Monday, 18 Jan 2021

Chevrolet 454SS Pickup and GMC Syclone

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Chevrolet 454SS Pickup

While GMC took to the technological high road by employing a Euro-style approach (turbocharging and all-wheel drive) to develop the Syclone, its high-performance pickup, Chevrolet chose to do things the old-fashioned, all-American way. Reasoning that there is no substitute for cubic inches, especially in writing ad copy aimed at the muscle truck crowd, they stuffed a big-block V-8 under the hood of a standard-sized pickup.

The main ingredients of the 1990 Chevrolet 454SS Pickup were a Cl 500 Series Regular Cab pickup with a 7.4-liter (454 cubic inches) V-8, automatic transmission, 15-inch chrome wheels with performance radial tires, and a fancy interior.  Chevrolet 454SS Pickup nomenclature may have recalled Chevy’s lusty high performance past, but the performance of the new 7.4-liter V-8 truck engine did not. In 1990, the 454SS had 230 horsepower tied to a three-speed automatic transmission to propel a 4,720-pound truck. Torque was a respectable 385 foot-pounds.

Chevrolet 454SS Pickup and GMC Syclone - photo 1
Chevrolet 454SS Pickup

Chevrolet 454SS Pickup

The best Motor Trend testers could coax out of their 1990 Chevrolet 454SS Pickup was a 0-to-60-mile-per-hour time of 7.8 seconds. At the drag strip, the big truck ran a quarter-mile in 16 seconds at 85.8 miles per hour. This was a bit of a letdown, based on expectations arising from the legendary high-performance alphanumeric badges on its flanks. The intent of this big truck could not be criticized. With its Onyx Black monochromatic paint scheme set off by the stylish chrome wheels, red SS logos, and a Garnet Red cloth interior, the Chevrolet 454SS Pickup was a handsome vehicle. It was also a pretty good deal when you consider everything that was included in the $18,295 base price.


Body/Chassis of Chevrolet 454SS Pickup – Regular Cab, 6.5-foot bed/ ladder-type frame.

Engine of Chevrolet 454SS Pickup – 7.4-liter V-8 with electronic fuel injection.

Power Ratings of Chevrolet 454SS Pickup –  255 horsepower @ 4,000 rpm, 400 ft-lbs torque @ 2,400 rpm.

Transmission of Chevrolet 454SS Pickup – Four-speed electronic automatic.

Suspension of Chevrolet 454SS Pickup – Front: Independent, coil springs, gas shocks, stabilizer bar. Rear: Semifloating rear axle, multileaf springs, gas shocks.

Wheels/Tires of Chevrolet 454SS Pickup – 15×7-inch; P275/60 R15.

Brakes of Chevrolet 454SS Pickup – Disc/drum with rear ABS.

Wheelbase of Chevrolet 454SS Pickup – 117.5 inches.

Length of Chevrolet 454SS Pickup – 194.1 inches.

EPA Fuel Economy, City/Highway of Chevrolet 454SS Pickup – 10/12 miles per gallon.

Chevrolet 454SS Pickup and GMC Syclone - photo 2
Chevrolet 454SS Pickup

Chevrolet 454SS Pickup

Chevrolet 454SS Pickup may not have brought pavement-ripping performance, but it did provide a nicely equipped sport luxury truck. The mechanicals included the fuel-injected V-8, three-speed automatic transmission, a locking 3.73 rear differential, performance-handling package with front stabilizer bar, variable-ratio power steering, and coolers for the engine oil and transmission. Five 15×7-inch chrome wheels and P275/60 HR15 tires (including the spare) were also part of the package deal. Although the carrying capacity of the 6.5-foot cargo bed was reduced almost in half to a bit over 1,000 pounds by suspension and tires that were geared toward handling, not hauling, the Chevrolet 454SS Pickup still maintained a decent portion of its functionality.

The exterior trim was basically the high-end Silverado trim package with a blacked-out grille and other chrome items. The bumpers were painted black. A front air dam included fog lamps, and halogen headlights and a sliding rear window were also part of the package. The Silverado decor was carried over to the interior of the Chevrolet 454SS Pickup. Special upgrades were the Garnet Red luxury cloth high-back reclining bucket seats and center console. A four-spoke sport steering wheel with tilt; tachometer; cruise control; air conditioning; intermittent wipers; power locks, doors, and windows added to the luxurious cabin.

Rounding out the high level of creature comforts was a highend stereo system including an electronically tuned AM/FM radio with cassette player and graphic equalizer. The Chevrolet 454SS Pickup was also the official pace truck of the 1990 Indianapolis 500. A decal set commemorating this feature was available. In 1991, Chevrolet made significant changes to the Chevrolet 454SS Pickup powertrain that upgraded its performance to match its appearance. The 7.4-liter V-8 received a new one-piece intake manifold with a relocated throttle body injector. A dual exhaust system helped boost power output to 255 horsepower at 4,000 rpm, and 400 foot-pounds of torque at 2,400 rpm.

Chevrolet 454SS Pickup and GMC Syclone - photo 3
Chevrolet 454SS Pickup
Chevrolet 454SS Pickup and GMC Syclone - photo 4
Chevrolet 454SS Pickup

Chevrolet 454SS Pickup

The 4L80-E heavy-duty electronic four-speed automatic transmission was also new. This “smart” transmission was able to compensate for variations in temperature, altitude, and engine performance to enhance performance, reliability, and fuel consumption. Straight-line performance was also improved, and a 4.10:1 rear axle and Bilstein gas shocks alsobecame part  of the 454SS package. For 1992, the Chevrolet 454SS Pickup was available in red and white exterior colors, as well as black.

