Suburban Poptop vs. Excursion Poptop….

boll_rig

Adventurer
Do I keep the suburban and fix it up, or look for a lower mileage excursion and put the poptop on it?

Six years ago I build this out:




The poptop setup works really well for me. I barely notice it’s up there, drives like a normal vehicle and doubles the sq footage. So I’d like to continue running it.

But wondering if it’s time to finally move on from the suburban. As I said in the original thread, it was already pretty beat up 6 years ago and that certainly hasn’t gotten any better. It’s at 230k. I’ve continued to rally it, tow a lot, and use it for a daily driver. I live 3000 feet above Boulder and do that drive multiple times a week, and it’s showing. Something’s always breaking. And it’s got dents all over the body, some rust, no parking break, broken window and lock issues, everything rattles. The the torque converter also just went out, so new tranny. The front end needs a ton of work and some other stuff I've been putting off. Cat converter, o2 sensor, etc.

I know there are a lot of threads on suburban vs excursion, diesel vs gas, but there are a few reasons I’d switch to a diesel excursion. The main one being towing and the extra weight of the poptop. Weighs around 6800. Add my dirtbike/harley + hitch carrier and it's brutal on mileage. Then theres the extra space inside the back of the excursion. Could live just in that.

If it was as simple as trading vehicles I would have already got a 7.3 ex with low miles that I could build out for the next 20+ years. I’d like something that will last, and can handle anything life throws in that time. Definitely some complication of moving the poptop though. May involve reshaping the curvature of the poptop, but it could also swap nicely with a larger gasket. Then rewire, chopping the roof, canvas and everything else. Might take me a few months all said and done.

Still, am leaning towards it because it seems like if I am trying to build something that will work for 20 years a diesel excursion might be the way to go. Even with noise and smell, extra maintenance costs, the rear door system I don’t love.

So that was a ton of info, but let's hear some opinions.
 
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FW Rubi

Active member
No Pix.
What about finding a 3/4 ton burb with a larger engine.
suburbians are a lot more plentiful than the fords and may be less expensive.
 

zoomad75

K5 Camper guy
I'm partial to the Burb, but I'm a Chevy guy. That being said as used up as the Burb is, when you take the pop-top off of it, you got a hell of a worthless lump with a giant hole in the roof, which means zero resale value except if somebody wants the LS to swap into something else. But then again as beat as the Burb is, even if the roof wasn't cut already, the truck is pretty light on value in the first place so it's probably a wash.

One of the main upgrades you get when you move to an Excursion is the 3/4 ton platform. Bigger brakes, more capacity with all the beefer equipment. As you mentioned moving to the Ford requires significant changes to the pop-top, plus dealing with all the other stuff that comes along with the Ford.

I'd find a 2500 Suburban with an 8.1L big block. That also gets you the 4L80e trans over the 1500's 4l60e. But you also get the bigger brakes, bigger axles, and leaf springs out back for the increased capacity it provides over the 1500's coil springs.

I would wager, the fuel mileage difference between a 1500 with a 5.3 that is overworked when towing to an 8.1 that isn't as different as what you would think. The pop-top would swap across in a simple fashion.

The 2500 8.1 burbs are out there. One is for sale in Denver right now.
8.1 burb
 

vtsoundman

OverAnalyzer
Re old vehicles...

I've done this a few times with old vehicles. It starts to get really annoying constantly dealing with stuff that is broken. I've have lots of other things in my life I'd rather deal with - and when given a choice between modd'ing for going camping/overlanding and dealing with yet another vehicle issue, I'd like to spend time doing the mod 10x over.

Old vehicles if simple, are great/fun to keep running. Old electronics are not.

Sounds like it is time to sell the burb for a newer platform...and give another config a try for a while. You'll spend less time being concerned about getting stranded/stuck, worried/annoyed about what is broken/will break, and more time enjoying the hobby/overlanding lifestyle. For me, it is the HF - hassle factor - the easier the 'necessary & annoying' things are, the more likely I will do it (and enjoy it in the process).

Sent from my Pixel 4a using Tapatalk
 

Rovertrader

Supporting Sponsor
I have an '06 2500 Suburban w/ 70k miles I recently acquired. Have had several (as well as Excursions) over the years, and concur with vtsoundman, when the reliability and fun weens d/t being unreliable, you have blown whatever trip/excursion/adventure to deal with repairs and added stress.
So whilst 'deals' exist, I have found it better to pay a bit more (still getting the best price possible of course) going in to secure a sound foundation. Pay once cry once comes to mind...

