90’s Sport Trucks, An Industry Fail.

The pick up truck is America’s bread and butter. Used by farmers, construction workers, and millions of hard working men and women everywhere. But what happens when you want a sports car, but need a truck? American manufacturers, Chevrolet and Ford, tried to answer that question in the 90s.

Chevy 454SS

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Chevrolet saw the gap in the pickup truck market. There was no “sporty” trucks at the time. So, they took the standard 1/2 ton single cab chassis, stuck the largest engine they had into it, and called it the 454SS. The “454” in “454SS” rather obviously stands for the 454 cubic inch (7.4L) engine they put into it.

You would think a 7.4L would put down at least 350 or 400 horsepower, especially since it was supposed to be a sporty truck. However, the 454ci put down a hilariously small 230 horsepower and 385 ft-lbs of torque. That is a lot of torque, but 230 horsepower is just pathetic by any standards.

The 454SS was only available in black, with a red interior, and GM only made 17,000 of them. So, yes they do have a collector value due to being rare, but serve no legitimate purpose in the real world. It’s low, heavy, loud, sucks up gas, and isn’t even that fast. Let’s be honest, its not very pretty either.

Performance Data:

  • Horsepower: 230 horsepower
  • Torque: 385 lb-ft of torque
  • Weight: 4,400 lbs
  • 0-60mph: 7.1 seconds
  • 1/4 mile: 15.6 seconds @ 87 mph

Ford Lightning

sporttruck2

 

Ford answered back with the SVT Lightning, which was very similar to the 454SS. The Lightning was also a single cab, short bed truck, and could only be had that way. Ford had a slightly different recipe for their sport truck. They used the existing 351W (5.8L), but added GT-40 heads from the Mustang Cobra,and stronger pistons. The lightning put down 240 horsepower, and 340 ft-lbs of torque.

The 351W under the hood of the lightning makes slightly more horsepower than the 454SS, but slightly less torque. It is impressive that the Lightning makes more horsepower with less displacement, but it’s still weak compared to any other engine, especially modern engines.

The SVT Lighting was only available in black, white, and red. Ford only produced 11,500 of the 1st gen lightning, making it even more rare than a 454SS. Later down the line Ford also produced the Harley Davidson edition, which was basically a 4-door Lightning

Performance Data:

  • Horsepower: 240 horsepower
  • Torque: 340 lb-ft of torque
  • Weight: 4,300 lbs
  • 0-60mph: 7.6 seconds
  • 1/4 mile: 15.6 seconds @ 87 mph

GMC Syclone

sporttruck3

Out of all the sports trucks in the 90s I think the Syclone is the coolest. It was a light duty truck which meant it weighed less than the 454SS and Lightning. It was also very unique because its power plant was nothing like the other two. The Syclone used a single turbo 4.3L, which produced an impressive 280 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque.

The Syclone was also unique because it was all-wheel-drive, and had a 4-wheel ABS system which was a first ever for a pickup truck. Many automotive magazines at the time found the Syclone’s acceleration to be comparable to the Corvette, and even some Ferrari models.

Unfortunately the Syclone only lasted 2 years of production. Around 3,000 Syclones were produced, with only a few being a color other than black. Out of all the sports trucks the Syclone was definitely the fastest, and most innovative with its AWD system and advanced ABS system.

Performance Data:

  • Horsepower: 280 horsepower
  • Torque: 350 lb-ft of torque
  • Weight: 3,550 lbs
  • 0-60mph: 5.3 seconds
  • 1/4 mile: 14.1 seconds @ 93 mph

Summary

All of these trucks are very interesting in concept, but just don’t work in the real word. The chassis of the pickup truck was never designed to handle well, so sticking a powerful-ish engine under the hood really just makes the problem worse. Dodge later attempted the same with their SRT-10 Ram, but that also ultimately failed.

It’s clear that off-road style trucks are much more appealing to the public. Ford’s Raptor has been a massive success since it was released in 2009. It has become clear that sport trucks will never really catch on in the automotive world.

Let me know what you think of sports trucks down in the comments below!

