• 1991 GMC Syclone - The Factory-Built Compact Pickup That Humbled the Ferrari 348

  • On the latest episode of Revelations with Jason Cammisa, the man takes us on a tour of the GMC Syclone
  • It was a high performance pick up truck way ahead of its time and with supercar levels of performance, it held the title for the fastest pickup truck in the world for many years
  • The Syclone was the brainchild of people like Bill Davis, who was GMC's chief assistant designer at the time and Ken Nielsen, who was a GMC engineer and drag racer
  • With the pair wanting to change the automakers blue-collar image and add something interesting to the line up, management approved the Syclone and a concept was presented at the 1989 Chicago Auto Show
  • But what exactly gave this muscle truck its supercar rivaling performance? Well, there were several modifications made to the Corvette sourced 4.3 turbocharged L V-6 engine
  • They included an intercooler, hypereutectic pistons, upgraded intake, and exhaust manifolds. As a result the V-6 engine now produces 280 hp & 350 lb-ft of torque
  • The engine sent power to the wheels through a Borg Warner Sourced, read biased (65%) AWD system, and was mated to a four-speed torque converter
  • With that kind of performance, 0-60 mph was done away with, in 4.3 seconds, enough to beat a Ferrari 348ts, which was a duel organized by Car and Driver back then
  • This was some truly astonishing performance for a truck that cost five times lesser than the Ferrari, coming in at $25,970 ($52k in today’s money)
  • As a work vehicle, the Syclone simply didn't make any sense whatsoever. Its cab was only good enough for two
  • It couldn't tow
  • And you could haul, less than 500 lbs in the bed
  • But then thats missing the point, because it really doesn't matter. The Syclone about nothing else but performance
  • Only 2995 Syclones were produced for the '91 model year, with two for 1992. The Jimny version that followed, dubbed the Typhoon was far more successful, selling over 4000 units
  • Famous owners include Jay Leno, Eddie Van Halen and Ziggy Marley
  • Nearly three decades on, the Syclone name still gets out heart racing and is easily one of the coolest pickup trucks of all time. Swipe Up to Read More.

The GMC Syclone was once the fastest truck in the world and could humble some of the greatest supercars

The Porsche 911 Carrera, the Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo, the Ford Mustang SVT Cobra R, the Mazda RX-7, the Mercedes-Benz 500 SL, and BMW 850i. All sporty coupes, equipped with plenty of power and performance. What do they all have in common?

Well, they were all driven to extinction by a small, inconspicuous, and dirt cheap pickup truck. The GMC Syclone. Back in ’91, the Syclone was among the coolest vehicles out there that money could buy. With its turbocharged V-6 engine under the hood, this factory-built bundle of insanity was capable of churning out sportscar-like performance figures. While Jason Cammisa from Hagerty, takes us on a tour of the GMC Syclone, we reveal other details about this insane truck from back in the day.

  • 1991 GMC Syclone - The Factory-Built Compact Pickup That Humbled the Ferrari 348
  • Year:
    1991
  • Make:
  • Engine:
    V6
  • Transmission:
    4L 60 four-speed automatic
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    280
  • Torque @ RPM:
    350
  • Displacement:
    4.3 L
  • 0-60 time:
    4.3 sec.
  • Quarter Mile time:
    14.1 sec.
  • car segment:
  • size:
  • Purpose:
  • body style:

The making of a Syclone

1991 GMC Syclone - The Factory-Built Compact Pickup That Humbled the Ferrari 348
- image 1020681

Inspired by the legendary Buick Grand National, the Syclone was a funnel of terror back in the early 90s.

Its turbo engine and the rear-biased all-wheel-drive made it the world’s fastest production truck at the time, a title that it held for many years.
1991 GMC Syclone - The Factory-Built Compact Pickup That Humbled the Ferrari 348
- image 1020682

The story of this beast begins in 1987 when Bill Davis, who was GMC’s chief assistant designer at the time, created a conceptual sketch of a lowriding S-15 (GMC’s version of the Chevy S-10). The idea of an insane show truck capable of boosting the brand’s blue-collar image appealed to the likes of former GMC engineer Kim Nielsen, who also happened to be a drag racer, and hence the project was unanimously approved by management.