Just my 2c, but with all the work you put into the poptop, I would think it better to start with a platform that will be enjoyed for the longest time. And don't overlook the fact the newer the platform, the more electronics, and soon totally electric, so choose wisely, and enjoy!!
 

boll_rig

Adventurer
Thanks for the replies. Vtsoundman and Rovertrader, this line of thought is really where I'm at, and I am willing to pay a few extra bucks now to have less headaches down the road. Averaged out over 15-20 years (maybe thats optimistic) I think you save money.

I have thought about the 8.1 zoomad, especially in terms of the ease of swap, but I keep hating the idea of getting 8-12 mpg, especially down the road as who knows where gas will go. Mileage and using less gas is def something I care about. I average about 10-12 around town and 14-15 highway now, and getting 18 hwy with the 7.3 sounds pretty nice. I guess what I am getting at is, if prices and instability get crazy between now and 2040, I'd feel more comfortable owning a diesel. What are your thoughts?

However, the 2500 platform is certainly what I need if I plan to stick with Chevy and I know the 8.1 is a good engine. What kind of mileage are you getting?

In terms of the old burb, I would most likely keep it for now if I swapped. I love it too much. Even with the roof welded back on it's barely worth anything (totaled on elk hit and salvaged title).
 
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SDDiver5

Expedition Leader
I don't think your MPG would be all that better if you switched from the burb to an Ex. Even the 7.3 only gets about 15 MPG if I remember correctly. The 8.1 motor is a beast of a motor, I kinda like it.

You definitely get a benefit going with the Ex for the extra size and everything mentioned above but you also get a solid axle in front. You'll also be paying much more than you should getting a 7.3 excursion which bothers me at times but they are reliable.
 

Rovertrader

Supporting Sponsor
To me while an awesome motor, the premium paid for a decent 7.3 will pay to run the 8.1 for couple decades (figure extra cost of diesel fuel/maintenance and extra cost to get 7.3)! I get real 14-15mpg with 8.1, 4.10’s and 255/80-17’s (33”). And as stated, the 8.1 is hard to beat (stroked 454).
Solid front axle has the proverbial good/bad points debated forever…

As they say, get what you like, kit it as you need, and go!!
 

zoomad75

K5 Camper guy
Thanks for the replies. Vtsoundman and Rovertrader, this line of thought is really where I'm at, and I am willing to pay a few extra bucks now to have less headaches down the road. Averaged out over 15-20 years (maybe thats optimistic) I think you save money.

I have thought about the 8.1 zoomad, especially in terms of the ease of swap, but I keep hating the idea of getting 8-12 mpg, especially down the road as who knows where gas will go. Mileage and using less gas is def something I care about. I average about 10-12 around town and 14-15 highway now, and getting 18-19 hwy with the 7.3 sounds pretty nice. I guess what I am getting at is, if prices and instability get crazy between now and 2040, I'd feel more comfortable owning a diesel. What are your thoughts?

However, the 2500 platform is certainly what I need if I plan to stick with Chevy and I know the 8.1 is a good engine. What kind of mileage are you getting?

In terms of the old burb, I would most likely keep it for now if I swapped. I love it too much. Even with the roof welded back on it's barely worth anything (totaled on elk hit and salvaged title). I'd rather slowly look for a tranny and then cut the rest of the roof off and enjoy it as a truck/safari dirt road cruiser or something.

Then there is always the third option to just fix only the tranny for now and get some more time to think about it. But I keep thinking of this: https://sfbay.craigslist.org/sby/cto/7533200800.html
I know it's hard to belive, but I've had trips where the 8.1 got 16 and 15 mpg. Sure, driven like a dumb kid (which at times is hard not to do) it can get 8mpg. Average is 12-13mpg driven sanely. But keep in mind my truck tips the scales at 7,400 pounds loaded for a week long trip and has the aerodynamic shape of a barn door. Same truck with a 5.3 got the same mileage. Main difference being I can actually drive up mountain passes at the speed limit vs in second gear screaming at 5500 rpm and barely maintaining 50 mph. The 8.1 is just much more relaxing to drive on the highway. It never needs to get wound up and it's so overbuilt stock it's not funny. A small tune and removal of some of the nanny's GM built into it will provide a little bump in power and economy. Given where you live I know you understand what your 5.3 is doing when going up I-70 to the tunnel. It's madness. I just went out to Moab a couple weeks ago and literally pulled the climb to the tunnel in 5th gear doing the speed limit at 2,000 rpm. The 8.1 flattens hills for sure. I didn't realize were on Vail pass until I saw the sign at the summit (in my defense it was dark at the time). The truck was humming along not breaking a sweat.



