MadMike's Redneck RV
The "new pig" - our 1999 Suburban - From School Bus to Cool Bus
We've owned a Suburban since 1994. See the bottom of this page or click here for Version 1.
On June 10th, 2003 we were involved in a violent, catastrophic, life altering
accident with the Astro Van.
During our familys recovery period I had plenty of time to think about what we had all barely just lived through.
Watching my airbag deploy split seconds after I had resigned myself to witnessing my own death and kissing my ass
goodbye was a significant wake up call. I equate it to being reborn. The Astro (among other things) did its job.
I replayed things over and over, and kept thinking about - "what if". What if... we had been in the 1990 suburban? Like it or not -
I'd probably be dead... along with Laura, and possibly some of our children. Of course fate plays into anything, but neither
myself or laura would have had an airbag and various seatbelts in the truck were "sticky" or failed to ratchet smoothly, or even
lock. They may or may not have worked when called upon to do so. Not to get off on a tangent, suffice it to say
our old suburban suddenly became expendable.
We decided to replace our Astro van and our old suburban with a new suburban. And the hunt was on....
My shopping criteria was mainly to buy a USA assembled Suburban.
Ideally I wanted a 1999 (or 1998 - not too old) 3/4 ton, 5.7L, 2WD, LS model. I couldn't find ANYTHING matching that.
I found plenty of 3/4 ton 4x4's, LT (with $7000+ leather... loaded up the wazoo)... gas swilling 454's....
(if I needed the 454's power, I would have pursued a diesel... but the suburban doesn't come in a diesel and I can't
fit 9 people in a dually. Buying a non-Chevy was out of the question. Laura recently realized why she had been driving
a boring Chevy Astro van and not a cute mini-van.
Unfortunantly, the only way I could get EXACTLY what I wanted was to order a new truck
or have an unlimited amount of spare time to search the country and be very patient.
Being extremely short of funds, buying a new Suburban was not an option.
I was trying to be very careful to avoid any of the major "gotchas", like piston slap,
buying a wrecked vehicle, dealer-lemon, or a previous lease (which it turns out our Astro was).
Buying any used vehicle is a crapshoot.
I zeroed in on 1999 which was the
last year of the 5.7 vortec and "old style" body, but this year suburban is sort of a bastard. Slightly different from 1998,
yet not part of the 1999 Truck line. I had to fall back on the 1/2 ton, which made it easier to find a LS, 2WD and 5.7L.
Since my previous pile was a 1/2 ton and it did what I needed relatively well, I figured this would be acceptable.
I can't and won't call this new pile "the War Wagon" like it's predicessor, and it's already showing me that it's not
as durable as the war wagon, and it just seemed weaker than the old pooped suburban - so right now it's a big fat pig.
But we're working on fixing that. I'm carefully and logically working on transforming this tart from the "School Bus" to
the "Cool Bus" by performing some simple, cheap and hopefully effective mods.
I replayed things over and over, and kept thinking about - "what if". What if... we had been in the 1990 suburban? Like it or not - I'd probably be dead... along with Laura, and possibly some of our children. Of course fate plays into anything, but neither myself or laura would have had an airbag and various seatbelts in the truck were "sticky" or failed to ratchet smoothly, or even lock. They may or may not have worked when called upon to do so. Not to get off on a tangent, suffice it to say our old suburban suddenly became expendable.
We decided to replace our Astro van and our old suburban with a new suburban. And the hunt was on....
My shopping criteria was mainly to buy a USA assembled Suburban. Ideally I wanted a 1999 (or 1998 - not too old) 3/4 ton, 5.7L, 2WD, LS model. I couldn't find ANYTHING matching that. I found plenty of 3/4 ton 4x4's, LT (with $7000+ leather... loaded up the wazoo)... gas swilling 454's.... (if I needed the 454's power, I would have pursued a diesel... but the suburban doesn't come in a diesel and I can't fit 9 people in a dually. Buying a non-Chevy was out of the question. Laura recently realized why she had been driving a boring Chevy Astro van and not a cute mini-van.
Unfortunantly, the only way I could get EXACTLY what I wanted was to order a new truck or have an unlimited amount of spare time to search the country and be very patient. Being extremely short of funds, buying a new Suburban was not an option. I was trying to be very careful to avoid any of the major "gotchas", like piston slap, buying a wrecked vehicle, dealer-lemon, or a previous lease (which it turns out our Astro was). Buying any used vehicle is a crapshoot.
