Nowadays, the idea of making a high-performance pickup is normal. Manufacturers offer trucks like the F-150 Raptor and Ram Rebel TRX with a factory warranty. And if the speed still seems insufficient, tuners like Hennessey Performance step in. But 30 years ago, that wasn’t the case. Trucks offered large and powerful (for the time) engines, but only so they could haul and tow more. That is until GMC came out with the Syclone, a truck that made even luxury exotics nervous. Donut Media tells the whole story.
Build Up to the GMC Syclone
By the end of the 1980s, cars were beginning to escape from the Malaise Era’s lack of performance doldrums. One of these was the Buick Grand National, a blacked-out luxury sedan with a 3.8-liter turbocharged V6. Although turbocharged engines are the norm today, back in the 80s the technology was still fairly rare. This 3.8-liter turbo V6 later made its way into the 20th Anniversary Pontiac Trans Am. However, it was also placed into the body of the compact Chevrolet S10 pickup, the precursor to today’s mid-size Colorado.
The design was pitched both to Buick and Chevrolet. But neither brand wanted to develop the concept further. Chevrolet itself already had the full-size 454SS truck on the way. However, execs at GMC expressed interest.
As the ‘turbo S10’ was further refined, it became clear the 3.8-liter engine would need extensive modification to fit into the S10’s engine bay. GMC had another V6, a 4.3-liter, but it only made 168 hp and 235 lb-ft. Considering the Grand National engine made 235 hp and 330 lb-ft, using the naturally-aspirated engine wouldn’t do. So, the engineers got to work.
The pistons, fuel injectors, and throttle bodies were replaced with ones from the Corvette L98 engine. The 4.3-liter also got new cams, intake and exhaust manifolds, and even head gaskets. But the biggest modification was the addition of a Mitsubishi turbocharger and Garrett intercooler. Now the engine put out 280 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque.
Now, the GMC Syclone was ready to leave the competition in its wake.
The Syclone Howls
The GMC Syclone officially debuted for the 1991 model year. Chevrolet’s 454SS had come out one year earlier, but there were several key differences between the two trucks. The 454SS was a heavy full-size truck and rear-wheel drive. The Syclone, being based on the S10, was lighter. And it had all-wheel drive. 35% of the power went to the front, 65% to the back.
To be sure, the Syclone wasn’t designed for high-speed cornering. 63% of the weight was at the front, and it had a live rear axle. The suspension was also lowered, so the Syclone couldn’t even go off-road. It also wasn’t really designed for utility: Car and Driver gives a payload capacity of only 500 lbs. But all that didn’t matter. With wide 16” wheels, that turbo V6, and AWD, the Syclone was fast. Ferrari fast. Actually, faster than that.
When Car and Driver drag-raced the GMC Syclone against the then-new Ferrari 348ts, the Syclone beat it. The magazine recorded a 0-60 time of 5.3 seconds and a quarter-mile time of 14.1 seconds. To put that in perspective, if CarWow had included a GMC Syclone in the ‘quickest Raptor’ drag race, every single Raptor would’ve lost to the GMC. And the Syclone was one-fifth the price of the Ferrari.
In fact, Donut Media state that the 1991 GMC Syclone was officially the fastest accelerating vehicle at the time.
The Legacy of the GMC Syclone
The GMC Syclone was only built for 1991 and (very briefly) 1992, with roughly 3000 units sold in total. However, its impact can be felt even now.
Today, consumers don’t think twice about turbocharged engines in trucks. And fast trucks are now commodities, rather than oddities. Those trucks also aren’t just about straight-line speed.
Although original Syclones can be valuable classics, New Jersey-based Specialty Vehicle Engineering can convert your GMC Sierra into a new, 455-hp Syclone. But only 100 will be made. With truck popularity so high right now, let’s hope a new wind blows through GMC soon.