To me while an awesome motor, the premium paid for a decent 7.3 will pay to run the 8.1 for couple decades (figure extra cost of diesel fuel/maintenance and extra cost to get 7.3)! I get real 14-15mpg with 8.1, 4.10’s and 255/80-17’s (33”). And as stated, the 8.1 is hard to beat (stroked 454).
Solid front axle has the proverbial good/bad points debated forever…

As they say, get what you like, kit it as you need, and go!!
8.1's are not stroked 454's. That's a common misconception along with calling them 502's which is the other common misunderstanding. Other than sharing the same bellhousing bolt pattern and valve cover shape, there are very few parts shared with the 454. The 8.1 has a taller deck than the 454 and prior big blocks, heads have a completely different bolt pattern to the block and are not interchangeable.

But I agree the 8.1 is hard to beat. I've had a couple of Excursions come through the shop I work all I can say is they don't age well in the interior department. Which the same could be said for the GMT800 trucks if not treated well. The 7.3 may be an awesome engine to some, but it's still not without it's weak points that requires maintenance and upkeep. Throw the bump in cost on a clean low mileage Ex because of the 7.3 and it makes the difference in cost to a 2500/8.1 suburban much more appealing. Look on Bring a Trailer for previous auction listings where they fetched insane money from $25,000 and up. At those prices you could buy a couple 8.1 burbs for the money.

When it gets down to it, an Excursion is just as old of a truck as the GMT800 suburban and it's subject to all the same BS of dealing with an older truck. Pick your poison as far as that goes. Going to a later platform adds computer complexity and lack of a 2500 option on either the Suburban or Expedition platforms. So you are back to flogging a small block (though the later versions could have 6 or 8-speed transmissions) even if you found one with a 6.2 in a Chevy or a 3.5 Ecoboost in a Ford. Will one of those be more reliable when loaded to the gills with gear and a motorcycle on the back or pulling a trailer? If you need to stick to a long wheelbase SUV platform those are the only choices you got. The Ford has IRS out back as well as the latest generation of Suburban.


I keep coming back to the GMT800 2500 8.1 Burb. Spend a little more coin to get a lower mileage well kept version and it will help down the road. Do some maintenance and upkeep, with a little tune and cut that big hole in the roof to put your Pop-top on and go.
 

Martinjmpr

Wiffleball Batter
When it gets down to it, an Excursion is just as old of a truck as the GMT800 suburban and it's subject to all the same BS of dealing with an older truck. Pick your poison as far as that goes.
^^^^^ This right here. Last year for the Excursion was 2006 which is the same as the last year for the GMT-800 Suburban. So other than maybe - MAYBE - finding one that has lower miles on it, you will have all the same issues of the thing nickel-and-diming you with small parts that are breaking and in need of repair, finding parts for older vehicles, etc.

The engines, transmissions and other driveline parts are also "older generation" parts, and not designed for decent fuel economy (because fuel was cheap back when they were made and nobody cared about MPG.)

IOW you'd be building yourself right back into the same box you just got out of. ;)

I know you put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into the pop-top 'Burb, but if the pop top is what's directing you to a long-roof vehicle (i.e. Suburban or Excursion) then it's going to severely limit your options for a newer, more modern, more economical vehicle.

Maybe it's time to ask yourself what specific benefits your current setup offers, and then see if there's a way you can get those same benefits from a modern, perhaps differently configured, vehicle. Maybe a van of some type, or a pickup with an Alu-Cab style pop-top topper or something like that.

The funny thing about the Internet in general (and this forum in particular) is that it's full of people who look at the past through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. People will say "[insert name of long out-of-production vehicle here] was such an awesome truck! It was powerful and got great MPG and it was just so reliable (etc, etc, etc)" but in reality those old vehicles were never as good as we remember them in our foggy memories.