About Bryce Cleveland 411 Articles
Bryce founded Dust Runners Automotive Journal in 2014 as a way to write about the cars he found interesting. He currently owns a 2003 Honda CRF450R Supermoto, 2006 Nissan 350Z, and a 2018 Yamaha MT09. Follow him on Instagram for more @bryce.cleveland.

10 Comments

  1. You forgot about the Cyclone. It wasn’t a full size pickup but it got the sport part right. It beat a Ferrari in a automotive magazine test. It didn’t last long though, probably for the same reasons you gave for the others. But they don’t give up on the idea. Dodge received it in the 00s with the Ram S/T10.

    • You are correct, I did completely forget about the Syclone, I just updated the article to include the GMC Syclone, enjoy!

      • Thanks, of all the trucks the cyclone would be one I would like to get. I think some of the problem was that at that time US auto industries didn’t invest much time in a vehicle. If it did not sell in big numbers instantly they were moving on to the next thing. By the time I had heard of a Cyclone it was already out of production. OK I was a kid and couldn’t buy a vehicle but I was very into cars then so knew of a lot of cool vehicles.

  2. you are incorrect on the 454SS truck colors, black was the only color option in 90 and 91, in 92 and 93 they were available in Black, Red, and White (I have a true white one gray interior verified) and in the white you could get Blue, Gray, or Tan interior. I disagree that they are an “industry fail” all of the trucks you listed have a huge following just try and find or buy one. And were fairly quick for a full size truck weighing in at almost 4500 pounds most of the early 90s sports cars (Camaros/Mustangs) weren’t turning in 1/4 mile numbers much better than 15 seconds.

      • I worked for a company that remanufactured the 4l60 transmission for G.M. We we’re amazed when we starting seeing output shafts twisted.Found out they came from the syclone.We knew that was one hot truck

  3. Kind of stupid to compare power standards of emission-choked trucks from the 90’s that were never meant to be “clean” or “efficient” like modern cars are built to do. These engines are just variants of the gas sucking carbureted engines of days past. for them to make anything higher than the 215 mark in the 90’s was considered very powerful for a truck, regardless of today’s power standards.

  4. I talked with the hesd GM truck at the time, he said
    GM built the Syclone to bring people into the dealership
    They didn’t see a large, long term market for the Syclone or Typoon. Look at the Buick GNX and compare the running gear of the three. They were and are some serious vehicles

  5. These trucks were the opposite of fails. They made driving trucks & suv’s cool to majority middle class America instead of just a hotrodding niche. The truck/suv ‘cool factor’ in the 90s became the norm in the 2000s and by the 2020s we see US manufacturer car sales are nearly dead while SUV/Crossovers/trucks are ubiquitous. These trucks made that possible.

    (You also forgot the Dodge Shelby Dakota and another one I can’t remember.)

    These vehicles took fuel injected performance of the day to a new level… IN TRUCKS. Which had never been factory performance vehicles across multiple manufacturers at once.

    The sport truck and mini truck early 90s craze was significant and the performance was only overshadowed by the up-and-coming technology of port fuel injection and valvetrain advancements (Ford DOHCs, Honda DOHCs, GM’s LS motors, E36 M3 VVT & Mitsubishi VVT/turbine tech, etc). These trucks were kings of the road in 1989-1992. Nothing could touch them. Id go back and reassess how these trucks & marketing swayed the avg middle class American to jump on the SUV train that followed witg Isuzu (=Honda/Acura), Ford (=Mazda/Merc), and GM leading the way in the mid/late 90s.

  6. You forgot the 03-07 Silverado SS.. it’s 2wd and awd system and 6.0 engine still make decent power, you can do smoky burnouts and still seat 5 people since it’s ext cab, it also had a 9000 lbs towing capacity so it was nice to tow a boat or a race car to the track with your sport truck and it is still desirable today for it’s clean style. The 99-04 Lightning with its 5.4 supercharged engine is no joke even for today’s cars it will still keep up to some modern sports cars, the towing capacity or seating isn’t as great as the SS but it does make a 30hp more weights less since it only came out single cab.. prices for these trucks are still around 15k for a decent example and people still buy them since they do stand out of the crowd and are not that common to see on the roads today.

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