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GMC Syclone/GMC Typhoon

Syclone1 Dropping a hot engine into an everyday vehicle is a time-honored method of creating a hero car. The original Pontiac GTO is one such example, as is virtually every other 1960s muscle car. We've seen this practice continue today; for example, turbocharged rally-inspired engines have transformed humble Mitsubishi and Subaru compact cars into performance legends.

But of all the possible foundations for a world-beating performance car, where would the compact Chevy S-10 pickup rank? Certainly the cringing little S-10, the replacement for the unloved Luv, was a useful little truck, but it doesn't strike me as a vehicle with a great deal of untapped performance potential. I mean, really--what's a more unlikely base for a world-class performer? An Isuzu I-Mark? Perhaps a Chrysler Town & Country minivan? An Amphicar?

Amazingly, General Motors--yes, stodgy, bureaucratic, conservative early 1990s General Motors--turned that S-10 and its small-SUV sibling into the GMC Syclone and Typhoon, two of the quickest cars GM has ever made. The Syclone could do the 0-60 sprint in the high 4-second range, and the slightly heavier SUV Typhoon did it in the low 5-second range--making them as fast or faster than GM heavyweights like the 1960s muscle cars, the contemporary Corvette, and even the legendary ZR-1. Quicker than the Ferrari 348 or Testarossa, as quick as the Lamborghini Countach; the Syclone/Typhoon were trucks that could accelerate with the finest exotic hardware available.

Syclone2 Keep in mind this was well before high-performance crossovers, SVT Lightning Ford trucks, Hemi Ram trucks, SS Trailblazers, or turbocharged Porsche Cayennes. Trucks were still primarily used for utility, not comfortable or rapid passenger transit. As a high-performance pickup/SUV one-two punch, the Syclone/Typhoon might just be the most out-of-nowhere unexpected performance stars of their time. Only the Studebaker Lark Wagonaire R3 brought the same type of unlikely butt-kicking chutzpah to the table. Envision Don Knotts morphed into a Terminator, and you get the idea.

So, no--what you see here isn't just an old Chevy S-10 with a tacky body kit. What you see is an old Chevy S-10 with a tacky body kit, asphalt-gripping all-wheel drive, and a turbocharged V-6 pumping out 280 horsepower and 360 pound-feet of torque. That horsepower rating, by the way, was widely considered to be incredibly conservative.

That V-6 was a turbocharged and intercooled iteration of the 4.3-liter Vortec truck V-6, itself a torquey 3/4-scale version of the legendary small-block V-8. While similar in concept and execution to the 3.8-liter turbos used in the Buick Regal Turbo, Grand National, and GNX, the Syclone/Typhoon's turbo six was fundamentally a different engine. Most importantly, match that torque with a turbo and the traction of all-wheel-drive, and you have a stop-light demon. Just watch the video below; the Typhoon launches like a Saturn V rocket. And remember the Typhoon is the slower of the two GMCs.

While the Syclone's lighter weight gave it the performance edge, the Typhoon's enclosed SUV body made it somewhat more practical. Both trucks offered most of a normal truck's utility--with the acceleration of an exotic, remember--but don't try to use all that power for towing. GM went out of its way to discourage using either truck for towing or heavy hauling and recommended cargo limits of 900 and 500 pounds for the Typhoon and Syclone, respectively.

Typhoon1 Both the Syclone and Typhoon retailed for less than $30,000--a bargain for the unbeatable combination of nausea-inducing acceleration, utility, and price. Evidently Seattle sports legends Shawn Kemp and Ken Griffey Jr. agreed--both were among the ranks of Typhoon owners.

My fantasy has always been to buy a Syclone, remove the body kit, swap the wheels and front grille with those from a bone stock 1984 S-10, paint the truck a haphazard and inconsistent shade of beige, and bungee down a few bales of hay in the cargo box. Then, and only then, would I go out on ego-deflation patrol to eviscerate some Porsches and Ferraris. Hasta la vista, baby.

Of course, I'd keep a sinister black stock Typhoon in the garage as well.