I zeroed in on 1999 which was the last year of the 5.7 vortec and "old style" body, but this year suburban is sort of a bastard. Slightly different from 1998, yet not part of the 1999 Truck line. I had to fall back on the 1/2 ton, which made it easier to find a LS, 2WD and 5.7L. Since my previous pile was a 1/2 ton and it did what I needed relatively well, I figured this would be acceptable.
I can't and won't call this new pile "the War Wagon" like it's predicessor, and it's already showing me that it's not as durable as the war wagon, and it just seemed weaker than the old pooped suburban - so right now it's a big fat pig. But we're working on fixing that. I'm carefully and logically working on transforming this tart from the "School Bus" to the "Cool Bus" by performing some simple, cheap and hopefully effective mods.
Engine: Basically Stock 350 Vortec, RPO L31, 250hp.
The Stock air intake system was removed and put up in the attic in favor of a MadMike Improvised System - (check out that paint can cap)
This mod isn't overly loud. At 2500 RPM you can hear the thing moving air. This by itself doesn't add a noticeable improvement in power. I expect this to benefit or compliment the future modifications.
The next modification will either be a camshaft upgrade, most likely the Comp Cams Tri-Power Extreme high torque camshaft. It was either this, or a whipple supercharger. I'll go with the camshaft.
The other option is the equivalent of this. I may seriously look into building a 383 bottom end and then installing that.
Exhaust - This truck already has dual high flow cats. But the stock muffler is apparently very restrictive, probably weighs 50 pounds and is the size of a garbage can. I tossed around the idea of installing headers on this thing and initially thought that headers don't provide much of an improvement over stock exhaust manifolds, but while that may hold true for the new body style... it may not apply to the old body style. Most of the headers I found were expensive jobs for "1999" (NBS) or pre-1996 (pre-vortec). I noticed Flowtech now has a header (91832) for a 1996 - 1997 OBS Vortec 350, so I'm going to be installing these. I compared exhaust manifolds and exhaust headpipes and I believe these headers aren't listed for the 1998 to 1999 OBS truck is because they don't have AIR pipes, which I don't have. The expensive shorty headers for the 1998 - 1999 vortec have an AIR fitting in them.
I got a relatively inexpensive ($197)
Goerlichs Xlerator cat-back system. It's a dual chamber, high flow muffler (X144)
with dual exhaust tail pipes. Technically the truck has a full dual exhaust with stock exhaust manifolds.
The truck has a nice mellow rumble at idle and upon acceleration. I had the exhaust system modified so the pipes exit sideways behind the tires. The stock system was designed to pop straight out the back of the truck. Also the setup I bought was designed for a pickup so some hangers needed to be altered for use on the suburban.
View: Rear view | Tailpipe Routing | Muffler exit | Muffler inlet | Left tailpipe
Hypertech III programmer. I got it cheap through work. I got it mainly to flash the size of my tires and my new gears.
I figured the bigger tires were farking with the ECM and my speedometer. They were.
So far the programmer has done what I needed. I haven't tried any of the "tuning" stuff yet cause I'm still running a
couple loads of 93 octane gas through the truck after running 87 octane panther-piss for a year. I was skeptical of this thing,
but then again, most of the fancy units only redo 2000+ style trucks. I don't want a custom
chip because I change things slowly, and I don't want to collect expensive chips. I can change things or unchange things
in 2 minutes (15 actually) now depending on what I want to do when I feel like doing it. No waiting.
I also have a real-time scanner (LSMscan) which I bought for my GTP. It'll allow my PDA to scan my truck and display basic OBDII values.
Update: I put the "power programming" into the truck and ran it for around 6 months. Then when the cost of gas skyrocketted, I pulled the power programming out so I can use 87 octane gas. I DID NOTICE A SLIGHT DIFFERENCE in the performance of the truck. With the 4.10 gears I've gotten used to driving around in overdrive and the truck can motor through most situations. Now when it's in overdrive I can tell occasionally some extra pedal effort is required to motor through various situations that used to not require it. Now with 105000 miles on the truck and the programming still out, the truck will downshift to 3rd to motor up some grades - before it would charge right up them.
4L60E. Whoops - I broke it. I had broken the 4L60E in the Astro at 86000 miles and figured this one was ready to cock up and leave me stranded when I was towing a big bunch of weight or was 1000 miles from home, and it didn't disappoint me. It broke, but it broke at home and broke conveniently so I could schedule the repair and actually drove the thing down to the shop to get it fixed (even with a broken case).
