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Small Truck, Big Impact

The GMC S15 is fondly remembered as GMC’s small pickup from 1982 to 2005. In the 1970s, the Arab oil embargo led to rising gasoline prices and rationing. Smaller pickup trucks that used less gas suddenly had greater market appeal. GM was the first of the big three US automakers to respond to this demand by selling rebadged Isuzu pickups as the Chevy LUV. 

Small pickups remained popular into the ‘80s, so GM set about developing its own small pickup. The result was the GMC S15 its sibling the Chevy S10. At first, the S15 and the S10 were nearly identical other than some exterior trim. 

The S15 was never flashy, but it was practical. At first, it was available with a gas-saving inline-four engine from the Chevy Cavalier. This was eventually replaced with Pontiac’s “Iron Duke” four-cylinder. The Iron Duke was joined by a 2.8L V6 and a 4.3L V6. The 4.30L proved to be a popular choice over the rest of the truck’s lifespan. 

Other options that became available in the S15’s first generation were an extended cab and four-wheel drive. GM eventually spun-off a series of SUVs built on the S15 chassis: the Chevy Blazer, GMC Jimmy, and Oldsmobile Bravada. 

The Power Pickup

In 1991, the S15 was renamed the Sonoma. That same year, GMC released a performance version of the S15 called the Syclone. The Syclone added a Mitsubishi turbocharger to the 4.3L V6, bringing it up to 280 horsepower. The Syclone only came in all-wheel drive (AWD) and had a lowered suspension. The lowered suspension made it less useful as a truck, limiting the load capacity, but it was hard to argue with the Syclone’s speed. Car and Driver noted that the Syclone could beat a contemporary Ferrari 348ts in a quarter mile drag race. Fewer than 3,000 Syclones were produced and they remain highly collectable.

The Sonoma GT was also available as a slightly less raucous version of the Syclone. It was rear-wheel drive and lacked the Syclone’s turbo, but still had 195 hp from the 4.3L and an aggressively geared limited slip differential. 

Small but Special

GMC updated the Sonoma in 1995. Much of the chassis remained the same as the first generation, although an HD version with a ladder frame also became available. The Iron Duke was replaced by a new 2.2L inline-4, and the 4.3L got an update. 


The second generation Sonoma was available in three basic trim levels: the SL with vinyl bench seats, the SLS with cloth seats, A/C, and cruise control, and the SLE with chrome trim and power windows. GMC also released a Highrider package for off-roading. The Highrider featured stronger suspension and a 3 inch factory lift. The Sonoma remained popular. It was built in the US until 2005, when it was replaced by the GMC Canyon.  

GMC is a registered trademark of General Motors Company. 1A Auto is not affiliated with or sponsored by GMC or General Motors Company. See all trademarks.

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