The two Syclone photos above feature Syclone No. 0614--aside from the hood bulge, it's pretty stock. The stock Typhoon is No. 0300; all photos came from Syclone/Typhoon fan site Sportmachines.com. SyTy.org is also a fantastic resource for Syclone/Typhoon owners or wannabees like me.

--Chris H.

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fast trucks - very very hot

A friend of mine has one of those (or had; he goes through cars like I go through socks), but I can't remember which of the two it was/is. He is an auto marketers wet dream.

Wicked things. Wicked.

As a S-10 owner, I'm well versed in both vehicles, as well as other potential mods. I put a new 4.3L in my '88 S-10 30ish K ago.

If you really want to go nuts, you can fit an LT1 without a lot of work under the hood of one of these (including the regular S-10's). The transmissions are the same - 700R4. For the most part you just need a special radiator and custom headers (Jags that Run sell a kit for conversion). The Syclones are jaw-droppingly quick. While they are still effectively a brick on wheels aerodynamically speaking, that doesn't come into play until high speeds. On a drag strip or at a street light these trucks are stunners.

One other advantage of these two models is they are lower to the ground than their stablemate S-10's, thereby giving them far superior handling.

Big Chris

The above should state the S-10 auto transmissions are the same - the 700R4. If you go with a built engine (more HP!) then the Turbo 400 or something is probably the way to go.

http://tinyurl.com/6m5yhe is an interesting read if you want to see a 9 second Syclone! And that's at 3420 lbs!!

Nice profile on one of the VERY few GM products I heartily endorse. I remember seeing a new white Typhoon at a GMC dealer back then and the dealership had pumped the sticker to $43K! Not sure if that was commonplace elsewhere.

I like the idea of a fire-breathing terror-of-the-dragstrip pickup truck with hay bales in the bed. That's very devious of you, Chris.

I think it would take serious effort to come up with a more unlikely performance vehicle, that's for sure. I love the concept, though - since it's about the same vintage as my Dakota, it almost makes me wonder if there isn't some way to do something similar with my ol' 238... nah. Darn thing can barely get out of its own way.

Very nice find, Chris. Very nice.

Chris, one word for you. RAMPAGE!

My father had a Typhoon when I was young, and it was my first introduction to turbocharged power. One thing that Chris didn't mention is that they had the worst turbo lag in the whole world, but that was part of the charm of the car. I remember my father asking me if I knew what a turbocharger did, and when I said no, he said, "It does this," and mashed his foot to the floor. For a second, nothing happened...until all of a sudden the SUV moved so fast it practically teleported to the next stop light. From that moment on, I knew exactly what turbocharging is for. :)

Boost doesn't have to come with lag, only if it's tuned for high power output and not response. Lots of cars that rule in the 1/4 will get their ass handed to them in some twisties by a lower HP, more mildly boosted car.

For sheer looks the pickup is a complete knockout. The SUV is pretty clean, but the Pickup is 100% hot. The drag strip action is almost as good as the 250hp VW fastback that smoked an Audi TT. I really like this truck. I'm a little brain dead today from helping friends finish their thesis projects in architecture. So all I can really muster is that hot-rod trucks bring a new level of cool to the automotive world. If they can be kept relatively small (size/weight) that's even better. I'm thinking these would be perfect for bootleggers.

isitacrossfromchris: "Chris, one word for you. RAMPAGE!"

RAMPAGE!

In one lane, the GMC Syclone. In the other lane, a Shelby 2.2 turbo Rampage. The prize? Top billing in Chris' heart.

Kasey Kagawa: "that they had the worst turbo lag in the whole world"

I actually didn't know that about them - at least not stock. It's not a shock - these had fairly large turbos, and larger turbos take more exhaust and more time to spin up. The benefit as you and Rob point out is more peak power. Though I would've thought the torquey V-6 would have masked that a little more than a little four-cylinder would have.

As you point out, though, while turbo lag isn't the thing for the racetrack, it can be a bit fun. I always enjoy highly-boosted cars where you drop the hammer, you have that moment of suspense where your muscles tense and your pupils constrict, and then you drop into hyperspace.