I used this as the opportunity to bullet-proof the transmission so it won't brake again.
Here was my recipe list to essentially turn the trans into the heavier capacity 4L65E.
Stock: original 10 bolt 3.42 posi. Not ideal for towing, and one of the reasons this thing was a pig.
Replaced with 4.10 gearset. Ta-Da! PROBLEM SOLVED. Between the heavy duty transmission and the gears there's now a subtle but distinct gear whine - which sounds almost like a gear drive or rock crusher whine. Sweet.
Wheels & Tires:
Stock tires were replaced with 30" tall tires by previous owner. They're michelin brand, so I'm probably stuck with
them for another 60000 to 80000 miles. The larger tires are another reason the truck felt like a pig with the stock
gear ratio. With the 4.10 they're adequate. After a while I noticed that they have a recommended
inflation of 50 PSI... so I blew them up to 48PSI (from 35) and the gas milage went through the roof. Wow.
Boring aluminum wheels. I'm really jonesing for the 2000+ style 3/4 ton forged wheels. I'll figure out how to put these things on a 1/2 ton chassis, even if I have to put the 3/4 ton stuff on my truck. This is a topic for another day and not a priority... plus I got relatively new tires you know?
Update: I scored a set of forged wheels. Now I'm figuring out how to use them.
Update1: I came to my senses and remembered back in the early 90's how cool the SS 454 pickup trucks wheels looked. So I grabbed a set of those. I got them out of Alabama with tires and all. 2 of the tires were bald (go figure) so I got new BFG Radial TA's for them. In the near future I'll have my truck lined up and have the new wheels/tires checked and installed. I haven't been in a hurry to do this because of scheduling problems and with the cost of gas - my milage will go into the toilet with the shorter tires installed. But I'll get the full effect from the 4.10 gears.
I selected the best of both worlds - rather than have 2 sets of wheels & tires on hand, I had my heavy duty towing tires installed on my fancy SS chrome wheels. The stock aluminum wheels are stashed away and the pair of new 275 baloneys will be used on one of my Z28's. I didn't like how the stock wheels looked, and I didn't like how the low profile fat tires looked and performed with the way I use the truck.
View: Side profile with SS wheels | SS Wheels & 275's | N90's & HD tires
Brakes & Suspension
The brakes are stock rated at 7500 GVW. The rear susension is equipped with air lift air bags.
Mods in progress:
Dual Battery w/Isolator
We travel, camp and race out of the suburban and it would be nice to have some extra electrical power onhand. Not enough to justify hauling a generator around all the time. The truck is set up for dual batterys already, so I put an Optima deep-cell battery in the other tray and wired it up to a Hellroaring isolator. When the truck is parked we can run our site off the deep-cell battery which is driving a power inverter.
I envisioned a headrest installed LCD video display with a fancy head unit somewhere under the seat. The realistic option and what we have is a portable DVD player. Obviously we have a cell phone and our PDA(s) have GPS and wireless internet capability. So we're wired up and adequately entertained on trips & outtings.
Partial VIN: 1GNEC16RXXJ
View: Window Sticker
I added the V76 front towing hooks.
If/when the interior gets trashed, I'd like to migrate from the tan interior to the darker charcoal interior.
Driving Impressions: - just back from a trip to Carlisle PA (6/2005). This thing is impressive now. The gas milage was between 14 - 17MPG with my average speed of 70MPH (seriously). This thing will motor up steep mountain grades while heavily loaded with little effort. The only thing that may need to be addressed is the corvette servo. It hits harder than I'd prefer. If you're not familiar with driving this truck and it shifts unexpectedly, it almost sounds like it's trying to rip the u-joints out. You can control how hard and when the truck shifts with your foot.
Long haul driving is comfortable.
Acceleration is now acceptable - when I put my foot into it, it'll pull hard up to 70mph (when I take my foot of the gas). Getting the truck motivated from a stop or driving around town is effortless. Going up steep grades, hills or mountains in OD is no sweat. No additional throttle is required nor does the truck downshift. It stays locked up in overdrive and keeps going.
