AKA a Dope Diesel Dragger

SOMETIMES WE GO LOOKING FOR a project, while other times the project finds us. Chris Barnhill of Rocky Point, North Carolina, had always admired his great uncle’s ’85 GMC Suburban, imagining its potential as a pavement scraping behemoth. In a bittersweet turn of events a few years ago, Chris’ great uncle passed away and left the truck to him, knowing that he’d be the perfect caretaker for it.

In fact, Chris would not only take care of it, but he would transform it into an amazingly unique ride that would surely make its original owner proud. It took four years of hard work to get the Suburban to where it is now, but working on the GMC himself and taking things slow allowed Chris to operate within a small budget and net some pretty impressive results! All told, Chris estimates that he spent around $5,000 building the Suburban, which is an amazing deal when you consider how quickly builds can spiral out of control.

It took four years of hard work to get the Suburban to where it is now, but working on the GMC himself and taking things slow allowed Chris to operate within a small budget and net some pretty impressive results!

Chris resisted the urge to spend a ton on a bolt-on suspension setup, and instead fabbed up his own with the help of his buddy Eric Youngs. A 3.5-inch Z up front raised the crossmember enough to no longer protrude past the lowest part of the frame, and Air Lift Dominator ‘bags sit in between the modified factory control arms.

DUDE, A MATCHING ‘BAGGED TRAILER! NOT ONLY DOES IT HAVE A TWOLINK, BUT IT’S ALSO DECKED OUT WITH EVERYTHING CHRIS NEEDS FOR A PROPER CAMPING TRIP, LIKE A VINTAGE COOLER, BED AND EVEN A CUSTOM BBQ GRILLE.

The rear received a custom two-link, with the ‘bags mounted on the bars for extra lift and a smoother ride. While the Suburban was looking great at this point, it still wasn’t low enough for Chris, so they body-dropped it 3.5 inches, which was the perfect amount to lay the rockers on the ground. Air management was kept simple and consists of a hidden air tank, manual ball valves and an engine-driven compressor.

Originally a five-lug truck, Chris converted it to six-lug so that he could run 22-inch GM transport wheels, which are surrounded by 265/35R22 Nexen tires. We’d say he made the perfect choice. Wouldn’t you? The rest of the exterior remains pretty much stock, with the exception of the phantom grille.

THE EARLY DAYS OF AIR RIDE SAW A LOT OF EXPERIMENTING WITH DIFFERENT VALVE SETUPS. ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR WAS USING MANUAL BALL VALVES, WHICH WERE BOTH QUICK AND INEXPENSIVE. USING THESE VALVES TODAY TAKES A LOT OF BRASS (LITERALLY), AND DEFINITELY SETS CHRIS’ GMC APART FROM THE REST!

And speaking of stock, Chris kept the original 6.2L Detroit Diesel smoke machine intact except for adding a 3-inch exhaust. While the 379 cubicincher is not huge on horsepower and torque numbers, it does deliver 20MPG on the highway, which the Suburban sees plenty of!

The interior is an amazing blend of rat rod and steampunk aesthetics, with wrenches used as levers for the manual air ride valves, and ’90s bucket seats reupholstered by Troy Stevenson in brown vinyl. The wow factor doesn’t stop there, as Chris smoothed the dash, fabricated steel door panels, added a ’62 Impala steering wheel, mounted a tool box as the center console and even used beer kegs as both a transmission hump and fuel cell.

With all of the room that the Suburban offers, Chris still wanted to be able to carry more gear and have a spot to crash when he’s out camping, so he found a longbed box and fabbed up a matching ‘bagged camping trailer. Not only does it have bedding and a cooler, but Chris also made a small BBQ grille out of an old air tank. Rad!

A TRIED AND TRUE CLASSIC, THE 22-INCH GM TRANSPORT WHEELS ARE SOMEHOW BOTH PLAIN AND FULL OF STYLE AT THE SAME TIME. NEXEN RUBBER IN 265/35R22 SIZING GIVE CHRIS’ SUBURBAN PLENTY OF TRACTION, AS WELL AS CLEARANCE, WHEN HE AIRS THE TRUCK OUT.

Although the Suburban has been awesome to Chris as-is, he says that he’d like to eventually build a completely new chassis for it down the road when time and funds allow. We can certainly understand putting something like that on the backburner, since we wouldn’t want to have any downtime from driving an awesome rig like Chris’.

FOLLOW ON INSTAGRAM