A Brief Outline of the First Century of GMC Truck History
Compiled by Donald E. Meyer, GMC Truck Historian, March 8, 2008. Revised April 14, 2008.Rapid Motor Vehicle Company, the first forerunner of GMC.
Reliance Motor Co. started business in Detroit in 1902 and built their first truck in 1903.
W.C. Durant bought Reliance for GM and moved operations to a new plant in Owosso, Michigan in 1909. The Randolph Motor Car Co. was founded in Chicago in 1908 and sold to GM in 1909. Durant moved that business to Flint, Michigan but sold it back to the original owner in 1911. Apparently Randolph did not influence GM truck design.
1905 - Rapid built a large vehicle assembly in Pontiac, Michigan and began building trucks there in 1906.
climbed Pike's Peak in Colorado.
electric trucks in nine models - 1/2 to 6 tons capacity.
1913 - Reliance production was moved to the Rapid Street plant in Pontiac, Michigan and consolidated with Rapid/GMC.
1916 - The U.S. Army used 3/4-ton GMC trucks to pursue Pancho Villa into Mexico.
1916 - William Warwick drove a loaded GMC 1-1/2-ton truck from Seattle to New York and back. It was the first truck to cross the U.S. in less than 32 days running time.
1918 - Over 90% of GMC truck production was for World War I military vehicles.
1920 - Pneumatic tires became base equipment on light GMC trucks, replacing solid rubber tires.
1921 - Electric lights replaced oil lamps as standard equipment.
1921 - GMC Dual Range 7- speed transmissions were standard in heavy duty models
Oakland Motor Car Co. (later to be the Pontiac Motor Div. of GM). Pontiac engines were used in GMC light trucks from 1927 to 1932. 1 and 2-ton models were powered by more powerful and efficient Buick 6 cylinder valve-in-head engines.
1925 - The Yellow Cab Manufacturing Co. merged with the General Motors Truck Corp. to form the Yellow Truck & Coach Manufacturing Co. that built GMC trucks. 4-wheel brakes replaced brakes on rear only on some models.
1927 - "Cannon Ball" Baker drove a Buick powered T-40 2-ton GMC tank truck, loaded with Atlantic Ocean water, from New York to San Francisco in less than 6 days, setting a truck speed record.
1927 - The General Motors Truck Co. built a new truck assembly plant on South Boulevard in Pontiac, Michigan in just 6 months. With 26 acres under roof, it was the largest truck plant in the world at that time.
1931 - GMC took over production of Buick 6-cylinder engines. Buick was then using only straight 8s in cars.
1931 - Chevrolet cabs and front sheet metal were used on GMC light and medium models for the first time.
1931 - Two extra heavy duty models were added: A 4x2 rated at 38,000 lbs. GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight) and a 6x4 at 50,000 lbs. GVWR.
1931-1940 - GMC built up to 21 models of truck trailer chassis They also made 5th wheel couplers.
1933 - GMC designed and built 6-cylinder valve-in-head engines in 8 sizes, from 221 to 707 cid. They were used in all GMC truck models that year.
1934-1937 - Oldsmobile 6-cylinder L-head engines were used in GMC light and some medium duty trucks.
1936 - Major changes appeared in all GMC conventional cab models. 15 new models were released, including 1/2-ton pickup and panel trucks with Olds engines. All other models had GMC engines that were in nine sizes from 239 to 707 cid.
1936 - GMC provided the first 187 1-1/2-ton 4-wheel drive military trucks to the U.S. Army.
1937 - GMC introduced the Suburban Carryall light utility vehicle. It had 2 doors; 3 bench seats were available.
1937 - Hydraulic brakes replaced mechanical brakes on light models.
1939 - The first Detroit Diesel 3-71 and 4-71 engines were available in heavier models.
1940 - 33 models with tandem rear axles were added, along with 11 "Trunk Line Tractor" models.
1940 - Production of three new small block engines began: 236, 256, 270 cid.
1940 - Detroit Diesel 6-71 engines were released for the heaviest models.
6x6 trucks for the U.S. Army. Most were powered by the GMC 270 cid engine that became famous as the "workhorse" engine of Army trucks.
1941-1945 - GMC produced nearly 584,000 multi-drive military vehicles for World War II.
1942 - In June, all civilian truck production was suspended by the U.S. Government.
GMC amphibious 6x6 "Ducks" was delivered to the U.S. Army. Based on the GMC 2-1/2-ton 6x6 chassis, they were used in many sea-land invasions and river crossings.