When Motor Trend tested a 1993 Chevrolet 454SS Pickup, the price had risen to $21,240, but the level of performance had also increased. The 0-to-60 time had come down to a respectable 7.2 seconds, and the quarter-mile was reached in 15.8 seconds at 84.7 miles per hour. This was the last hurrah for the muscular truck, which was not offered the next year. Despite strong sales of almost 14,000 units in 1990, Chevy was only able to sell a little more than 3,000 total units over the next three model years. So for 1994, the Cl 500 pickup went back to its day job as a work truck and the 454SS nomenclature was returned to Chevy’s hall of fame.

GMC Syclone

Like a real cyclone, the GMC Syclone suddenly stormed onto the sport-truck scene, kicking up a lot of dust accompanied by the wail of its turbocharged V-6, and then just as quickly it was gone. GM built only 2,995 Syclones (“5” indicating the SI 5 pickup body on which it was based) from January through July 1991. Despite all the sporty pickups that have come and gone since then, no one has built a faster truck. Although the body configuration required the top speed to be limited to 126 miles per hour, accelcould do 0 to 60 miles per hour in under 5 seconds eration tests by Motor Trend show the Syclone was capable of 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4.9 seconds with a quarter-mile time of 13.6 seconds at 98.6 miles per hour.

Chevrolet 454SS Pickup and GMC Syclone - photo 5
GMC Syclone

GMC Syclone

Motivating the Syclone was a turbocharged, beefed-up version of the 4. 3-liter Vortec V-6 found in more mundane GMC pickups. The engine featured a compression ratio of 8.35:1 and an electronically controlled, multiport fuel injection. This was the dawning of the electronics age for engine management systems. By using this system, GM was able to minimize turbo lag. A liquid-cooled intercooler assisted in getting horsepower up to 280 at 4,400 rpm. The torque was equally as impressive with 350 foot-pounds at 3,600 rpm. Handling all this power was a recalibrated version of GM’s TH700-R4 lourspeed automatic with overdrive as used in the Corvette. The final drive ratio was 3.42. GM’s high-tech approach to building its sport pickup continued when all that turbo power was delivered by the automatic transmission. No squirrelly rear-wheel driving antics for this powerful pickup.


Body Regular Cab, Shortbed pickup

Engine 4.3-liter V-6 with turbocharger, intercooler, and multiport fuel injection

Power Ratings

– 280 horsepower @ 4,200 rpm

360 ft-lbs torque @ 3,600 rpm

Transmission Four-speed automatic with overdrive; all-wheel drive

Suspension Front: Independent, torsion bars

Rear: Semi-elliptic, two-stage multileaf springs

Wheels/Tires 16×8-inch aluminum; P245/50 VR16

Brakes Front disc/rear drum with four-wheel ABS

Curb Weight 3,613 pounds

Wheelbase 108.3 inches

Length 180.5 inches

EPA Fuel Economy, City/Highway 14/17 miles per gallon

Chevrolet 454SS Pickup and GMC Syclone - photo 6
GMC Syclone

GMC Syclone

The Syclone had full-time, all-wheel drive. It also had a front disc/rear drum brake setup that included ABS at all four corners—a rarity even in cars at the time, let alone trucks. While most sport pickups tend to emulate muscle cars, the Syclone was trying to be a Porsche 959 with a cargo bed. Other refinements included with the Syclone were aluminum I6x8-inch wheels wrapped in P245/50 VR16 performance tires. The Si 5 Regular Cab pickup body was draped in a monochromatic black paint scheme and received special trim and an aerodynamic body kit, including a removable tonneau cover.

The interior upgrades consisted of special cloth bucket seats with lumbar adjustment, a leatherwrapped sport steering wheel, air conditioning, cruise control, analog instrumentation including a 120-mile-per-hour speedometer and turbo boost gauge, floor shifter, console with cup holders, and an electronically tuned AM/FM/cassette stereo with seek/scan, digital clock, and graphic equalizer. Remember, this was 1991 and the latter was just about as high tech as a factory sound system could be at the time.

Marlboro had 10 Syclones customized as part of an advertising sweepstakes promotion. These vehicles were painted PPG Hot Lick Red and had T-top roofs, Recaro seats with five-point racing harnesses, a power drop-down rear window, and a CD player. If you were not lucky enough to win a Syclone, the base price was about $25,970. Because of the changes to the suspension and the all-wheel-drive system, the cargo box load rating of a Syclone was 500 pounds. Despite the bang for the buck it delivered, the limited carrying capacity of the Syclone was probably a contributing factor to its short production life.

Chevrolet 454SS Pickup and GMC Syclone - photo 7
GMC Syclone
Chevrolet 454SS Pickup and GMC Syclone - photo 8
GMC Syclone

GMC Syclone

To remedy this situation, GMC introduced the Typhoon, which was essentially the running gear of the Syclone mounted in a two-door Jimmy SUV body, in 1992. The Typhoon engine produced 5 more horsepower (285 horsepower) than the Syclone. The Typhoon was also geared to a more upscale crowd, with a luxurious interior including leather seats. Unlike the basic black of the Syclone, Typhoon buyers were able to choose from a wider color palette. The covered body effectively doubled the Syclones carrying capacity for people (up to five) and cargo (900 pounds). It also cost more, with sticker prices hovering around the $29,500 range.

The Typhoon weighed about 250 pounds more than the Syclone, so its performance was slightly slower, but still impressive. The Typhoon was offered in 1992 and 1993. There were 2,500 1992 models produced, and 2,200 in 1993. At the time of its debut, the Syclone may have been the answer to a question no one had thought of asking. After all, back then the phrase “sophisticated truck’ was an oxymoron. Now that light trucks make up around half of new car sales a decade later, maybe the climate is right for the Syclone to hit again.

«Modern American Muscle»

Patrick Paternie and Dan Lyons






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