Disposition of the War Wagon
This thing was bullet-proof, but it had served its purpose. Due to the reasons mentioned above, it was time to replace it. I pulled the engine and transmission out which still worked relatively well with 243,000 miles on it and will reinstall that drivetrain into my 1974 Z28. Doing this technically turned the suburban into a useless steel can to most people, but prior to coming to this decision, I consulted with a younger fellow who's helped me for many years with my site. He's in the rust belt of Ohio and is mechanically inclined. So I gave him the suburban and it will live on (or until the Ohio winters destroy it). It was 100% rust free when it left Georgia. He's got big plans for the thing so he says. (I just found out his dad is driving it all over the place and is happy as hell with it).
This thing required no major repairs during its ownership. I replaced the power window motor once. Replaced the starter several times, put an alternator and battery in it. Did many tune ups, oil changes - several sets of tires and did the brakes several times. Pretty much general maintenance. To be fair: I knew the previous owner before me blew the transmission and blew a head gasket. All were serviced under warranty.
The "War Wagon" - our 1990 Suburban
The "War Wagon" - our 1990 Suburban
I BS a lot about the Camaros, but this thing's really impressed me so it gets its own page.
I also get a lot of requests from folks who want to know if I have the same type of information
that I have for Camaros, but for (trucks, vega's, impalas, etc...). I don't, but here's some
detailed info about the 1990 Suburban, and my truck specifically.
A good site for general truck info is Mike's (Ervin) 73-87 Chevy Pickup Garage
We bought this thing back in 1994 with 60,000 miles on the clock. The lady who owned it before us used it to deliver flowers. I was looking for a tow vehicle (knowing I would be towing my Z28 to the drag strip). My wife was looking for a grocery getter/travelling automobile. The suburban's filled the bill in spades. Since we bought our Astro van (10/99) this thing has seen limited use, mainly used for towing. Or for me to get around town while my cavalier was blown up (again). Hopefully I got that problem solved too.
The Blazer |
Bye-Bye Blazer |
The blazer was a major boo-boo. While Laura isn't a yuppie soccer mom, she wanted a "SUV" - a Jeep. NFW. We scored the blazer for short money. The blazer, while functional, wasn't acceptable for us. It seated 4, we have a family of 5. The 2.8L V6 was totally under powered. The saga with the blazer was solved by nature. The astro gets 2 MPG better than the suburban, but the suburban can haul an additional 8,000 pounds. Ironically, the car salesman was trying to tell me about the astros towing capacity and I pointed to my suburban. I wouldn't even try to tow my trailer empty with the astro. The Astro is nice for travelling and we've done plenty of it so far - 67000 miles in 2 years. I had to put new tires and brakes on the Astro. Hopefully this thing will be as bulletproof as the 'burban.
Note: When the shit hit the fan for us on June 10th 2003,
the astro had it where it counted. It saved our lives.
Chevy Trucks... yeah, they're built like a rock, fortunantly for us.
Now (February 2001), the thing has 225,000 on the clock, I just got back from towing a car to Long Island NY.
I'm currently "restoring" it. We've beat the snot out of the thing for 6 years, and it's time to clean it up. I'll document some of this process. Over the years, with 3 children and me hauling "car parts" all over the east coast, the interior got dirty. The main problem that inflicted the truck is the infamous "paint delaminating problem" - where the paint blows off the truck. Basically, Laura was embarassed to drive the truck, so it was time to paint it.
My 1990 Suburban Specifications:
350 Throttle Body Injection (L05). Hooker Headers, K&N filter with open air element.
External oil cooler (part of towing package). MSD coil, Accel 9000 high temp wires (which still
Still has enough balls to haul on down the road. Could use more power.
Other views: Brake System | Right side | Left side (notice header tube & customized steering bracket)
Transmission: 700R4, Automatic Overdrive. Since I would tow with this thing, I put an external transmission cooler in. DON'T EVER TOW IN OVERDRIVE. This will destroy your transmission. This transmission blew up on the original owner with 28,000 miles on it. I don't know what she did, but I ain't easy on the truck and it's at 225,000 miles now. Ya, the trans is beat, but it's still working. I just changed the fluid on it again.
Rear End: Stock, 3.73:1, open rear end. Yes, I've gotten stuck in my yard occasionally. I hope to put a posi in it eventually. Right now the rear end is fine. The stock rear springs have had it from all these years of towing. I added a hellwig rear swaybar.
Wheels, Tires & Front Suspension: American Racing Wheels, with 275 60 x 15 white letter tires. I got these back in 1995. A couple years ago, this look got popular with the "NASCAR" truck look.
Originally equipped with P01 wheels & 235 75 x 15 tires. Yawn.