And what's worse is that any vehicle that is 20+ years old is going to have issues, that's just the nature of automobiles. Maybe nothing big, but there's always going to be a window regulator that goes out or a switch on the dashboard that fails, or a bolt falling off here or there, or a phantom electrical malfunction that keeps draining the battery, etc. When you get to the point where you have to say a silent prayer every time you turn the key in hopes that it starts, that's probably a good time to start looking for a newer vehicle.
 

vintageracer

To Infinity and Beyond!
I've got em all now.

One GM 8.1 Vortec gas, two Cummins diesels, one Powerstroke Diesel, one GM 350 Vortec gas, one GM 454 Vortec gas, one Dodge 5.7 Hemi gas and one Ford 351 Windsor gas in my collection of truck JUNK!

To WORRY of the 3-5 MPG difference between an 8.1 GM Vortec Gas, 454 Vortec Gas GM, 7.3 Gas Ford or V10 gas Ford versus the BEST diesel powered truck hauling your load or any other gas engine option out there is FOOLISH in my opinion.

Ask yourself this question:

How many miles a year will you actually drive your vehicle?

10 MPG at $3.50/gallon for GAS for 10,000 miles a year will cost $3500/year for fuel.

15 MPG at $4.50/gallon for DIESEL for 10,000 miles a year will cost $3,000/year for fuel.

That's ONLY $500/year difference and that diesel powered truck will have more maintenance expense eating into that $500/year savings. ADD to that you probably PAID $5,000 to $7,000 MO MONEY to buy that diesel power truck versus an exact same gas version of that truck or any other make/model of truck.

Buy a truck to do the job you require and quit complaining about fuel mileage.

IT IS WHAT IT IS!

If $500/year is that a big a deal to you in your life then YOU have far bigger problems than worrying about what truck to drive and the MPG that truck gits!!!!
 
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zoomad75

K5 Camper guy
Buy a truck to do the job you require and quit complaining about fuel mileage.
Pretty much how I've looked at fuel costs. Had I not put the camper on, mine was great with the 5.3. But the weight and aero drag killed the fun on the hills/mountains. It needed more, so we stuffed the 8.1 in. I got twice the power with the same fuel economy. That's a win in my book. I would have put the same amount of fuel through it with the smaller engine so the ultimate cost didn't change as far as fuel was concerned.

The funny thing about the Internet in general (and this forum in particular) is that it's full of people who look at the past through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. People will say "[insert name of long out-of-production vehicle here] was such an awesome truck! It was powerful and got great MPG and it was just so reliable (etc, etc, etc)" but in reality those old vehicles were never as good as we remember them in our foggy memories.
Here's where I will disagree. There are no rose colored glasses on my face. I speak purely from experience with the 8.1 platform. From my days at Workhorse where we used more 8.1's than GM did in trucks to driving my Blazer to Moab 2 weeks ago and playing at Blazer Bash with it. The 8.1 was built to move heavy trucks down the road with ease. We had Class A RV's at 22,000 pounds GVW getting 8mpg, which while it may not sound impressive when compared to cars and light trucks, that's an impressive number for a Gas powered RV. It was with that knowledge I didn't hesitate when the time came to put one in my Blazer. The 8.1 would get better mileage because my truck is almost 14,000 pounds lighter. I'm not working this thing nearly as hard as one in a RV or medium duty does so I know with regular maintenance it's got a long life ahead of it.

I'm not saying it's the be-all end-all put it in everything engine. But if you are running a heavy truck and need diesel like torque without the diesel it's a very good alternative.

As far as working with an older platform, I'm out of the norm on this one too. My truck of choice is a '91 K5 Blazer. The only computer in it is the one running the engine. No body control module, no can-bus, no extra computer BS at all. Hell, it's got crank windows. Though the lack of a/c is gonna change, my son and I almost got heat stroke in Moab when wheeling. I'm trading off a lot of creature comforts for simplicity and therefore reliability. But there is still something about having a vehicle that is much more simple than what is offered today. I'm unique coming from the auto industry that I don't have a problem understanding and problem solving issues on new late model rides. The basic fact is I know how that stuff fails diagnosing and repairing is not as easily done in the bush on your own. I don't want to deal with that.

The technology gain on new vehicles is tenfold over cars from 20 years ago. A GMT800 Suburban compared to a current model year Suburban is so much more electrically complex it's not even funny. Unless you carry the full suite of GM diagnostic equipment which also requires a solid internet connection to work, you are not diagnosing a big electrical issue in a overland off pavement, off the grid type situation. I'd much rather lack the techno-wiz gadgets for reliability.