1944 - GMC received the Army-Navy "E" award for excellence in the War effort.
1944 - Gen. Dwight Eisenhower included GMC 6x6 trucks and "Ducks" in the list of the six machines that contributed the most toward winning World War II.
1944 - Limited production of heavy trucks for civilian use resumed under tight U.S. Government control.
1945 - Government restrictions on civilian truck production were lifted midyear. GMC began building a limited selection of "Victory" light trucks, basically carried over from 1942, without chrome trim.
1945 - The UAW/CIO struck GM and its suppliers, resulting in loss of six months of production.
1947 - Midyear, redesigned "F" series light and medium duty models came out with many improvements.
1947 - Restyling included distinctive "Bumper Bar" grilles.
1949 - The GMC lineup then included 75 models with GVW ratings from 4,600 to 75,000 lbs.
1950 - Two new heavy duty diesel tractor models were released with medium duty cabs and DD 4-71 engines. They became the best selling tractors in their class because they weighed and cost less than competition. McLean Trucking Co. of Winston Salem, North Carolina bought 287 of them.
1951 - GMC provided over 9,000 military vehicles for the Korean War. Most were M-135 family 2-1/2-ton 6x6 trucks with GMC 302 cid gas engines, Hydra-Matic transmissions and deep water fording ability.
1952 - GMC celebrated 50 years of building trucks, starting with the first Rapid truck sold in 1902.
1953 - The heaviest GMC model was rated at 63,000 lbs. GVW and 100,000 lbs. GCW (Gross Combination Weight)
1953 - Hydra-Matic automatic transmissions became available in many models. The 4-speed version was applied to light and medium duty models and a 7-speed model was offered in heavies.
1954 - The base GMC 6-cylinder engine used in light trucks was upgraded from 228 to 248 cid.
1954 - Power steering was first offered as an option in many models.
1956 - Tubless tires were made standard on all GMC trucks. Later, options for tube type were released.
1957 - The first factory installed 4-wheel drive was available on light duty models. 1957 - GMC pioneered air suspension on front and rear axles of some heavy models.
1958 - COE models with sleeper cabs became known as "Cannon Balls" after a TV series starred one.
1958 - Allison Torqmatic 6-speed automatic transmissions replaced Hydra-Matics in medium duties.
1959 - Two new heavy duty Diesel tractors were released, featuring tilting aluminum cabs-over-engine and front and rear air suspension with independent front suspension. Due to lighter weight and, on one model, set-back front axle, they could carry considerably more payload than other tractors.
1960 - Most models were powered by a completely new family of GMC V6 and V12 gasoline engines.
1960 - V6s were 305, 351 and 401 cid and the V12 was 702 cid, rated at 275 hp.
1960 - Detroit Diesel 6V-71 engines were available in most heavy models.
1961 - Detroit Diesel 8V-71 engines were offered in the aluminum tilt cab models with up to 290 gross hp.
1962 - A 4-wheel-drive medium duty model was added.
1962 - The 478 V6 gas engine lineup was added as an option in medium-heavy models
1963 - Coil springs replaced torsion bars in light duty 4x2 front ends and leaf springs returned to the rear.
1963 - In medium duties, I-beam front axles with leaf springs came back, replacing torsion bar IFS.
1963 - Chevrolet 230 cid inline 6 engines appeared as base equipment in GMC light trucks identified with an "I" prefix in the model designation.
1963 - Alternators superceded generators in most models.
1963 - Powerglide 2-speed automatic transmissions with torque converters replaced 4-speed Hydra-Matics in light trucks because the Hydra-Matic plant in Livonia, Michigan. was destroyed by a fire.
1964 - GMC Toroflow 351 and 478 cid V6 diesel engines were first offered in medium duty trucks.
1966 - New 3-speed Hydra-Matic automatic transmissions with torque converters replaced Powerglides.
1966 - Totally new heavy duty conventional cab models superceded prior heavies. Two hood lengths were available with either 92 or 114 inch BBC (bumper to back of cab).
1966 - A new 275 hp 637 cid V8 gas engine replaced the 702 V12 and two 637 diesels were added to the heavy duty line.
1967 - A new "E" model series of medium duty trucks was announced.
1967 - A large number of forward control bus chassis was built for U.S. Army ambulances.
1968 - GMC ranked 3rd in total U.S. truck sales.