They were awesome. To be fair about the turbo lag, though, my dad's 944 Turbo also had horrendous lag. As did the turbo Audi at the time and the musclecar throwback the Buick T-Type. Turbocharging is much better used nowadays, as evidenced by the glass-like smoothness of the Cobalt and HHR SS turbocharging.

I was going to put this in the Birthday thread, but I will say right now that the RAMPAGE! post is probably my favorite one out of all of 'em.

Imagine that sucker with a similar engine. I'm almost certain someone's done it somewhere.

I can understand the comment about turbo lag, but its a little in-accurate. The stock turbo was actually a bit anemic for the 4.3 (downgraded a bit during development to try and keep the transmission from exploding - not much help). Its possible to hit the full 14.7lbs of boost at the edge of 2k rpm (I've done this sitting at one street light waiting to teleport to the next).

The delay from mashing the pedal was likely a product of the 700R4 taking its time to downshift and crying for mercy as it's asked to push 400lb-ft. of terror though it's crotchety legs.

As an owner/enthusiast, there honestly isn't much in the world I'd trade for my sy (including most of those exotics it puts to shame). Its a juxtaposed blend of common and exotic that combine into an oxymoronic vehicle that just exudes bad-ass-ed-ness and I !@#$*$% love the thing. Syclones and Typhoons DEFINE the term boost launch, and I'd suggest you try one if you haven't.

I love when someone recognizes the truck resulting in them hanging out the window of their Z06, or refusing to race based purely on the truck's reputation. I think we love it even more when the ill-informed make ignorant assumptions about our ability to properly spell "cyclone" or set up an "easy money" race against a "heavy automatic pickup" that's no match for their Prelude (I felt so bad, I wouldn't take his money).

Their ultimate downfall: reliability. They make ASE-Certified mechanics out their owners.

Oh man, another Ian. How confusing. Anyway, nice entry, Chris. Your Syclone sleeper fantasy was especially awesome. Now I want one, too.

Ian, try keeping up with a Prelude on some twisties:

http://www.carlustblog.com/2008/08/car-lust--1988.html

The multiple Ian phenomenon is pretty amusing. I saw the first Ian comment and thought, "hey, it's fantastic that one of our regulars is a Syclone owner!"

Original Ian, you're still cool. But Syclone Ian, you're *awesome.*

:-)

Rob the SVX Guy: "Ian, try keeping up with a Prelude on some twisties."

Probably depends on the twisties. On incredibly tight roads, with no precipitation, the Prelude's agility would probably win. But the Syclone/Typhoon has lots of grip and, according to the cited Car & Driver article "phenomenal traction." It might not share the Prelude's eagerness at changing direction, but its sheer stick, and power wallop would even things out in longer, wider-radius corners and on straightaways.

Get the roads wet, and the trucks' AWD would give it a bigger advantage, I think.

I'm guessing any race track would have a long enough straightaway for the trucks to lap more quickly; but public roads might be tight enough to give the Prelude the upper hand. I don't know, but I'd love to see it.

i am an owner of a gmc typhoon, #0280 1992. there is no prelude AYWHERE that could beat my TRUCK......period. twisties or whatever it doesnt matter. sport tuned suspension and a 4.3 syclone turbo v6 combine to make peculiar perfection.

up to a challenge anytime lemme know!

I've never owned a Sy or a Ty but I've always liked the looks of a Sy. The Sy's are just sweet looking. The body kit well accents the truck. The AWD was something else. I hope one day to own one and park it next to the only turbocharged vehicle I've ever dealt with; a 1987 Buick T-type, which for those that don't know, is the little brother to the Grand National....and just as potent if not more potent.

We tested one of these on the car show when they first came out. Though we never got the 4.7-second 0-60 time they advertised, the truck would pass anything at speed.

Truth is, I was glad to give this truck back... I was surely going to get a ticket if I had it any longer.

I love the look of a Sy from any angle. Though I have never had the chance to drive one, or even be inside one, I hope to own one in the near future (Replace my 94 S10 Blazer with something a little quicker)

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