Which gets back to using a 20-year-old Suburban or Excursion. Those that have been treated nice, not abused, and generally well cared for and less than average mileage for the age are usually less trouble. That is compared to a similar truck with 2-4 times the mileage for the same age. A perfect example is one owner rigs owned by older folks that treated them very nicely. We called them "grandpa" trucks at the dealership. They got bought to pull a trailer a couple of times a year and were used very lightly if at all the rest of the year. So the average mileage is way down to one of the same age that got used nearly every day for most of it's life. This means less wear and tear on the interior, switchgear as well as all the running gear. They usually got oil changes more frequently than they needed and didn't hesitate to fix things if they came up. They are rare, but out there. For each one we got on trade we had guys in bidding wars to buy them. They are out there though. You'll pay more than average, but you should because it's worth buying something that isn't worn out.

My co-worker has a 2003 2500HD Sierra Duramax that is totally a "grandpa" truck. Bought it from the original owner on a tip. Wasn't really looking but couldn't pass it up it was so nice. He's had to fix a couple of little things to appease his OCD, but it was and still is minty fresh. He wouldn't think twice about driving it cross country anywhere.

I'm not saying everybody needs to go out and buy an older truck to build, but some choose to for other reasons than nostalgia. A much more simple vehicle that you can fix yourself is not always a bad thing.
 

boll_rig

Adventurer
Appreciate all these replies and the thought that went into them.

I know you put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into the pop-top 'Burb, but if the pop top is what's directing you to a long-roof vehicle (i.e. Suburban or Excursion) then it's going to severely limit your options for a newer, more modern, more economical vehicle.
A lot of blood, sweat and tears haha, that's pretty accurate. I agree I'd have less problems with a new rig. But I have no desire whatsoever to get something newer with more computers. I see more things to break and I also don't want to beat up something nice and new. The reason I like the long roof vehicle is because I have a lot of stuff to move, and enjoying living in it, it's just a bonus that the poptop would fit back on an ex or burb. I have no desire for a van, looks are important to me and that's not it. They can be done well, just not for me.

The 8.1 is just much more relaxing to drive on the highway. It never needs to get wound up and it's so overbuilt stock it's not funny. A small tune and removal of some of the nanny's GM built into it will provide a little bump in power and economy. Given where you live I know you understand what your 5.3 is doing when going up I-70 to the tunnel. It's madness.
You know exactly what I am dealing with here. These damn hills kill me. I think you have provided me a new perspective on the 8.1, especially if I really could 15-16mpg out of it.

I am certainly enjoy the search, but I think Zoomad has a point that these low mileage, well cared for rigs can be in great shape. That is what I am looking for. Again, something that I can build out and keep for the next 20 years. Longevity is important to me. Spending a little more on a low mileage Excursion now with the hope that I can get 300k+ out of it is very attractive. If going the 8.1 route, I would just be looking for a sub 100k suburban. If I had to guess, I'd wager a diesel 7.3 excursion will last longer than an 8.1 Suburban. Not a make or break, but again, something I'd like.

Been looking for both and even the Suburban I'd want is hard to find: 8.1 2500 under 100k with barn door, no rust, and well maintained. Pricy too, couple with 60-80k have gone for 20+.

My bigger question, and maybe the more existential one, revolves around what you all believe will be best suited down the road in an unpredictable world, gas or diesel? I'm talking prices and availability under certain, not-so-ideal world scenarios. Gonna leave that open ended.

The kicker is I need a replacement by Nov. So I'll be going with the first option that arises for me. Even if it's a bit pricier Excursion. Can always try it out and sell it if there is a cheaper or better option that comes up.
 

zoomad75

K5 Camper guy
The diesel could be modified for veggie oil or other bio-fuel in a SHTF type scenario. Short of a full collapse of society, Gasoline will still be available to get if only more expensive as time rolls on.

I get the preference to the Barn door. It limits your window to find an 8.1 Burb. 2005/6 were liftgate only. Is the roof structure different to be in your way for the pop-top mechanism?
 

boll_rig

Adventurer
I probably agree we'll have gas for a while, just a bit more expensive. Diesel will may be around longer and may even be cheaper with our dependence on heavy duty trucking. Extremely hard to say and I dont know what may happen in a SHTF scenario.

I think the liftgate may pose a problem, but maybe someone with one could confirm that. The poptop currently goes exactly to the bar door seal. With the longer roof of the ex there is a little room to work with it.
 

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