1991 GMC Syclone - The Factory-Built Compact Pickup That Humbled the Ferrari 348
- image 1020783

A pearlescent white-painted Syclone featuring a beefy body kit and lowered suspension was later unveiled at the 1989 Chicago Auto Show. A stock S-15, also known as the Sonoma since 1991, got a complete makeover under the watchful eye of Davis. In profile, the Syclone looks like nothing more than a black Sonoma with a lowered ride height. However, don’t be fooled by its modest looks.

What’s under the hood?

1991 GMC Syclone - The Factory-Built Compact Pickup That Humbled the Ferrari 348
- image 1020684

The 3.8-liter engine sourced from the Buick Grand National required several modifications to work on the Syclone, and that would do nothing but increase production costs over the targeted limit. So GMC had to improvise. Eventually, with the assistance of Production Automotive Services or (PAS), the S-15’s stock naturally aspirated 4.3-liter V-6 engine was chosen instead, and it received the forced-induction treatment. The result? A V-6 that produced 280 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque.

1991 GMC Syclone - The Factory-Built Compact Pickup That Humbled the Ferrari 348
- image 942200

The revamped engine’s party piece, though, was a Mitsubishi sourced TD06-17C turbocharger linked to a Garrett water-to-air intercooler.

To squeeze out as many horses as possible, the powerplant received several performance upgrades. They included an intercooler, nodular iron main caps, hypereutectic pistons, upgraded intake and exhaust manifolds, and a 48 mm twin-bore throttle body borrowed from the [Corvette’s ZR1’s->ar188121] 5.7-liter small-block.
1991 GMC Syclone - The Factory-Built Compact Pickup That Humbled the Ferrari 348
- image 983525

It would have been the perfect performance truck had GM decided to link this engine to a manual gearbox. Unfortunately, the four-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic 700R4, which had a bad rep and was unreliable, was chosen instead. On the bright side though, this transmission was slightly recalibrated and sent all the power to a Borg Warner sourced all-wheel-drive system from the Chevy Astro Van, which was rear-biased, sending up to 65% of power to the back, where it met a limited-slip differential.

How fast was the Syclone?

1991 GMC Syclone - The Factory-Built Compact Pickup That Humbled the Ferrari 348
- image 1020686
With the help of these performance upgrades, the Syclone could sprint from 0 to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds and run the quarter-mile in 13.4 seconds, which was faster than many sports cars of the day.

Given its blistering speed, in 1991, Car and Driver pitted the humble Syclone against a brand new Ferrari 348ts, that cost nearly five times as much.

1991 GMC Syclone - The Factory-Built Compact Pickup That Humbled the Ferrari 348
- image 1020685

Surprisingly, the truck ran a quarter-mile faster than the supercar and so, they decided to take it up a notch. On the second run, the distance was doubled, however, the Italian sportscar still came in second. Finally, both cars went for another run over the same distance but this time, both started from a roll. Well, you guessed it right, the 348 ts lost once again.

How much did this Muscle Truck go for back in the day?

1991 GMC Syclone - The Factory-Built Compact Pickup That Humbled the Ferrari 348
- image 983521

The Syclone was, arguably, the most impractical truck out there, with the ability to haul less than 500 pounds in its bed and a steep $25,970 price (around $52k in today’s money). However, that was missing the point because there was nothing quite like it on the road. As a limited-production model, only 2,995 units were ever built. Production ceased by the end of 1991, although GMC did develop 3 additional units in 1992 for internal use.

Conclusion

1991 GMC Syclone - The Factory-Built Compact Pickup That Humbled the Ferrari 348
- image 1020690

The GMC Syclone is a bit of an oddity. Some people like Jeremy Clarkson loved it, while, Jay Leno has even used the truck as his daily driver in the past, and Ziggy Marley actually even own one. The makers of the Syclone can still be very proud of their achievement, as the truck is still the fastest pickup on the 1/4 mile.

1991 GMC Syclone - The Factory-Built Compact Pickup That Humbled the Ferrari 348
- image 1020532

Nearly three decades on, the Syclone can still be considered as one of the coolest factory-built pickup’s out there and to all but those who are aware of this muscle truck’s legendary performance, the Syclone will forever remain the ultimate sleeper.

Watch Jason Camissa gives us an overview of the Syclone and what made it so special.


Khris Bharath
Khris Bharath
Khris is a classic car aficionado and adores his Jags and Alfas, although he keeps tabs on everything from super exotics like an old EB 110 to the latest from Lucid. Formula One is very close to his heart, and he diligently makes time to tune in for the Grand Prix on Sundays. Khris also loves his road trips and he prefers stick shift over an Auto any day.  Read full bio
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