1968 - GMC began building all Chevrolet medium and heavy duty trucks in the main plant in Pontiac.
1968 - A full range of Chevrolet engines was available in GMC light trucks, from a 140 hp 230 cid L6 to a 310 hp 396 cid V8. Many models were cancelled that year due to low sales volumes.
1970 - Cummins diesel engines were added to the Detroit Diesels available in HD conventional cab models.
1970 - The Allison AT540 4-speed automatic transmission with torque converter was released for medium duty and schoolbus models.
1970-1975 - GMC tested Detroit Diesel gas turbine engines in Astros but did not release them for production because initial and fuel costs were higher than for diesel engines.
1971 - Disc front brakes became standard on most light duty models, improving stopping ability.
1971 - Astro-Aire rear suspensions were optional with certain tandem rear axles, saving over 1,000 lbs. and providing smoother ride.
1972 - GMC was in 4th place among U.S. light truck manufacturers.
1974 - All remaining GMC V6 and V8 engines were cancelled. Gas engines were replaced by Chevrolet's.
1975 - The first world wide fuel shortage crisis caused a downturn in full size light truck sales.
1976 - Caterpillar V8 diesel engines were offered in upper end medium duty models.
1977 - The totally new General heavy duty conventional cab series was introduced. Featuring roomy aluminum cabs and long hoods, they were designed to compete against West Coast trucks. Two hood lengths were offered: 108 or 116 inch BBC.
1978 - The Caballero light pickup replaced the Sprint.
1978 - Olds V8 diesel engines were released for 1/2-ton pickups. Poor performance and reliability resulted in early cancellation.
1979 - GMC was in 3rd place in U.S. total truck sales.
1980 - A recession and trucking industry deregulation resulted in lower sales of heavy duty trucks. In the next three years many trucking companies ceased operation so many good used trucks were available.
1981 - Full size pickups, Jimmys and Suburbans received new front end sheet-metal and grilles. Uplevel trim packages included dual stacked headlamps.
1981 - Steel tilt cab models were dropped after over 20 years of production.
1982 - Chevrolet Truck Engineering was absorbed into GMC Truck Engineering under the Engineering Operation of Truck & Bus Vehicle Operation.
1982 - 1.9L and 2.5L L4 and 2.8L V6 gas engines and a 2.2L diesel were available in S-15s.
1982 - Chevrolet built 6.2L V8 diesel engines were available in most full size light trucks.
1983 - GMC was the official truck of the XXIII Olympiad.
1983 - The Aero Astro package was offered, including a Dragfoiler air deflector on the cab roof plus side panels closing the gap between tractor and trailer to save fuel by reducing air drag.
1983 - Light and medium duty sales rebounded after a brief economic slump.
1984 - GMC began marketing the Isuzu-built Forward medium truck with tilting cab-over-engine.
1984 - Heavy truck sales surged up as the industry recovered from the effects of deregulation.
1985 - Medium duty conventional cab truck production moved from the Opdyke Road plant to the main assembly plant and combined with heavy truck production.
1986 - GM formed a joint venture with Volvo of Sweden to build and market heavy duty trucks.
1987 - GMC Truck & Coach Operation was renamed GMC Truck Div. of the GM Truck & Bus Group.
1987 - The Vortec 4.3L V6 gas engine became available in S-15 models.
1987 - Astro and General heavy truck production was discontinued because those series were cancelled.
1988 - Phaseout of the old style pickups (then called the R or V model) began.
1988 - Production of the Brigadier series at Pontiac ended. Thus GMC was out of the heavy truck business for the first time since 1911.
1989 - A modified S-15 pickup set new class speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
1989 - An improved TopKick medium duty series was released, replacing the old "C" series. GVW ratings ran from 22,000 to 54,000 lbs. Production of the new models moved from the main plant in Pontiac to Janesville, Wisconsin. As a result the main Pontiac plant closed down and later was demolished except for the steel framework of the main building that became the support for a new Truck Product (Engineering) Center. The GMC Adminstration Building, built in 1927-28, was also torn down.
1989 - Group headquarters were then in the Phoenix Center in Pontiac.
1990 - Safari vans were available with all-wheel drive.
1990 - Electronic fuel injection replaced throttle body injection or carburetors on gas engines, improving fuel economy and performance.
1990 - A Sierra pickup with a modified engine won its class in "The Race to the Clouds"army
up Pike's Peak in Colorado.
1991 - GMC released a heavy duty light truck model to compete against the Ford "Super Duty". It was rated at 15,000 lbs. GVW.
