between the Ascender and its Chevy/GMC/Olds siblings was its generous Isuzu warranty. On the minus side, Isuzu was in obvious trouble here and potential Ascender buyers feared getting stuck with a truck lacking a dealer network (a genuine concern so soon after Daewoo owners had been directed to the Pep Boys for warranty service in the wake of Daewoo Motor America’s bankruptcy).


In the end, the Ascender and I-Series didn’t sell well. GM announced the discontinuation of the seven-seat Ascender for 2006, with rumors of the five-seater’s demise beginning soon after. 2008 ended up being the final year for new non-commercial Isuzu vehicles in the United States.


Buick and Saab also got their own versions of the Trailblazer, the Rainier and 9-7X.

The actress in this Ascender commercial did a fine job of sneering out the word “minivan” with the appropriate contempt.



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Junkyard Gem: 1999 Suzuki Vitara JX 4WD four-door


Toyota and Honda enjoyed lucrative American sales success with the RAV4 and CR-V compact crossovers, which went on sale here for the 1996 and 1997 model years, respectively. Suzuki offered its first-generation Escudo/Vitara here (as the Sidekick, in addition to being sold by GM with Geo Tracker badging), but its 1980s design had become embarrassingly dated by the middle 1990s. Something had to be done; that turned out to be the second-generation Vitara, which appeared here as a 1999 model. Here’s a first-year example, found in a Colorado car graveyard recently.


The first Suzuki-made car model sold new in the United States was the first-generation Cultus, sold here by GM with Chevrolet Sprint badges beginning in 1985 (this after more than 20 years of Suzuki motorcycles arriving at our shores). The Suzuki Jimny showed up the following year (as the Suzuki Samurai), with more and more Suzuki-badged models showing up during the 1990s.


As an affiliate of the far-flung GM Empire, Suzuki products sold in the United States became more Daewoo-ized during the 2000s, but there were always some genuine Suzukis available all the way through the final Kizashis and Grand Vitaras.


The Vitara was available in the United States through the 2003 model year, while the more powerful and generally grander Grand Vitara was sold here all the way until American Suzuki Motors filed for bankruptcy and gave up on highway-legal four-wheelers after 2013. You can still buy new Suzuki motorcycles and ATVs to this day, of course.


This is a top-trim-level four-door JX+ with four-wheel-drive, so its MSRP was $17,999 (about $34,406 in 2024 dollars). That compares favorably with the similarly equipped 1999 Honda CR-V ($20,450, or $39,091 today) and 1999 Toyota RAV4 ($18,198 today).


The Grand Vitara for ’99 came with V6 power under the hood, while the regular Vitara made do with 1.6- and 2.0-liter straight-fours. This is the 2.0-liter, rated at 127 horsepower and 134 pound-feet.


A five-speed manual transmission was base equipment, but the original buyer of this car bought the automatic. Unlike the car-based CR-V and RAV4, the 1999-2003 Vitara had a truck-style frame and true four-wheel-drive instead of an idiot-proof all-wheel-drive system.


Collectible? Probably not, but still an interesting piece of Suzuki automotive history.

American Suzuki Motors didn’t seem willing to spend money to do TV commercials for the not-so-grand regular Vitara, so we’ll watch one for its JDM sibling instead.



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Junkyard Gem: 1983 Ford Bronco


Ford built the Bronco from the 1966 through 1996 model years, after which it was replaced by the Expedition and its four doors. Then came 2021, when a brand-new Bronco appeared to do sales battle with the Jeep Wrangler. Broncos from the first couple of decades of production are junkyard rarities today, and the few that do show up in the boneyards tend to be mangled beyond recognition or picked clean within days of arrival. That made this ’83, found in a Denver-area yard, an extra-special Junkyard Gem.

The first-generation (1966-1977) Bronco was built on its own bespoke chassis with a very short 92″ wheelbase, just an inch longer than that of the little MGB sports car. For 1978, the Bronco moved to a shortened version of the F-Series truck chassis, becoming much bigger in every dimension and gaining more than 1,500 pounds in the process. The Bronco remained a member of the F-Series family all the way through the end of production in 1996, getting updates paralleling those of F-100/F-150 generations.

This one is a member of the third Bronco generation, built from the 1980 through 1986 model years.

The door tag tells us that it was built in December of 1982 at Ford’s Michigan Truck Plant in Wayne, and that it was sold new via the sales office in Seattle, Washington.

The base engine in the 1983 Bronco was the 300-cubic-inch (4.9-liter) straight-six, a sturdy truck-only plant rated at 115 horsepower and 223 pound-feet in this application. 302 and 351 (5.0- and 5.8-liter) Windsor V8s were available as options.

The base transmission in the 1983 Bronco was a four-on-the-floor manual, which could be equipped with an overdrive top gear for $78 extra ($250 in 2024 dollars). That’s what’s in this truck.

The F-Series-based Bronco became more comfortable (alongside its pickup siblings) as the generations went by, but the third-generation version was a noisy, rough-riding real truck that would be considered intolerably crude by modern SUV standards.

This one didn’t get built with many options, but it did get the extra-cost rear window defroster with this afterthought of a switch.

Air conditioning? Not at $729 ($2,337 after inflation). Just open the windows!

The MSRP for the base ’83 Bronco was $10,589, or about $33,948 in today’s dollars.

Just to confuse everybody, Ford began selling a compact SUV based on the Ranger for the 1984 model year, calling it the Bronco II. This was in keeping with the tradition established when full-sized LTDs were sold alongside Torino-based LTD IIs during the mid-to-late 1970s. Since the current Bronco is based on the Ranger platform, that makes it more the spiritual descendant of the Bronco II than of the F-Series-based 1980-1996 Bronco.

