Low-mileage 1952 Suburban ambulance is begging to be resuscitated

1952 GMC Suburban side

Thanks to Barnfinds.com, we’ve been dreaming about the various ways this 1952 GMC Suburban could be brought back to life after its spent 50 years stashed away in a barn. For sale on eBay in Womelsdorf, Pennsylvania, the former military ambulance has a Buy-it-Now price of $15,500 and has garnered a few bids thus far.

Photos of the Suburban’s body show there’s lots of rust on the floorboards that would require serious fabrication or, at the least, some welding skill. A quick check on parts availability shows that firewall, front floorboards, and kick panels won’t be hard to come by, and there appear to be several sources of other sheet metal stampings, but there are sure to be some panels that are specific to Suburban that would be hard to find. Thankfully, plenty of the ’Burb’s body appears to be solid.

1952 GMC Suburban floor

Unfortunately, there’s not much information on the drivetrain, other than it’s not currently running, but it may have just 8000 total miles. If that’s the case, this could be a great project to get freshened up and running without requiring a major teardown. This big wagon could be back under its own power after some new hoses and gaskets, a tune-up, and a carb rebuild, provided the 50 years of sitting hasn’t taken too much of a toll.

Hagerty doesn’t currently have a valuation listing for a 1952 GMC Suburban; the closest we could find was a 1952 Chevrolet Suburban half-ton. While Chevy and GMC have differentiated their pickup and SUV models more and more in the last few generations, back in the ’50s, Chevy and GMC models looked nearly identical on the outside. Where they differed was under the hood, where this GMC should have used a 228-cubic-inch, 100-hp, inline six as opposed to Chevrolet’s 92-hp Thriftmaster 216, which was a different engine family entirely.

1952 GMC Suburban interior

Out of curiosity, we checked the wheelbase of the 1947–55 Suburban and found that it’s 116 inches. Coincidentally, that’s the exact same wheelbase used by the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon for three straight generations from 2000–20. There are probably a few of those sitting at a junkyard near you with a wrecked body but a perfectly good V-8 drivetrain and modern chassis, eager to have new life under a classic Suburban body.

1952 GMC Suburban steering wheel

So, how would you build this ’52 Suburban? There’s plenty of space under that big hood for just about any powerplant you could want, so almost anything is on the table if the factory inline six isn’t your cup of tea. Does the prospect of getting a low-mileage, 70-year-old workhorse back on the road appeal to you, or are your gears turning for something more modified?

1952 GMC Suburban front three-quarter
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    That’s the kind of vehicle that for the right price, I would get it functional and ride it – but that ain’t the right price

    Agreed, TG. It will cost a fortune to resuscitate this old hulk, and starting off $15.5K in the hole doesn’t make any financial sense. Furthermore, even after tens of thousands of dollars are spent on the restoration, it will only appeal to a limited group of admirers, of which, sadly, I am not included.

    I participated as project manager on a very “nice-looking” resto-mod conversion on a ’52 Chevy that turned out being a long-involved discovery: It had a 3/4 ton suspension, 9″ Ford Rear-End, and the Mustang II front end was unable to support a modern 350 powerplant with Chevy Caprice rear suspension to replace the ton of iron. Could not find heavy-duty springs! We were rushed to finish and transport cross-country. Gave up! The 6 cyl engines are what original freaks try to keep and there are many owners of these Advanced Design series trucks.

    I like your idea of using a modern donor chassis to underpin this body. Get the benefit of newer parts, safety, and reliability with the classic body. If the plan is to be able to drive it, that would be a good way to go. If it’s going to be a garage queen or museum piece, then it’s worth trying to keep the chassis and drivetrain original.

    These old ambulances are not worth restoring. A specialty vehicle that might appeal to a military collector, but in its current state with no drive train, probably not.

    The price seems to be a bit high for a vehicle with serious rust issues, but the low mileage makes it tempting. It could probably be patched up and returned to service for a few thousand dollars by someone with average mechanical skills. A frame-off concourse restoration would far exceed its ultimate value, and a resto-mod would be even more costly.
    I had a 1950 Chevrolet 1 ton panel truck for many years. Probably the most practical and reliable vehicle that I have ever owned. One could buy a good Suburban from the 50’s for far less than the cost of a new one or its equivalent. If it was next door, I would snap it up, spend a few months on repairs, then use it for its intended purpose. Just think, no computers and no electronic doodads; just a robust vehicle with a simple drive train, a robust chassis and pleasing demeanor.

