Tuesday, March 7, 2017

1956 GMC Suburban Carrier truck; the "other" Cameo powered by Pontiac

This was GMC’s version of the Chevy Cameo truck.

Getting our kicks with a ’56. What happens when a Pontiac guy needs a truck? What are our options? Outside of a transplant of powertrains, we are not left with many. The torque and dependability of a Pontiac engine really make sense in a truck. For that matter, how many Pontiac diehards have ever attended a Pontiac-Oakland Club International meet and wondered why GMC has a presence there? Although most GMC products we have experienced in our Pontiac-geeking days are Chevrolet powered, the answer lies in the beginning. Junkyard Life’s Pontiac-powered truck quest has an answer... 

  Introducing the 1956 GMC Suburban Carrier! This truck is rare beyond the likes of our travels. We have never seen one. The Suburban Carrier was produced from 1955 until 1959. These classy trucks lived in the shadow of the pop culture icon we know as the Chevrolet Cameo. The idea behind the Cameo and Suburban Carrier was to wreck the stigma attached to trucks of the era.

Center section of bumper opens to allow spare tire to slide under the truck bed, out of sight.
The center section of the ’56 GMC’s rear bumper opens to allow spare tire to slide under the bed. 

Trucks are for work
  The consumer market demanded trucks. They really needed them. Every industry from farming to manufacturing had one prerequisite in common — We need a truck. Thus, the stigma was born. 
  These abused, non-glamorous vehicles were not to be used to go on a date. My Grandmother’s dating advice was quite clear, “Do NOT pick her up in a truck.” (Editor’s Note: This sentence made it through editing due to being a quote from Ron’s Grandmother. Ron is not allowed to give dating advice after the letter we received from our attorney and his daughter.)

Luxury truck alternative
   This is what Pontiac guys with deep pockets could do for a truck in the mid-fifties. Was this luxury truck ahead of its time? Or was the market just not ready for the sticker shock they would receive if FredTruckBuyer were to stumble upon one on the dealer’s lot? Chances are that FredTruckBuyer would not even see one, because production total for the entire model run was only around one-thousand units.  

Beefy price
  This truck carried a higher sticker price, thus making the target audience a bit thinner. What did you get for the money? Class will tell and in this case, you bought a very top shelf appropriate vehicle. These trucks usually made their way to affluent owners with an image to maintain. GMC had an image to maintain as well. So, did they make their luxury appointed truck into a manicured, pansy hauler? No. We learned from this awesome 1956 example that GMC gave us more than we ever expected.

Big torque flowed from the Pontiac engine to get the job done.
Big torque flowed from the Pontiac engine to get the truck-worthy job done.

Hauling arrowhead power 
  A 317-cubic-inch Pontiac-V8 powered 1956 GMC Carriers. Chevy’s Cameo cousin offered up a 265-V8 Chevrolet. So, right from the start, GMC offered a larger engine. If that was not enough, George Jetson here had a 4-speed automatic transmission. Big deal? Yes. Four-speed autos were everywhere thirty-years later. But, a four-gear automatic in a world of 2-speed Powerglide automatics and manual 3-speeds was unheard of in 1956. Very much before it’s time but still truck-minded. A super low, granny gear gave the GMC stump pulling power as part of the 4-speed auto set-up. Check out the indicator below and the odd patterns. How much is that part worth? Also notice the extra bracing from the firewall. Steady as she goes!

Although we could not find a cowl tag for trim codes, we did find a nifty plate that declared the following horsepower and torque ratings: 
180 gross HP @4400
315 net ft-lbs TQ @2800

A four-speed automatic transmission was a luxury most truck drivers didn’t have.
Unique gear selector for a 1956 GMC Suburban Carrier pick-up.

More leafs than Fall in Connecticut under here. Also, note the six lug heavy duty drums. The ’56 GMC Carrier has the brute hauling and pulling power of Paul Bunyan’s oxen and the class of Cinderella.

The owner of the truck plans on restoring the ’56 GMC Carrier to its former glory. It was purchased as you see it now.

  Rob Herring, of north Alabama, plans to restore this 1956 Suburban Carrier he found in Georgia. According to a windshield sticker, it also spent some time in Illinois. Herring said he found a strange coal or ore substance in the crevices that led him to believe the truck spent some time around a mining community. Perhaps a supervisor in a very successful endeavor would be assigned such a truck. We liken that to a foreman today being assigned a Cadillac Escalade instead of a Colorado or an S-10. We also noticed this fancy pants had a headliner! That wasn’t common in 1950’s trucks. How cool. However, this one had a provision that made us wonder if it may have been equipped with a light bar. That would further substantiate our “supervisor” theory. Also, is that a two way radio or intercom speaker? 

