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Vintage Views: GMC Syclone and Typhoon

The hottest new vehicle sold in 1991 didn’t come from any of the usual suspects. It wasn’t a turbo Porsche, 12-cylinder Ferrari or some limited-edition Mustang.

It was a GMC pickup.

Yes, we’re talking about a factory-built pickup. It wasn’t even some supersized, go-anywhere pickup sporting monster truck tires, a giant smokestack and a sound system that blasted only Lynyrd Skynyrd. It was the GMC Syclone, a mini pickup that, for one year at least, stood the performance world on its ear.

The Syclone put an exclamation point on the day’s mini-truck scene, a time period dominated by pastel colors, fiberglass body kits and wheels of questionable taste. The Syclone was the biker sent to break up the party. The color? Black. And only black.

Aero kit? Of course, but at least it was tasteful. So were the factory 16-inch aluminum wheels–pretty darn beefy for the day.

The real story was under the hood: Power came from a turbocharged and intercooled 4.3-liter V6, and the resulting 280 horsepower and stump-pulling 350 ft.-lbs. of torque were delivered to those meaty 16-inch tires via all-wheel drive. Again, this was all high-tech stuff for a day long before iPhones, Snapchat and Segways.

As with the color, only one transmission was offered: a four-speed automatic. Before the purists cry foul, realize that this let anyone with a pulse and a dream unleash the Syclone’s full fury: The zero-to-60 blast took just 5.3 seconds. In fact, Car and Driver famously paired the $26,000 Syclone against a six-figure Ferrari 348ts. The truck completed the quarter-mile first, arriving in just 14.1 seconds. (So what if the Ferrari was closing the gap?)

GMC produced just 2995 Syclones for the 1991 model year before moving the formula to its Jimmy SUV chassis to create the Typhoon for 1992 and 1993–different storm, similar motions. According to Hagerty, for several years the best Syclones in the world were worth a little less than $20,000. The value trend spiked early in 2016, upping prices to about $35,000 for a perfect example and less than $10,000 for an okay one. Typhoons fetch less and weren’t limited to black.

We’re not talking about pure sports cars here, but these vehicles perfectly capture the reemergence of the American muscle car scene. It’s a lot of straight-line performance packed into a useful, unassuming package.

Practical Guidance

Tom Mandrov owns Sportmachines, a shop specializing in the GMC Syclone and Typhoon. He offered this advice for shoppers and owners.

“With the engine producing so much torque, the twist put upon the motor mounts shortens their lifespan.

Combine that with the heat in the engine bay from the turbo and downpipe, and the mounts don’t stand much of a chance. Sagging and separation are common.

“The quick and cheap fix done by many is a torque strap to limit movement. OE GM motor mounts work well, but they’ve become very scarce and expensive. Aftermarket replacements are readily available and cheap, but they don’t last very long since they aren’t built as well. Solid motor mounts have become the more common go-to; yes, some extra vibration can be felt, but you’ll never have to worry about the mounts again.

“The reason you find so many with bad mounts is that installing them is pretty difficult. The front diff for the AWD as well as the turbo and oil lines are in the way, and the frame pad bolts are under the frame mounts.

“The full-time AWD, short wheelbase, torque, and 25 years of existence add up to a lot of strain on the whole drivetrain and AWD system. Add in boost launching and track time, and you can quickly wreak havoc on these trucks. When this stress is left unchecked or unrepaired, it can create an expensive snowball effect: If damage to one component is left ignored, it will quickly damage and shorten the lifespan of the remaining components. Proper upkeep and fluid changes are essential.

“The unique body cladding was made and installed by a third party for GM. It’s a unique composite that is very fragile and has become quite brittle with age. It can be repaired and, when done correctly, can go unnoticed. Replacement pieces are becoming scarce, and good OE pieces command a premium. Aftermarket fiberglass replacements are also available.

“OE parts are becoming difficult to obtain because of the age of the trucks now. And the quality of the parts that are available varies greatly. New parts are being developed or made by us and a few other companies out of necessity.

“There is no shortage of modifications that can be done to the Syclone–and no limit to them, either. Our top three: turbo and wastegate upgrades, ECU tuning, and a coil-over suspension upgrade. The coil-overs make for a tremendously better ride and drastically improve the handling characteristics; it also sheds a bunch of weight off the front end.”

Parts and Service

Sportmachines
sportmachines.net
(585) 204-SYTY

Community

SyTy.net
syty.net

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Comments

View comments on the GRM forums
pinchvalve
pinchvalve MegaDork
4/25/17 9:49 a.m.

I remember magazines complaining about the lack of capacity for the bed and limited towing ability, they really didn't get the "sport" part of the Sport Utility Vehicle yet.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
4/25/17 1:07 p.m.
pinchvalve wrote: I remember magazines complaining about the lack of capacity for the bed and limited towing ability, they really didn't get the "sport" part of the Sport Utility Vehicle yet.

True, some people are no fun.

The0retical
The0retical SuperDork
4/25/17 1:17 p.m.

I drove my roommate in college to go buy a white Typhoon in 2004(?).

I remember it being one the wackiest things I'd been in at that time and was really my introduction to what a turbo and all wheel drive can do.