    That is a candidate for a ‘resto-mod’ or hotrod. Few will want to keep it stone stock. For those commenting that it doesn’t make financial sense, well NO restoration really makes financial sense. That is NOT why you build a car. Car flippers and ‘investors’ have ruined the hobby. (Same for real estate>>running up the prices so normal people can’t afford a house OR to rent).

    Given the power, gearing, handling and braking limitations of a 1950s truck, If you want to drive it under today’s “normal” conditions…that is anything other than the easy life in a collection (military, ambulance, or even early SUV) where the vehicles are rarely driven…it would need to be restomodded.

    But then it runs the risk of being turned into a faux-speed shop parts truck or worse, a Tiki-themed surf wagon.

    Does anyone really want to put $50-70k into a stock truck that you can’t really drive much?
    Most military vehicle collectors would rather use that kind of money on a more unique vehicle that will be worth more when completed.
    I’m not sure if the historic SUV community is out there in large numbers to see it restored to a stock Suburban.

    Very true. And conversely, the crazy run-up in real estate has steered huge windfalls to older folks who bought at the right time and have now downsized and can afford any car they want out of the proceeds of selling their former house…

    Joe is a smart man! Flippers, investors and auctions of high end cars makes everyone think they have a
    “Gold Rust” car that is worth stupid money, they don’t realize that the pro builds are at least 6 figures to complete. But then again, whats another $15,500.00 when your end cost is going to be 6 figures???

    Money Pit!!! Is this really a military ambulance? I googled 1952 military ambulance and there is nothing like it. The color does not make sense for a military vehicle but it could have been repainted. But the interior picture does show room for a stretcher. Can’t read what the door says. But in any case it is interesting and I hope it gets resuscitated. I hope somebody has a lot of money to waste, they will be the only one at the local car show with one!

    Ed, that actually is the correct color for Army surplus vehicles of that vintage. I had a buddy in high school with a 1930’s Dodge Power Wagon based ambulance like the ones they used in the shooting of M*A*S*H*. Exact same color and patina. Government auction vehicle. That thing was indestructible.

    Yes it’s real, I have one the exact same as this. It even has a plate that covers the radio spot with the specs and military contract number. It’s also been repainted and repurposed as a school bus before my grandfather bought it

    I just finished restoring a 1951 Chevrolet Suburban, which I bought on eBay for half the asking price of this one–but it was in a lot worse shape. I had to replace the floorboards, inner, middle, and outer cowls, the cowl under the windshield, and the dashboard–not to mention the work on the quarters and fenders–a ton of welding. I did all the work myself and kept it all original. Even at that, I have close to $20K total in it. I’m sure I have several hundreds of hours of my free labor invested–hard to imagine what a professional shop would have charged for all that work. It turned out well–looks good and drives like a 1951. It’s a pretty rare and unique vehicle, but if you can’t do the work yourself, you better have a well-padded checkbook! With this ambulance, I think I would remove the rear fixtures and bring it back to Suburban status by re-installing the original two rows of back seating.

    Money Pit!!! But interesting. Listing says – Originally a military ambulance that sat on a base in NJ until 1972. It was then brought to Pittsburg and stored in a garage untouched until this year when we pulled it out. It has had one repaint sometime in the 60’s when it became a civil defense ambulance. Which explains the color. Listing also says “The body is in incredibly good condition”, WHAT??? Current bid is $7,100 but reserve not met. But it now is $15,500. I do hope it gets resuscitated! I hope there is somebody who has $$$ to throw away, but they will be the only one at the local car show!

    I have two 50 Buick Supers Straight Eight Dynaflows that I drove untill I returned home from Viet Nam in 1969 and had running and on the road untill 1970. No one wants to work on them and I do not know how to get started anyway. My Dad bought one car July 4th 1950 and bought the other one in 1970 from a neighbor who bought it new. Since 1913, we never move and keep everything. I also have a couple of garages stuffed with other vehicles and with some for various reasons stored in my parking lot uncovered. I am not wanting to sell and at 79 years old need to repair or restore all. I am semi-retired. I only work a 20 to 40 hour schedule. Any comments?

    Find a good shop. Have them throwaway the stock drivetrain and chassis and substitute a Roadster Shop chassis with LS power.

    I would love to have this but $15.5K is over the top to start this. Good luck to that person who has the money.

    If someone gave it to me, I’d get the structural rust repaired, update the drive train and use it to haul donuts to cars&coffee events

    Given the condition and repairs needed, I agree that putting a later-model chassis under that body makes more sense; and floor mods required would moat likely be two-birds-one-stone kind of stuff. I don’t see much that would dictate a correct restoration, and if it weren’t for that color, I’d consider painting it optional. Outfitting it as a Westphalia-style camper might make the most sense, but in any case, bringing it back to life would take a LOT of money.

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