Crucial Cars: GMC Syclone

Imagine this: It's summer 1991 and you're cruising around in your new Mustang GT. You rumble up to a red light and notice a black Chevy S-10 with lower body skirts and fancy wheels roll up in the next lane. The streets are empty, and you sense the guy in the small pickup staring at you. When you catch his gaze, he grins and gives the "let's go" sign. Really, buddy? OK.

black GMC Syclone parked on a small-town street
So the light goes green and, with wide-open road ahead, you both hit it. With a couple of chirps from the rear Goodyears, the 'Stang leaps away from the light. You take him off the line, but then something weird happens—the black pickup streaks away, hissing angrily and showing you its shrinking taillights. As you lift off the gas in defeat, you notice a tailgate decal you'd never yet seen or heard about. It says: GMC Syclone.

Defeating a Ferrari

We imagine this played out more than a few times for unsuspecting drivers—not just American performance iron, but also wheeling European purebreds such as M-edition BMWs and even the occasional Ferrari.

Car and Driver pitted a GMC Syclone against a Ferrari 348, and the lowly GMC pickup beat the Italian stallion in a quarter-mile drag race. Of course, if both drivers kept their feet in it, the 348 would've pulled away shortly after. It did have a top speed some 40 mph higher than the Syclone's. But no matter. For most Americans, 0-to-60 and quarter-mile performance mean a lot more in the real world than top speed. However, exploring your car's terminal velocity is best done at an airstrip or the Autobahn.

The Syclone's acceleration numbers were just incredible for the time, with 0-to-60 and quarter-mile times running in the low-five-second and low-14-second range, respectively, according to Car and Driver. Since turbocharged engines like cooler, denser air, a cool day would likely have those times improving by a few tenths. That might be why GMC claimed a 13.7-second quarter. Clearly, this was a pickup with pickup.

Power-packed pickup

rear view of a black Syclone parked in a warehouse district

Source | Creative Commons

Introduced and officially produced only for the 1991 model year (there's an unconfirmed rumor that three were produced for 1992), the GMC Syclone was a lot of truck. It was much more than a Sonoma (itself identical to the Chevy S-10) compact pickup truck with a turbocharged 4.3-liter V6 stuffed under the hood. That boosted version of the workhorse 4.3 was a force to be reckoned with, as it was conservatively rated at 280 horsepower back when the Mustang's 5.0-liter V8 made 225.

But the Syclone also featured all-wheel drive (with a 35/65 front/rear power split). The AWD system helped turn that prodigious power into performance. The four tires dug in and hurled the truck onward when the hammer dropped, instead of sending the rear tires up in smoke while time ticked away. Completing the performance package was an efficient four-speed automatic transmission, a lowered suspension, and four-wheel anti-lock brakes.

Tasteful, not tacky

Available only in a menacing blacked-out exterior finish, as with Buick's Grand National, the Syclone's visual tweaks were aggressive without being overdone. They included those flared-out rocker panels, fog lights, handsome 16-inch alloy wheels and relatively discreet red "Syclone" decals.

To those who weren't familiar with this pumped-up pickup, it looked like it was just a Chevy S-10 or GMC Sonoma with a body kit and wheels. Inside, special treatment consisted of black cloth buckets with red piping and "Syclone" headrest monograms, a full instrument package and a console with a shifter borrowed from the Corvette.a red Syclone with Marlboro decals in a parking lot

Marlboro Racing paint and decals, Source | Creative Commons

Though not production versions, there were 10 customized Syclones given away in a Marlboro Racing contest. These special Syclones were painted red with white graphics and featured a targa roof (i.e. a one-piece removable roof), custom wheels, a 3-inch lower suspension, performance chip and exhaust, Recaro sport seats, a Momo steering wheel, and a booming Sony sound system.

Seldom-seen speed demons

black typhoon SUV races alongside a steam train

Source | Creative Commons

With just under 3,000 produced, the Syclone is a rare breed indeed. The following year, 1992, the new Typhoon carried the hot-rod truck torch for GMC as the company released the speedy SUV. Essentially the same vehicle as the Syclone but with a more practical compact SUV body, the Typhoon allowed up to five people, rather than just two, to revel in the ridiculously rapid performance of this vehicular wolf in sheep's clothing.

Do you remember the Syclone? Tell us what you thought about it.

Last updated June 20, 2017

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