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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    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

    Body off the frame. Re-do the frame and drive train. Repair the body and put it back on the frame with the original drivetrain. Reconfigure it as an ambulance with required bits and pieces. Paint. Make sure the siren works.

    As a child,Dad built the Panel version into a camper.Tired of lack of power,He put a Dodge Red Ram Hemi in it.Love & Miss ya Pop 👈😎☝️

    If it were mine, the rusty floors would immediately make me start thinking about channeling. A 4 to 6 inch chop would be a natural here since everything but the A pillar is pretty much vertical, making it a fairly straight-forward thing for someone with the skills. I like the idea of dropping it onto a modern chassis and using that or some other donor’s drivetrain too. Alas, I don’t have the skills or the budget, and am not really drawn to this or what it has the potential to become. My hi-boy coupe is way more of what does it for me. But – I reserve the right to stare in admiration and awe at whatever somebody turns it into. Even if that is a bone-stock restoration. After all, the fact that it has no great appeal to me makes zero difference to anybody but me. As they say, if everybody built the same thing, the car world would be a boring place…

    I like Steve’s idea – use it for a business, especially if it had modern Tahoe underpinnings. There is a charter bus company near us called “Chicken Louis Tours” and their buses are bright yellow. It would be great for small groups.

    A unique vehicle like that will probably end up with the ubiquitous, and boring, junkyard LS swap

    There is only one thing to do with this and that is street rod.

    You can lower it and put a new truck chassis under it. The fix the body and weld in the back side windows into a panel.

    Drop in a crate engine and let her rip.

    That is the only way you could build this to get a return on the investment. People pay big money for hot rods if they are documented as to the builds. But in stock form there is little value.

    Best I can do is $2K. Drop in a new Coyote with a 6 speed Tremec and Ford 9 inch in the rear. Modern disc brakes, power steering, AC and kick ass stereo. Finish it as a Shaggin Wagon. Oh yeah, drop it down on an air suspension and go cruise for Boomer and Gen X chicks. If you have money to do this you don’t worry about the value. That’s for your family to sort out when you pass.

    Restoration-why. You’d have to be very hard pressed to find a good reason to use time and money. So many other projects much more interesting

    My experience as a lifelong mechanic tells me that this vehicle has not 8000 miles on it, more likely 108,000 miles.

    I like it just for the imagined history. If you do this just for the money, you have the wrong hobby. Doing a restomod and then just driving it would be great fun!

    There are actually a lot of people who are interested in old Suburbans. I just finished (after 3+ years of work) restoring a 1951 Chevrolet Suburban that I bought on Ebay, but for about 1/2 the price of this one. Unfortunately, it was in a lot worse condition–I had to replace the floor pans, the kick panels, the inner and outer cowls, the cowl under the windshield, as well as the dashboard–not to mention metal work on the rockers and fenders. I did all the work, including prep and painting myself. I kept it basically all stock. Now close to being finished, I have less than $20K invested in the whole project, but can you imagine what a professional restoration shop would have charged to do the work? Literally hundreds of hours–even at a minimum shop rate, the costs would have been enormous. But I do this as a hobby and NOT to flip my cars and trucks (I’ve done a few other restorations, including an off-frame restoration of a 1938 Chevrolet panel truck); so for me it’s a hobby that gives satisfaction, and in the end, a nice vehicle that I enjoy driving locally and taking to shows. On this particular truck, I would take out the ambulance fixtures in the rear and replace them with the two rows of passenger seats in the original Suburban.

    Needs to sell at No Reserve, then the new owner can do whatever they desire. I lean towards restoring it to a stock military ambulance, but I’m not everyone. With a reserve, it’ll continue to sit and rot – the worse case scenario.

    That is exactly the type vehicle I would build, modern drive train, beautiful paint job, three row seating, full leather interior. Drive the family to church on Sunday!

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