Before wild trucks like the Ford F-150 Lightning and the Viper-powered Dodge Ram SRT-10 stormed the market, the mechanically similar, turbocharged GMC Syclone pickup truck and GMC Typhoon SUV laid waste to the notion that sports cars needed to be, well, cars. These all-wheel-drive pioneers brought performance, big horsepower, and sports car-killing performance to the truck and SUV space long before doing so came into vogue.
The GMCs changed the game by combining “sport” and “truck” in a revolutionary way. But the Syclone compact pickup and Typhoon SUV only found a small number die-hard fans; GMC sold a few thousand of the former before moving on to the latter. Fast-forward 30 years and the GMCs are now highly sought-after performance vehicles from the ’80s. To whip up excitement in those unfamiliar with the Syclone and Typhoon models (and give fans more ammo for spreading their gospel), we gathered up 20 fun facts about the high-powered truck and SUV:
1. The Syclone was almost a Buick Grand National pickup
The GMC Syclone nearly got the Buick Grand National‘s turbocharged 3.8-liter V-6 engine. When the Grand National was being phased out in 1987, Buick performance engineers stuffed its 3.8-liter six into a Chevy S-10 (the GMC Sonoma’s bow-tie-badged twin), threw on some Grand National flare (including badging), installed a bulging hood, and fitted cooler wheels before presenting it to the brass at General Motors for consideration. GM said no. So, too, did Chevrolet. GMC said yes to the idea of a Grand National-style pickup, but noted that stuffing the 3.8-liter V-6 under the truck’s hood would be too costly.
The GMC Syclone concept debuted at the 1989 North American International Auto Show in Detroit before ultimately going on sale for the 1991 model year.
3. The GMCs were built out-of-house
The Syclone and Typhoon models were produced by Production Automotive Services (1989-1994) in Troy, Michigan. PAS also produced the 1989 Pontiac Turbo Trans Am and the 1992 GMC Sonoma GT.
4. What’s up with that funny spelling?
Syclone with an “S?” Maybe it paid homage to the leadoff letter in “S-10” or “Sonoma,” or maybe it was because Cyclone was already taken by Ford and the prior Mercury Cyclone (built from 1964-1971). Or maybe it just looked cooler spelled that way.
5. Production was extremely limited
The GMC Sonoma-based Syclone and GMC Jimmy-based Typhoon only lasted from 1991 to 1993. The Syclone was introduced first and a mere 2,995 units were produced. Another three Syclones were built for the otherwise nonexistent 1992 model year, which brought the total to 2,998. (Couldn’t GMC have just made two more for a round 3,000?) Production of the Typhoon followed, with 2,497 produced in 1992 and 2,200 in 1993, for a total of 4,697. (Again, three more units for 1992 would have really made us feel better and made researching these numbers easier. )
6. Were they all sold in America?
No. Of the 2,995 Syclones made, 113 were exported to Saudi Arabia, of which 31 were returned—unsold—to the GMC facility. These 30 cast-off Saudi Syclones (one was used for parts) were apparently sold to GMC employees via a lottery.
7. They were powerful for the era
The GMC Syclone didn’t use the Grand National engine, but it did use a bigger, turbocharged 4.3-liter V-6. It produced 280 horsepower at 4,400 rpm and 350 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm (115 more ponies than the contemporary Sonoma’s non-turbo 4.3-liter six). Engine mods included lower-compression pistons, special intake and exhaust manifolds, a sweet multi-point fuel injection system, a bigger twin-bore throttle body from the Corvette’s 5.7-liter V-8, and, of course, the Mitsubishi TD06-17C turbocharger with a Garrett water-to-air intercooler. This same engine went into the Typhoon, too.
8. The Syclone was quicker than the Typhoon
The Syclone weighed 3,599 pounds. The Typhoon weighed 3,822 pounds. That not-insignificant weight difference helped ensure the Syclone was a little quicker.
9. How quick were these GMCs? Very.
GMC claimed a sub-five-second zero-to-60-mph time for the Syclone, which was just insane in 1991. (Specifically, the estimates were 4.6 seconds to 60, and 13.4 seconds through the quarter-mile.) The Typhoon was slower, notching a mid-five-second (5.3 seconds, to be exact) zero-to-60 time. GMC was also proud of its top speed of 124 mph(!).
10. Both the Syclone and Typhoon lived a little bit of a van life
The full-time all-wheel drive’s BorgWarner transfer case, which sent 65 percent of the engine’s torque to the rear axle and 35 percent to the front, was borrowed from the GMC Safari van. Really.
11. Oh, and there was some Pontiac in there, too
The GMCs’ gauges were apparently adapted from a Pontiac Sunbird Turbo’s—presumably because it included a turbo boost gauge.
12. You can’t take either off-road
There is a warning notice in the Syclone’s cab, should you forget that it is a street truck: “This vehicle is not intended for off-road use. The reduced height of this vehicle will not allow it to clear obstacles commonly encountered in an off-road environment. Off-road operation could result in serious damage to chassis and drivetrain. ” Indeed.
13. And you can’t really haul much with them, either
The Syclone’s 500-pound payload capacity upset the truck crowd which, rightly so, felt that figure was too low for a real pickup. Towing was not recommended by the factory, either, which didn’t help bolster GMC’s truck cred.
14. The Typhoon had rear self-leveling air suspension
Much like period Mercedes-Benzes, the Typhoon featured a self-leveling rear suspension, which would inflate air bladders to offset rear-end sag when the SUV was loaded up with heavy cargo.
15. Syclone wasn’t colorful, but the Typhoon was
Typhoon paint colors included Forest Green Metallic, Radar Blue, Raspberry Metallic, Frost While, Royal Blue Metallic, Aspen Blue, Bright Teal, Apple Red, Garnet Red, and black. Yet, the Syclone only came in black. Well, save for two exceptions . . .
16. There were two special-edition 1991 Cyclones!
Ten red-painted Marlboro Syclones were customized by American Sunroof Company (ASC) and had cool features such as Boyd Coddington wheels, Recaro leather seats, a Momo steering wheel, and a targa-style removable roof panel. There was also the Indy Syclone, which was used at the Indianapolis 500 race in 1992. Although there were three of these unofficial pace cars, only one got a cool paint scheme (while the other two got sticker packages).
17. It was the fastest-accelerating vehicle, period, in 1991
When the Syclone was introduced, GMC confidently asserted claims such as “fastest accelerating vehicle” and “fastest production pickup truck.” Even crazier? It wasn’t absurd.
18. The ads for the GMCs were bold
19. Both GMCs were much pricier than their Sonoma and Jimmy counterparts
The GMC Syclone’s price tag in 1991 was $25,970, and the ’92 Typhoon’s was $29,530. That’s a premium of at least $10,000 over a pedestrian Sonoma. But hey, the small truck out-performed six-figure sports cars.
20. If you hear anyone ever say “SyTy” . . .
Yep, “Sy” is short for Syclone, and “Ty” is short for Typhoon. There are forums and events dedicated to the SyTy crowd.
Clint Eastwood drives a GMC Typhoon and Jay Leno drives a GMC Syclone. Which does Chuck Norris prefer? Guess!