1991 - Magnavan, Vandura Special and Rally Camper Special cutaway versions of the full size "G" van were introduced for use with high-cube or motor home bodies.
1991 - 6.2L diesel engines were replaced by new GM turbocharged 6.5L V8 diesels, rated at 150 or 190 nhp.
1991 - New heavy duty 4-speed Hydra-Matic automatic transmissions replaced 3-speed A/Ts in the heavier light trucks.
1991 - The LoPro medium duty model provided lower floor heights, ideal for rental fleets.
1991 - GMC provided over 3,000 light military trucks to the armed forces of Saudi Arabia. They were retrofitted with troop carrier or ambulance military by GM Military Vehicles Operation.
1992 - GMC announced the Typhoon high performance package based on the Jimmy SUV. The engine was a specially modified 280 nhp 4.3L V6 that was turbocharged and aftercooled.
1993 - Athough GMC Truck Div. continued to market GMC trucks, the GM North American Truck Platforms replaced the Truck & Bus Group as the manufacturer of GM trucks..
1993 - Electronically controlled automatic transmissions were available in most light duty models, providing improved performance and economy.
1996 - GMC Truck Div. merged with Pontiac Motor Div. to form the Pontiac-GMC Div. of General Motors.
1996 - The word "Truck" was deleted from the GMC brand name as emphasis was on selling GMC vehicles to replace passenger cars.
1996 - A third door option was available on Sierra Club Coupe pickups.
1996 - A new series of Vortec gasoline engines featuring sequencial central port fuel injection for improved performance and economy was released in light trucks.
1997 - Bi-fuel provisions were available on Sierras to run on either gasoline or compressed natural gas.
1997 - Electronic shift controls were available for transfer cases in most 4-wheel drive models.
1997 - All commercial truck production was consolidated in the Flint plant so Janesville could build more SUVs. Totally new Savana full size "G" vans replaced the old Rally/Vandura models.
1997 - Upgraded "C" series medium duty conventional cab models superceded the TopKick line. Maxiumum GVWR was 61,000 lbs. for the 6x4 model. Gas and diesel engines up to 300 ghp were available. Thus, GMC re-entered the Class 8 heavy truck market after an absence of nine years.
1998 - Production of 1999 model year Yukons started in January of 1998 to avoid penalties for not meeting CAFE fuel ecomony requirements. Also the 2-door version of the Yukon was cancelled.
2000 - Following the new Sierra release were new full-size SUVs. Totally redesigned Yukon and Yukon XL models shared front end sheet-metal and other parts with Sierras, including the new V8 engines. The longer XL version replaced the Suburban. (Chevrolet continued to use the Suburban name).
2000 - In the "C" medium duties, a 7.4L V8 gas engine was available with either 210 or 270 nhp. A new Duramax 7.8L L6 diesel was used in the "T" series and a CAT L6 diesel could be ordered in either "C" or "T" models with ghp ratings from 175 to 300.
2001 - The upscale Denali package was added to options available on Yukon/Yukon XL, providing even greater luxury with upscale features.
2001 - Heavy duty light trucks based on the new Sierra series with GVWRs up to 12,000 lbs. were added.
2001 - A 340 nhp 8.1L V8 gas engine and a 300 nhp Duramax V8 diesel were optional in those new models.
2001 - The 8.1L engine was also available in the 3/4-ton Yukon XL, making it the best SUV for trailer towing.
2001 - Mid-year, GMC announced the all-new Envoy midsized SUV as a 2002 model, powered by a new 270 nhp Vortec 4.2L inline 6-cylinder engine.
2002 - GMC celebrated the Centennial for GMC trucks, counting from the sale of the first truck built by the Grabowsky brothers in 1902.
After 100 years in business, GMC continues to provide motor vehicles that excel in value, quality, performance, economy of operation, carrying capability, comfort, reliability and styling.
The past for GMC is memorable. Old GMC trucks are very collectable. Many of them appear in antique truck shows. General Motors has several historic GMC vehicles in their Heritage Fleet that are displayed in the GM Heritage Center and in many vehicle shows.
With continued strong owner loyality the future for the GMC brand vehicles appears bright.
Many features listed were shared with Chevrolet trucks.
Except in the early years dates in the left column generally were model years and not calendar years.
Names in italics are tradenames registered by General Motors.
Schoolbus and walk-in delivery models were not included for brevity. They were available except in early years.