They were quite serious about inspection stickers on the 1956 GMC Suburban Carrier.

Color me confused
  The truck was certainly a beauty. We could not find a cowl tag with the trim codes. This would have been super interesting because of the strange color combination. The literature from the time indicates two colors usually used together on GMC Carrier trucks. We found a darker blue color on the exterior with a white roof for a two-tone effect. Well, the interior is clearly the Aqua color. Three-tone? It appears to be factory. We looked behind the cab and other places Junkyard Life detectives process a crime scene for a re-paint. It all appeared factory. 

See the Aqua interior color? Also, note the very regal steering wheel. Junkyard Life loves cool steering wheels. We must because we mention them often.

  So, even with this truck’s mysterious history and several unanswered questions, we confirmed the myth of the Pontiac-powered pick-up truck. Okay, we already knew it existed and we know you probably did too. We just have never seen one and this is very exciting. So, maybe Junkyard Life’s Pontiac-powered truck ideas are not that far fetched after all!

Ron Kidd
— Junkyard Life

Junkyard Life’s GMC Suburban Carrier Fun Facts:
  • The owner of this truck purchased an old filling station in Alabama and discovered that it used to be an old Texaco station. He uncovered a wall of the original Texaco green and white ceramic tile. We were hoping the truck was discovered in the old gas station. That would have been super cool. 
  • This truck, and other trucks of the era, had a provision in the floorboard to add brake fluid. That’s right. If you needed brake fluid, and your cab was carpeted, make sure you could peel it back.
  • The GMC Suburban Carrier is not so well known because it lived in the shadow of its famous, highly-collectible cousin, the Chevrolet Cameo. 
  • The name “Suburban” was also used on a utility vehicles that eventually evolved into SUV, Suburban, that we can still buy today. That must have caused some consumers confusion. “Suburban? Which one is it, the Truck or the utility vehicle?” 
  • The name “Suburban” is the longest continual use nameplate. Chevrolet produced the first Suburban for the 1935 model year. 
  • This classy truck could pick up anything except Ron’s grandmother; She would have refused to acknowledge the culture barriers this truck overcame and still not have been picked up by this pickup.
  • Even though the focus was on style and luxurious trim appointments, this truck was rather heavy duty with enormous leaf springs and extra bracing.
  • Not finding a cowl tag was compensated by an interior tag telling us the horsepower and torque numbers. 
  • The early Pontiac V8s had a strange housing that went from the water pump directly into the driver’s side cylinder head.
  • These trucks had a cover that attached to the bottom under the bed so that the spare tire could not be seen. 
  • The rear bumper had a unique design that allowed the center section to open up and the spare tire would slide in, much like a big glove compartment — if your gloves were round rubber tires that said “Goodyear” on the side.

Painted steel dash with lots of hard parts on the 1956 GMC Suburban Carrier.

Water pump pushed water directly into the front of the head.

Luxury was not synonymous with trucks in the 1950s.
Fancy pants headliner in the 1956 GMC Carrier. Luxury items were rarely found in trucks of the 1950s.

Not another pretty face. 1956 GMC trucks were tough looking, almost ugly. Some still run to a Chevy or Ford for less intimidating looks.

Do you have a classic or muscle car barn find? Got a cool car story? Send us details and we’re on the way!  Send emails to Ron Kidd at & Jody Potter at 


Unknown said...

This is not an original GMC Carrier. At least the main part of the cab isn’t. All Cameo Carriers and Suburban Carriers had the large, wraparound rear window.

Anonymous said...

Exactly…. Just like mine

Anonymous said...

Sorry guys your both wrong I have a 1957 Original small back window GMC suburban carryall they were only given to dealerships as part delivery, for sales advertising, and to showcase the new luxury trucks for that time not sure the numbers but so far have only found around 50 were made, check out classic auto restorer September 1998 volume 10 number 10 and also GMC factory assembly manual page 718 has both side and rear view of small back window truck complete with GMC group and or part numbers you might want to do a little more research

Anonymous said...

I have a GMC Suburban Carrier with small back window 101p y12611 Larry 918 640 0215