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1991–1993 GMC Syclone and Typhoon: 20 Things You Need to Know

These were small turbocharged, AWD trucks that made huge power an even bigger impression.

Before the Ford F-150 Lightning, before the ten-cylinder Viper-powered Dodge Ram SRT-10, before the Chevrolet S-10 Xtreme, the turbocharged GMC Syclone pickup truck and mechanically similar GMC Typhoon SUV stormed the market. These all-wheel-drive pioneers brought performance, big horsepower, and sportscar-killing performance to the truck and SUV space long before doing so came into vogue.

The GMCs changed the game, combining "sport" and "truck" in a revolutionary way. But, the Syclone compact pickup and Typhoon SUV only found a few die-hard fans; GMC sold a few thousand of the former before moving on to the latter, finding even less interest in these factory sleepers. Fast-forward 30 years, and the GMCs are hot commodities, 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 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 an Chevy S-10 (the GMC Sonoma pickup's twin), threw on some Grand National flare like badging on the side, installed a bulgy hood, and fitted cooler wheels before presenting it 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.

2. It's an '80s baby

The GMC Syclone concept debuted at the 1989 North American International Auto Show in Detroit before ultimately going on sale for 1991.

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 the Mercury Cyclone (built from 1964-1971). Or it just looked cooler that way.

5. Production was extremely limited

The GMC Sonoma-based Syclone and GMC S-15 Jimmy-based Typhoon only lasted from 1991 to 1993, with very limited production. The Syclone was introduced first, for 1991, when 2,995 were made. Another 3 built for the otherwise nonexistent 1992 model year, 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 in 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 4400 rpm and 350 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm, 115 more ponies and an equal amount of torque greater than you got in the contemporary Sonoma's non-turbo 4.3-liter six. Engine mods included lower-compression pistons, special intake and exhaust manifolds, a sweet multipoint fuel injection system, bigger twin-bore throttle body from Corvette's 5.7L small-block, and—of course—the Mitsubishi TD06-17C turbocharger with a Garrett water-to-air inter-cooler. 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-second) zero-to-60 time. GMC was proud of its top speed—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 that split engine torque 65 percent to the rear axle and 35 percent to the front was borrowed from GMC's Safari van (or the almighty Chevy Astro, its bow-tie twin—take your pick). Really.

11. Oh, and there was some Pontiac in there, too

The GMCs' gauge package was apparently adapted from a Pontiac Sunbird Turbo—presumably because it included a turbo boost gauge.

12. You can't take either off-road

There's 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 cold 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 the GMC's soft truck cred.

14. The Typhoon had rear self-leveling air suspension

Much like period Mercedes-Benzes, the Typhoon featured a self-leveling rear suspension--described in a brochure as "recalibrated shock absorbers and modified 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 like Boyd Coddington wheels, Recaro leather seats, a Momo steering wheel, and a targa-style removable roof panel. There also was the Indy Syclone, 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, claims like "fastest accelerating vehicle" and "fastest production pickup truck" were confidently asserted. Car and Driver even pitted the GMC pickup against a Ferrari 348ts. And it wasn't absurd.

18. The ads for the GMCs were bold

A GMC ad for the Syclone compared it to a Porsche 911 Carrera 4 and had the most awesome headline: "Think of it as a Porsche 911 that really 'hauls. '"

19. Both GMCs were much pricier than their normal 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 grand 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.

Bonus:

Clint Eastwood drives a GMC Typhoon, and Jay Leno drives a GMC Syclone. Which does Chuck Norris prefer? Guess.