Historic Truck Brands


GMC’s beginnings were back in 1902, when Max Grabowsky sold his first truck to the American Garment Cleaning Company of Detroit. Later that year, the Grabowsky Motor Vehicle Company was renamed the Rapid Motor Vehicle Company. 

By 1904, Rapid had turned out 75 trucks from its factory in Pontiac, Michigan.

During 1908, General Motors founder William C Durant began buying up Rapid’s stock and the company was soon aligned with GM’s sales force. 

GM was growing quickly and took over Rapid to kick off GM’s in-house truck business in 1909: the same year that a Rapid truck made headlines by climbing to the top of Pike’s Peak. 

The GMC brand, standing for General Motors Truck Company, was first seen on trucks in 1912.

In 1916, William Warwick drove a GMC truck carrying a ton of Carnation canned milk from Seattle, Washington, to New York and back. The 1-1/2-ton model was on the road a total of 21 weeks and went more than 9500 miles. 

Fifty years later, professionals driving 1966 GMC trucks retraced Warwick’s route. The same trip took them six days!

GMC’s 3/4-ton Model 16 became the U.S. Army’s standard AA truck in 1917. It served mostly as a World War One battlefield ambulance. GMC also contributed searchlight trucks, cargo trucks and troop carriers to the war effort.

In 1925, General Motors’ top management noticed that bus manufacturing was a fast-growing business. The executives engineered a merger with Yellow Cab Manufacturing Company, of Chicago. This led to the formation of Yellow Truck & Coach Manufacturing Company, with the General Motors Truck Company as a subsidiary.

The Division manufactured interurban coaches until 1980 and transit bus production ended in May 1987. The Canadian plant produced buses from 1962 until July 1987. 

During 1927, “Cannonball” Baker broke the record for an Atlantic-to-Pacific run by driving a six-cylinder-powered GMC 2-ton tanker from New York to San Francisco in 138 hours. Four years later, a refrigerated GMC truck and trailer operated by Southern California Freight Lines carried the first transcontinental shipment of refrigerated produce over the same route, in 117 hours.

During the 1930s, GMC made everything from 1/2-ton pickups to 10-ton trucks and trailer chassis. A significant model was the Suburban Carryall, which combined car-like convenience with the utility of a truck. 

Two-toned trucks with Art Deco ‘stream-style and dual-tone color design’ were big hits in 1937, especially decorating new cab-over-engine models.

With the outbreak of World War II, Yellow Truck & Coach started making six-wheel-drive military trucks. Between 1941 and 1945, 529,100 of these 2-1/2-ton ‘Jimmys’ were built in different lengths, configurations and body styles, including cargo trucks, dump trucks, tankers, bomb transporters and fire engines. 

An amphibious version called the DUKW – and nicknamed the ‘Duck’ – was developed in 43 days. It proved to be so good that some 21,000 were built and earned fame in combat. 

In September 1943, GM bought out the assets of Yellow Truck & Coach and renamed it GMC Truck & Coach Division.


Light trucks

Postwar American prosperity was reflected in stylish new GMC ‘dream trucks’ like the 1957 Suburban pickup, 1958 Wideside pickup and Handi Van of the early 1960s. Increased leisure time spurred sales of Suburbans, vans, pickup-campers, motor homes and all types of off-road models. 

The famous Jimmy name was resurrected to identify GMC’s first real Sport Utility Vehicle, which premiered in 1970. The big news for 1972 was the Sprint, which combined the features of a sedan with those of a pickup truck.

GMC celebrated 75 years of design, engineering and production innovation during its Diamond Anniversary in 1977. An advertisement noted that GMC employees were known as the ‘truck people within General Motors’. The 1977 line offered: ‘Models from 1/2-ton to 3-1/2-tons and trucks for people, trucks for freight, trucks for fun’.

A new compact pickup called the S-15 was GM’s response to the imported-mini-pickup sales threat in 1982. The S-15 Jimmy followed in 1983. 

GMC’s Safari van, in 1985 was another compact model described as a ‘personal-size, mid-size people mover that’s garageable’. New ruggedness and dependability was promised in an all-new C/K full-size pickup that GMC launched in 1988.