I do remember us having a conversation about what happens if the cladding gets damaged. Apparently, it's still mostly unobtanium although I did see GRM had a line about that in the most recent issue. Hopefully, that's improved with time.

Maybe one day I'll own one too.

dkm455
dkm455 New Reader
4/25/17 4:50 p.m.

I remember how expensive they were when new. Looked at a new Syclone at the local Buick/GMC dealer and it was $2-3k more than the loaded Roadmaster sitting next to it on the showroom. I remember being amazed that a hot-rodded S10 was that much more than Buick's top-line sedan.

Neat vehicles though! If I remember correctly GMC took one to Bonneville and set some speed records.

SPG123
SPG123 Reader
4/25/17 8:47 p.m.

I owned Syclone #327. It was a riot. Genuinely quick up to 80 or so. But the best fun was to nail the throttle mid corner. I would do it over again for sure. But the 3.6 would be out and an LS in. Still turbo and still AWD.

SPG123
SPG123 Reader
4/25/17 8:48 p.m.

Brain fart. 4.3

EastCoastMojo
EastCoastMojo Mod Squad
4/25/17 8:51 p.m.

I lust after these, but you guys already know of my penchant for turbo chrysler minivans, so that shouldn't come as much of a surprise.

TIGMOTORSPORTS
TIGMOTORSPORTS HalfDork
4/26/17 4:58 a.m.

I wanted to buy one in the worst way (The Syclone) when they came out. 1992 model was sitting on sale at a lot in my hometown because no one was buying it. Being very young at the time with speeding tickets on my record, I could not afford the insurance. Also, the 2 seat arrangement would not have worked with a young son at the time. It was black, awd, turbo, and mean looking with nice options. Ran high 13's stock. One of the nicest performance pickups built in my opinion. I'm also partial to the S10/S15/Sonoma pickups

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
4/26/17 10:29 a.m.

Glad you guys dig them. When we relaunched our Vintage Views series, I decided to concentrate on cool cars from the '80s and '90s--stuff that not everyone here might remember.

Next issue: Starion and Conquest. Yes, box flares.

The0retical
The0retical SuperDork
4/26/17 11:56 a.m.

In reply to David S. Wallens:

I've been seeing a bunch of Starions on the social media tubes restored for shows lately. I wonder if they've hit that price/unique status that they're going to become the new hot item.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
4/26/17 12:01 p.m.
The0retical wrote: In reply to David S. Wallens: I've been seeing a bunch of Starions on the social media tubes restored for shows lately. I wonder if they've hit that price/unique status that they're going to become the new hot item.

I wonder. Prices still seem fairly low, and there isn't a ton of aftermarket support. However, they definitely have a cool vibe about them.

Tom_Spangler
Tom_Spangler UberDork
4/26/17 12:12 p.m.

Back around 1992 or so my dad and I got invited to a "GMC Experience" thing at the Pontiac Silverdome. They had an autocross course set up, and some Bondurant instructors. The instructors would ride with you in a Syclone to do a few laps, then they'd load 3 of you up in a Typhoon, and they'd take you around to show you how it was really done. They also had a longer course set up where you could do multiple laps in Sonoma GTs (essentially a regular Sonoma/S15 with a body kit and lower suspension). It was a lot of fun, one of my first experiences with performance driving.

Blaise
Blaise New Reader
4/26/17 1:18 p.m.

Yes, it was cutting edge for '92. But wouldn't a comparison to similar era cars be more appropriate? Snap chat? Really?

It's funny how fast these were back in the day. Put one next to a V6 camry now and I'm not sure who would win...

Danny Shields
Danny Shields Reader
4/26/17 1:54 p.m.

Well-written article about a couple of special vehicles that were incredibly quick for their day.

vwfreek
vwfreek New Reader
4/26/17 1:55 p.m.

I had a Typhoon, sold it a couple years ago. It was fun to drive, but it had some rust issues so I got rid of it while it still had some value. I always got a kick out of the dashboard with the tacked on switches and plastic bezel disguising the Sunbird instrument cluster.

RX Reven'
RX Reven' Dork
4/26/17 2:42 p.m.
David S. Wallens wrote: Glad you guys dig them. When we relaunched our Vintage Views series, I decided to concentrate on cool cars from the '80s and '90s--stuff that not everyone here might remember. Next issue: Starion and Conquest. Yes, box flares.

Interesting subject, engaging writing…much appreciated GRM!

Tom_Spangler
Tom_Spangler UberDork
4/26/17 2:47 p.m.
vwfreek wrote: I had a Typhoon, sold it a couple years ago. It was fun to drive, but it had some rust issues so I got rid of it while it still had some value. I always got a kick out of the dashboard with the tacked on switches and plastic bezel disguising the Sunbird instrument cluster.

Back in the day, I recall reading that they used the Sunbird cluster because it was the only one that fit and had a boost gauge. Not sure how legit that is.

TIGMOTORSPORTS
TIGMOTORSPORTS HalfDork
4/27/17 4:54 a.m.

Since the AWD was a majority rear split, modified heavy Syclones could pull the front wheels with the wheels spinning

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