Exterior Features: Originally 2 tone, blue & silver. Pretty ritzy: Chrome wheel openings, belt molding, chrome grill, mirrors & roof rack. This truck was inflicted with the dreaded GM paint delamination problem. I could have forced GM to repaint it a couple years ago, but I'm lazy and never got around to it. Was too busy, and the truck worked fine. It got to lookin like hell, but it was functional. Now, it's getting fixed.
The plan: Two tone custom, bright blue on top, blending into dark blue on the bottom. All chrome has been blacked out (except the door handles), and the bumpers are painted dark blue.
See below photo section for body restoration pictures.
Interior Features: Code 24: 24I (blue trim) & 24D Trim Combination (blue, velour cloth) Fancy.
See below photo section for interior restoration pictures.
Major Options: (Taken from service label, not formated)
AJ1 - Window, Deep Tint (Privacy Glass) AS3 - Seat, Right Rear (Suburban) AT5 - Seat, Center Folding AU3 - Power Locks AXP - A31 - Power Windows A95 - Seat, Front Bucket, High Back, Reclining BC3 - B30 - Floor, Carpet B32 - Front floor mats B33 - rear floor mats B85 - Exterior Molding, Belt Reveal B96 - Exterior Molding, wheel opening CMD - C5U - C60 - Air Conditioning C69 - Rear A/C DK6 - D45 - Mirror, Outside SST. GT4 JB5 - KC4 - Engine Oil Cooler K34 - Cruise Control K68 - Generator, 105 AMP L05 - 350 V8, TBI MD8 - 700R4 MX0 - NA5 - Federal Emissions NK3 - (fuel tank) N33 - Tilt Steering P01 - Wheels R6N - SLM - TR9 - Lamp Group TT4 - Halogen headlights UN9 - UP8 - UX1 - Fancy Radio UY7 - HD Wiring harness, trailer U73 - VE5 - Bumper, F/R Impact strip VG3 - Front Bumper Impact Strip VG5 - Rear Bumper Impact Strip VR4 - Trailer hitch, Weight Distributing V02 - HD Radiator w/trans cooler V22 - Radiator Grille, Chrome. V73 - XHA X88 YD3 - YD6 YE9 - Equipment Package, Level 3. YG3 - YHA ZHA ZN3 ZQ2 ZQ3 ZW9 - Base body ZY1 - color combination, solid. Z82 - Trailer Hitch, Reese Type 1SE 24D - Trim Combination (blue, velour cloth) 24I - Interior Trim (blue) 98U
MadMike's 1990 Suburban Photos
Freshening up the Interior:
The interior is worn out. It's dirty, stained. The headliner is falling down. Seat belts are sticking. The rug is black and greasy. The interior stinks. Some windows are slow. The glass has smudge marks on them. Plastic trim is scratched. Interior sill plates are dented & scratched. Bulbs are burnt out. French fries from 1993 are under the kids seat section... you get the idea. A good cleaning and vacuum job won't solve these problems.
Taking stuff apart
Bodywork & Paint photos:
The body is straight. Except where I've bumped into cars, the trailer hitch. Laura dinged the rear door once (or twice). I nearly tore the door off loading the trailer and catching a tree with the door. There's a slight crease in the rear 1/4 panel from the previous owner. A lot of surface rust is starting to form due to the paint problem... especially on the roof and hood. Plus, I don't like chrome.
Roof problems | Rear Doors | Sanding down the hood | Stripping the paint
Disassembled & Stripped | Rear Stripped | 1st coat of Veri-Prime | Priming the truck
Still Priming | Taped up | Paints a'flyin | Rear View | Side View | Mulsane Blue
It's tough working on the truck. It barely fits into my garage and when it is in the garage it's tough to correctly paint various spots - mainly the roof and the drivers side of the truck. I wanted to paint outside but often weather conditions (and pollen) don't allow this. I know this won't be a show quality job and there will probably be paint boo-boo's, but then again, take a look at the way the roof looked. It'll be 100% better than it was.
Well, I finally got off my a$$ and painted the truck. As mentioned above, it was difficult to paint in the garage. I have several spots to fix. I went to back the truck out of the garage so I could get to the driver side of the truck and I scratched the fender on a shelf. The paint's not even dry and I'm already bollocksing up the thing - which is why I'm really not worried about the finish. I need to redo some areas later, but for now, the truck will be servicable. This job is what's known as a 20/20 job - looks good from 20 feet away or at 20 mph. Up close, you can see a fair amount of technical screw ups.