Chevrolet Suburban
This Chevy's sales are booming in the Middle East. General Motors

Sales of the Chevrolet Suburban in the Middle East and North Africa have increased by 34 percent in the first seven months of 2011 compared to the same period in 2010.

In 2010, sales in the Middle East and North Africa increased by 56 percent year-over-year, according to General Motors.

The Suburban's popularity stretches back more than seven decades. In 1935, Chevrolet introduced the first Suburban, a vehicle that changed the automobile market. It was the forerunner to the sport utility vehicles that today can be found in every corner of the Middle East. It inspired the production of iconic SUVs, such as the Chevrolet Blazer, the Chevrolet Tahoe, the GMC Jimmy, and the GMC Yukon.

The Suburban would also become one of the most loved vehicles in the Middle East. So popular would the Suburban become that, 76 years later, it would hold the distinguished title of being the world's oldest continuous automobile nameplate in production.

To build the first Suburban, Chevrolet's engineers used a conventional truck chassis. But instead of installing a loading floor, as in the case of pickups, they designed a generous passenger compartment to accommodate up to eight people on one of three rows of seats.

The first vehicle was specifically built for National Guard units and Civilian Conservation Corps units in the United States. It had a 90 horse-power engine and much of the body was constructed from wood. Chevrolet soon offered the Carryall Suburban that targeted families. It shared the same design and frame as the first Suburban, but featured all-metal wagon bodies and had either rear panel doors or a rear tailgate/lift window for easy loading and unloading of luggage.

Production was stopped during in World War II, but after the war the Suburban underwent continuous improvements. In 1955, the basic model had a 100 horse-power engine, but by 1956 a V8 became standard. In 1957, the Suburban was available for the first time with four-wheel drive.

It was this 1957 model that kindled the Middle East's long love affair with the Suburban. Large Arab families were in desperate need of a vehicle that could accommodate the whole family in comfort, together with plenty of luggage space, on long journeys that would often be travelled on poor quality roads. In addition, the vehicle had to be dependable and tough enough to cope with the grueling desert environment. The Suburban fitted the bill perfectly and soon became a must-have vehicle for any Arab family.

Today, the Suburban remains incredibly popular in the Middle East and maintains a special place in hearts of many Arab drivers, according to General Motors.This was confirmed in 2010 when Chevrolet held a competition in Saudi Arabia to find the Kingdom's oldest running Suburban.

It formed part of the celebrations to commemorate its 75th anniversary. The winner was Mohamed Mohamed Ali Saeed from Jeddah, a proud owner of a 1968 Suburban, who was awarded with a special 75th Anniversary Diamond Edition Chevrolet Suburban.

Mr. Ali Saeed summed up the special bond that many Arab drivers have with their Suburbans by describing his 1968 model as a member of his family. On the weekend I always drive it on the Corniche in Jeddah and I've always taken care of it. I still use it for long distance travel, often driving from Jeddah to Tabook, a journey of over 1,000 kilometers, he said.

In recent years, the Suburban has been popular as a police car, fire chief's vehicle, or converted for duty as a limousine.