GMC continued to refine its products in the 1990s with aerodynamic styling enhancements, more efficient engineering and high-performance trucks like the 1991 Syclone. New model names were a trend, with the C/K pickup becoming the Sierra, the S-15 becoming the Sonoma, the Jimmy becoming the Yukon and the Rally/Vandura van becoming the Savana. 

In Australia, the 1992 GMC K-2500 4WD was trialled in NSW. Following Ford’s decision to discontinue importing the F-150 Down Under. The trial vehicles were fitted with fibreglass ambulance bodywork from Jakab Industries in Tamworth NSW.

Back in the US of A, new Envoy and Yukon Denali models appeared. In 1996, the GMC and Pontiac divisions were merged. Two years later, division headquarters were relocated to General Motors’ headquarters at the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit. 

GMC entered the New Millennium as official sponsor of the US Olympic team. The name Classic Sierra was applied to its large 2000 pickups. The GMC Suburban got GMT800 styling and became the Yukon XL while the regular Yukon was redesigned.


Heavy trucks

In 1966, GMC Truck and Coach introduced its first dedicated heavy-duty trucks, moving away from trucks adapted from the smaller C/K line. Two lines used a common cab, the H/J-Series (93-inch BBC) and the C/M-Series (112-inch BBC).

Using a longer bonnet, the C/M-series trucks were designed to accommodate larger diesel engines, including the Cummins NH and Cummins V903, and the Detroit Diesel 8V71. The centre-hinged ‘butterfly’ bonnet of the H/J-series was replaced on the C/M by a front-hinged fibreglass bonnet.

Following the introduction of the medium-duty C/K in 1973, the 112-inch BBC truck was consolidated to the M-Series.

During 1977 and 1978, GMC Truck & Coach further split its heavy-duty truck range. The Chevrolet M90/GMC M9500 were replaced by the Chevrolet Bison and GMC General in 1977, and the H/J range was renamed Chevrolet Bruin/GMC Brigadier in 1978.

The Chevrolet Bison and GMC General were Class 8 conventional trucks. Produced with an all-aluminium Budd-built cab, the trucks were available in different combinations: two bonnet configurations(108-inch or 116-inch BBC); day cab, 34-inch sleeper cab and walk-in sleeper cab.

Petrol engines were dropped and the Detroit Diesel 6-71 (later replaced by the 6V92) was the standard engine, with Cummins N-series, or Detroit Diesel 8V71 and 8V92 as options. Following its introduction in the GMC Astro, the Caterpillar 3406 was introduced in 1982.

When introduced in 1977, the Bison/General were also available from dealers as ‘glider kits’: a complete truck with the exception of the engine, transmission and rear axles; allowing the buyer to install an existing powertrain or to allow for powertrain customisation not available from a dealership.

The GMC General’s market acceptance was much better than the Chevrolet Bison’s, so in 1981 General Motors ended production of the Chevrolet Bruin, Bison, and Titan. 

A major factor leading to this cancellation was lack of product support by Chevrolet dealers. In contrast to other GM brands, a key requirement of GMC franchisees of the time was the ability to sell and service the entire GMC product line. In addition to selling and servicing light trucks, a GMC franchise needed to support medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks, GMC motorhomes, P-chassis and school bus chassis. For a typical GM dealership, this meant dedicating resources that would have otherwise supported selling and servicing passenger cars.

In 1986, Volvo AB entered into a joint venture with General Motors in heavy-truck production, with Volvo taking an 85-percent stake. 

Volvo had already acquired the White Motor Company in 1980 and its new joint venture became Volvo-GM Heavy Truck Corporation, selling trucks under the combined White-GMC product badge. 

Under the joint venture, GMC trucks were phased out in favour of White-designed Volvo-GM products. In 1987, the final GMC General was produced, followed by the Brigadier in 1988 (badged as a WhiteGMC). 

Volvo-GM produced the White-GMC WC/WI Class 8 conventional until 2000, in various forms, branded White, White-GMC, Autocar and Volvo.

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