History of the GMC Syclone

History of the 1991 GMC Syclone


The GMC Syclone is a high-performance pickup truck that managed to capture the attention of automobile aficionados due to the impressive performance it could deliver. Particularly, GMC Syclone’s acceleration was compared to performance cars such as the Corvette and the Ferrari 348, a feat that landed the Syclone the title of fastest pickup truck produced in the world.

The 1991 GMC Syclone

GMC has maintained a brand that played a key focus in the creation of trucks, and as a part of General Motors, have released rebadged Chevrolets with unique stylistic changes to set the models apart, however, the proof of GMC’s ability to produce a premium muscle vehicle comes in the form of GMC’s 1991 Syclone.r This notable pickup truck was made by GMC with the help of Production Automotive Services (PAS) based on the 1991 GMC Sonoma, which was in turn based on the Chevrolet S-10 and received an uncompromised theme of performance.

The model was built from 1991 to 1992, a very limited run that saw a little under 3,000 units produced, only three of which were shipped out by GMC in 1992. Due to these low numbers, and the extremely high performance of the pickup, the GMC Syclone has attained great appeal for collectors to the point that even the most devout GMC fanatics have not managed to set their eyes on a real Syclone.

Evolution and Changes Year-By-Year

The GMC Syclone saw little variation during its limited run, during this time the Syclone did see two limited-edition versions created by Marlboro and for the Indianapolis 500. Though these limited editions only produced 13 units in total.


A key element of the Syclone was its appearance which was designed to give off an intimidating vibe. The pickup truck featured a black color palette, 16-inch aluminum wheels, and a smaller ride stance. The Syclone’s uniform look could be described as stoic when compared to that of a muscle car, but this GMC product’s real value could be found in the inside mechanics.

Powered by the 4.3-liter Vortec V6, which was used in the GMC Sonoma, the Syclone enjoyed a few key differences.

Most notably was that it shared the GM turbocharger, which played a key part in the success of the famous Buick Grand National in 1982. This turbocharge could put out a 14 psi of boost and was fed from a powerful liquid intercooler that supported the strain caused by the increased performance. It was thanks to this that GMC had managed to give the Syclone a surprising amount of power. Talking numbers, the Syclone could output 280 horsepower along with a significant 350 lb-ft of torque in its stock form. To give this feat context, the 1991 Corvette, Chevy’s performance flagship model, was lagging with its 250 horsepower.

Despite this, there is a difference between the amount of power a vehicle can produce and what can be transferred to the road, something lighter pickup trucks are not well known to achieve, and even the Sonoma did not have much success in this department. The GMC Syclone had a solution to create the traction needed to take full advantage of the horsepower it could generate, and this came in the form of a Borg-Warner full-time all-wheel drive, a system that was previously used by GMC for the 1991 Safari minivan. This all-wheel-drive system was created to output, roughly, 35% of its power to its front wheels and the remaining 65% to the rear wheels, which resulted in a pickup truck that could achieve greater acceleration than most performance vehicles at the time. To complement this system, Firestone Firehawk tires were added, which allowed the Syclone to offer drivers a 0 to 60 time of 4.3 seconds, and a quarter-mile in a stunning 13.7 seconds at 105 miles per hour. Additionally, the Syclone sported a transmission that managed to closely unify the relationship between the power and the traction. The Syclone’s torque converter speeds up the engine into its top form range while minimizing its turbo lag. The culmination of these efforts can be seen in the Car and Driver test, which pinned the GMC Syclone against the Ferrari 348ts on a 1991 issue. The Ferrari 348ts was soundly beaten by the Syclone by a significant margin over the 1320 feet race.

Even with this surprising performance, the Syclone was a big hit with auto enthusiasts and critics, commercial success was too slow for GMC, mainly due to the Syclone’s then price of $25,500, a figure that was too big for the average consumer at the time. Another factor that did not help the Syclone was that it had sacrificed too much for its amazing acceleration. The lowered suspension and the all-wheel-drive system, which could be credited for the Syclone’s notable speed, also made it difficult for the vehicle to offer any meaningful hauling capacity. The Syclone’s hauling capacity was a mere 500 pounds, a figure that made the pickup truck almost useless for transporting cargo. These circumstances led to the 1992 model year being the last one that saw Syclone production.

Despite this, the 1991 Syclone would continue to live on as an example of GMC’s engineering skill in the minds of many GMC fans.

1991 Marlboro & Indy Syclone

As part of a promotional giveaway, Marlboro Racing produced 10 specially equipped Syclone. These special-edition Marlboro Syclone models served as the grand prize for the winners of The Marlboro Racing 1992 Contest. The American Sunroof Company (ASC) provided all these limited edition Syclones, with the help of Larry Shinoda, an experienced car designer. Each of the limited edition Syclones was produced with the initial 2,995 units created in 1991. The main differences between these Marlboro edition Syclones were cosmetic and offered no significant increase in performance. Marlboro lowered the Syclone by 3 inches, it also added PPG Hot Lick Red paint along with white details, a Simpson 5-point harnesses, and custom wheels with Marlboro-logo center caps. The most notable addition was the ASC Targa-top conversion, which enabled the Syclone to open its roof of the pickup with removable panels.

Three Indy Syclones were created for the Indianapolis 500 race in 1992 and sported by light modifications that offered no discernable change from the stock Syclone. One of these Indy Syclones was turned into the PPG Syclone Pace Truck at a later date and even was given significant modifications since it would be used in the track. Aside from the cosmetic changes to the Syclone, a racing fuel cell, a halon fire suppression system, and water-cooled brakes were added. The PPG Syclone would be retired to the GM Heritage Collection until it was sold in auction in 2009, where it managed to sell for $66,000.

1991 Syclone Fast Facts

  • GMC Truck Division set up an employee lottery where it gave away the chance to buy 31 unsold Syclones at a discounted price. Due to the low number of entries, most participants were able to get their hands on a Syclone.
  • GMC was left with 69 Syclones that did not sell in Europe, so it was forced to take offers from interested buyers at a heavy discount.
  • In 2009 a GMC Syclone was destroyed due to the Car Allowance Rebate System even though it was a highly limited unit.

Legacy of the 1991 GMC Syclone

The legacy of the 1991 Syclone is undoubtedly the 1991-1993 GMC Typhoon, the successor produced just a year later. The Typhoon served as a shot at improving the arguably failed Syclone, but while it managed to keep the spirit of performance intact, it failed at delivering on the Syclone’s shortcomings. Despite the speed that the Typhoon offers, it was not enough to bridge the gap that SUV consumers were looking for in a vehicle. The disconnect between what consumers expected from a GMC SUV and what the Typhoon was, led to the failure of this legacy.

More GMC History: Typhoon (1991-1993)