Perhaps delivering the new Ford trucks via helicopter assault while “Ride of the Valkyries” plays was in poor taste, just six years after the Fall of Saigon and two years after “Apocalypse Now” hit theaters.

You won’t believe the deals on new ’83s at National Ford Truck Week!



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Junkyard Gem: 1996 Toyota RAV4


The Toyota RAV4 first hit Japanese streets in the spring of 1994, but its debut in the United States had to wait until early 1996. Since that time, the RAV4 has been climbing the best-seller charts, and has spent most of the last decade as the most popular new vehicle (that isn’t a Detroit pickup) here. That’s well over 7 million units sold to American car buyers over 28 years, and today’s Junkyard Gem is one of the very first RAV4s to hit our shores.

Back in 2020, I found one of the first-ever Toyota Camrys sold in the United States (build date of February 1983, a couple of months before the initial batch of Camrys arrived here), so I’m proud to have found another Toyota milestone during my explorations of car graveyard history. I’ve also documented one of the first Mitsubishi-badged pickups sold here plus one of the first few hundred Honda Civic del Sols ever built, all in Colorado boneyards.

By the second half of the 1990s, the spectacular sales success of such machines as the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ford Explorer had made it clear that the future of the American road would be all about trucks, and any manufacturer who failed to provide commuter SUVs that looked tough yet rode comfortably would be doomed here. Toyota was raking in tall stacks of yen with the 4Runner, but a small unibody SUV would lure even more American buyers with a nicer ride and car-like fuel economy.

The original RAV4 was developed on a chassis that borrowed from the Corolla and the Carina (which was only sold here for a couple of years in the early 1970s; the Celica was the closest Carina relative in the United States during the middle 1990s). It was available with two or four doors and with front-wheel-drive or all wheel-drive.

Following the Japanese car industry’s tradition of applying tortured acronyms to vehicle designations (e.g., Nissan PLASMA, Subaru BRAT), RAV4 stood for Recreational Active Vehicle with 4-wheel-drive. This one has front-wheel-drive and its four doors made it more about driving to work than to recreation, but you get the idea.

It was built in Aichi Prefecture in May 1996 as a “49-state” car, not legal for new sale in California.

The engine is a 2.0-liter DOHC 3S-FE straight-four, rated at 120 horsepower. We’ve seen the 3S-FE in quite a few Camrys in this series.

The base transmission for the first two generations of U.S.-market RAV4 was a five-speed manual, and that’s what’s here. When the third-generation RAV4 appeared as a 2006 model, an automatic transmission was mandatory equipment and remains so to this day (three-pedal RAV4s are still sold elsewhere on the planet). The two-door RAV4 also disappeared after 2005.

The curb weight of the 1996 RAV4 four-door was 2,778 pounds, nearly a half-ton lighter than its 2024 descendant.

This one made it a bit past 175,000 miles during its career, which is acceptable but not anywhere close to impressive by 1990s Toyota standards. During my junkyard explorations, I’ve found a 1996 Avalon with nearly a million miles, a 1996 Camry wagon with close to 600,000 miles and a 1995 Previa with well over 400,000 miles, for example.

One of the RAV4’s claims to fame is that an electric version was one of the first production EVs sold in the United States during the modern era. The RAV4 EV was launched as a 1997 model (the same year as the GM EV1, in fact) and was sold here through 2003. Unlike what happened with the EV1, Toyota didn’t confiscate and destroy all the RAV4 EVs when their leases were up and I’ve managed to find an example in a California junkyard.

Don’t drive what your neighbor drives! The problem is that now your neighbor likely does drive a RAV4.

Toyota never has been very good at pitching the whole fun thing, but their vehicles are screwed together very well.



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Junkyard Gem: 2003 Chevrolet Tracker


When General Motors created the Geo brand to sell vehicles designed and — in some cases — built by Japanese partners, the first four models were introduced for the 1989 model year: the Metro (Suzuki Cultus), Prizm (Toyota Sprinter), Spectrum (Isuzu Gemini) and Tracker (Suzuki Sidekick). Geo got the axe in 1997, with the Metro, Prizm and Tracker becoming Chevrolets. Of those, the Tracker survived the longest, with U.S.-market sales continuing into 2004. Here’s an example of a very late Tracker, found in a North Carolina car graveyard recently.

The 1989-1997 first-generation Trackers were based on the Suzuki Sidekick, while the 1998-2004 Trackers had the Suzuki Vitaras (not to be confused with the much grander Grand Vitaras) as their siblings.

Production of these trucks for the South American market (as the Chevrolet Vitara) continued in Ecuador all the way through 2014. The Tracker name has also gone onto some versions of the Chevrolet Trax around the world.

This one is a base four-door hard top/rear-wheel-drive model, which had an MSRP of $17,330. That’s about $29,789 in 2024 dollars.

You’ll find one in every car. You’ll see.

The engine is a Suzuki 2.0-liter straight-four rated at 127 horsepower and 134 pound-feet.

A five-speed manual was base equipment, but very few American vehicle shoppers wanted three pedals by the middle 2000s. This truck has the Aisin four-speed automatic.

We like it loud.

It appears that someone associated with this truck graduated from Julius L. Chambers High School last year.

In the United States, the Tracker was replaced by the Saturn Vue.

If Tracker can handle (unspecified Middle Eastern country), it can survive the jungle back home.

Siempre contigo.



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