The History of GMC: From Founding to the Modern GMC Truck

January 14th, 2021 by

In 1908, William Durant, owner of General Motors Company (GMC), purchased the Reliance Motor Car Company. After buying the Rapid Motor Vehicle Company in 1909, he merged the two businesses to form General Motors Truck Company. Since that time, GMC has become one of the premium manufacturers of trucks and SUVs in the USA. In this article, United Chevrolet Buick GMC traces how GMC has grown and evolved over the years through its trucks.

The Rapid: The First Commercial Truck

Produced in 1902 by Max and Morris Grabowski’s Rapid Motor Vehicle Company, the Rapid was the first commercial truck, though it was little more than a bench seat with wheels and a frame. The Rapid’s 15-horsepower engine wasn’t much compared to the trucks of today, but the Grabowskis sold 75 of them over two years, enough to pique the interest of Durant.

The 2-Ton Tanker

The 1927 2-ton truck featured curvier fenders, chrome-plated radiator trim panels, and headlights attached to the radiator. These design features were a departure from its previous boxier versions and established the GMC truck’s unique look. In 1926, A six-cylinder two-ton GMC truck completed a record-breaking run from New York to San Francisco in five days, 17.5 hours.

The Suburban Carryall

First produced by GMC in 1937, this forerunner to the modern Suburban was a landmark truck in GMC’s history. It combined the utility of a truck with a car’s capacity for carrying passengers — the best of both worlds. During this time, GMC also expanded its color options and further modified the truck’s overall design, introducing swooping fenders and a sloping grille.

The FC-102

In the 1940s, GMC provided a total of 600,000 trucks to the U.S. military over the course of the Second World War. Some of the features introduced in these models found their way into their post-war consumer trucks, such as the 1949 FC-102. These features included headlights integrated into the truck’s frame as opposed to the grille and a lower, wider body.

The 1955 100 Series

With 1955’s 100 Series, GMC introduced the V-8 engine as optional. Few buyers took the option, however, settling for the standard six-cylinder engine. Passenger cars continued to influence GMC truck design in the 1950s, with particular attention paid to performance, comfort, and safety. Distinctive features of this era include hooded headlights and a panoramic rear window.

The GMC 1000

In 1960, GMC renamed the half-ton pickup calling it the 1000. This model came with a full-width hood, a first for GMC trucks. GMC also added new styling features such as “jet-pod” grilles and a “pinched-waist” crease on each side of the body. This was also the year GMC introduced independent front suspension (IFS) to its trucks.

The 1971 Sprint

Green 1971 GMC Sprint convertible with black racing stripes in parking spot

Image via Flickr by Crown Star Images

Introduced in 1971, the Sprint was the first GMC truck produced after the passing of lower-octane unleaded gas mandates. As a result, GMC reduced engine compression and fitted a “smog pump” to the tailpipe to control emissions. Additional features available on the Sprint included air conditioning, cruise control, power locks, and power windows. These items, standard on most vehicles today, were considered “luxury” features that increased the cost of the vehicle.

The GMC Sierra 2500

The design of the GMC truck advanced further in the 1970s with the introduction of the Crew Cab. This added a second row of seats, increasing the vehicle’s passenger capacity. The GMC Sierra 2500 is a good example of this. GMC also made improvements to the overall comfort of the interior with more padding in place of bare metal. Also during the 1970s, GMC started producing heavy-duty models with dual rear axles, enabling the truck to better handle the needs of commercial customers.

The 1987 Sierra

1980 GMC Sierra pickup truck in parking spot

Image via Flickr by Crown Star Images

The 1980s saw GMC adopt “Sierra” as the name for all its full-size pickup trucks. Prior to 1987, “Sierra” was a trim style. Now it marked an updated look for the GMC pickup, with a new aerodynamic body style. This was the first major update in 14 years. Among the features on the 1987 Sierra were automatic transmission with overdrive, power steering, power brakes, air conditioning, cruise control, and a powerful fuel-injected 350 V-8 engine.

The Sonoma

In 1991, GMC’s S-15 became the Sonoma, one of many GMC brand renamings during the 1990s. The 1991 Sonoma featured a new grille, redesigned wheels, bumper rub strips, and body side moldings. A further modification to the GMC truck came later in the decade. The 1999 Sierra added a hinged third door, enabling passengers to access the rear seating without having to squeeze behind the front seats.

The 2007 Sierra 1500

GMC entered the new millennium as the official sponsor of the U.S. Olympic Team. During the decade, GMC also added new features to its trucks. One of the more significant updates was the introduction of the Duramax diesel engine, added to the Sierra HD. Also, the 2007 Sierra 1500 sported the Denali trim with a suite of power and luxury features, such as higher precision power steering and an improved chassis.

The 2018 Sierra

Black 2018 GMC Sierra pickup truck in front of blue sky

Image via Flickr by truckhardware

Bringing its trucks up to date, GMC added features throughout the 2010s in line with the latest technological advancements, particularly in safety and communication. A good example of this is the 2018 Sierra. This model included a backup camera, a 7-inch touch screen, and a tire pressure monitor with tire-fill alert. The truck also has OnStar with 4G LTE and a Wi-Fi hot spot as well as Apple CarPlay and Android connectivity standard on all trims.

Try Out the Latest GMC Trucks and SUVs at United Chevrolet Buick GMC

From little more than a bench on wheels to the sturdy, tough power vehicles of today, the history of GMC trucks tells the story not only of GMC but of the American motor industry. With every new generation, GMC has advanced the design, safety, and utility of its vehicles, from commercial and consumer trucks to SUVs. If you are interested in one of the many GMC trucks available today, be sure to contact us online or call us at 217-883-4306 for more information or to schedule a test drive.

Posted in Blog