I recently had the opportunity to drive a 25-year-old General Motors SUV, with 25-year-old General Motors styling, and a 25-year-old General Motors suspension, and 25-year-old General Motors seats, and 25-year-old General Motors window switches.
I loved it.
This is because the 25-year-old General Motors SUV I drove wasn’t your ordinary, typical, everyday 1990s GM product: It was a GMC Typhoon. Sure, on one hand, the GMC Typhoon is an aging General Motors SUV — but it’s also something else: the beginning of an era. The start of a movement. When historians look back on the world, in hundreds of years, and try to assess when eras begin, they’ll point to the bombing of Hiroshima, and they’ll point to the creation of the Internet, and they’ll point to the GMC Typhoon. "This," historians will say, "is when eras began."
Which is why, when you discuss the GMC Typhoon, its driving experience is almost secondary to its status as the grandfather of all modern sporty SUVs. See the GMC Typhoon models for sale near you
And so, to discuss that status, let me take you back to 1990. I, personally, was two years old at this time, but here’s what I’ve learned from other people who lived through it: The car world wasn’t as exciting as it was today. The BMW M3 did 0-to-60 in 7 seconds, a standard Corvette had 245 horsepower and the Ferrari 348 would only do 170 mph.
More important to the point of this column: Back then, SUVs were utility vehicles. Chevy was building those huge Blazers whose primary purpose seemed to be transporting hunters into the wilderness. Dodge had the Ramcharger, which drove like it weighed approximately as much as a downtown parking structure. There was no BMW SUV. There was no Mercedes-Benz SUV. There was no Lexus SUV. In fact, there was barely a Lexus anything. And those SUVs were still almost a decade away.
And then, suddenly, with no warning, with no apparent oversight involved, almost as if a teenager had briefly been given the reins at a car company to create one vehicle, GMC decided to come out with an SUV that was quicker than a Ferrari 348 and more powerful than a Ford Mustang GT.
Actually, there wasn’t quite "no warning." The Typhoon’s arrival in 1992 was preceded a year earlier by the arrival of a high-performance GMC pickup truck called the Syclone. But it’s not like a crazy pickup version suddenly means the Typhoon made any more sense. Instead, it seems like a teenager had been handed the reins to a car company to create two vehicles.
Of course, the Typhoon’s arrival was a shock to the automotive world — but its base price was an even greater shock: The thing started at $29,970, which is approximately $52,600 in today’s money. Imagine paying $52,600 for a high-performance version of the GMC Terrain, which is somehow quicker than the Ferrari 488 GTB, and you suddenly start to realize how bizarre this thing was.
And indeed, at the time, it was so bizarre, and so unusual, and so pricey, and so unexpected, that it didn’t really do all that well. The Syclone only lasted one model year before it was terminated, while the Typhoon made it through 1992 and 1993 before it was cancelled. And then everyone chuckled at how weird GMC was to attempt such a silly automotive project that never really had a chance to go anywhere. A performance utility vehicle!, people mused. What a silly concept!
And then, ten years later, every single car company was desperately scrambling to add them to their lineups.
It’s hard to really add up how many performance SUVs are on the market today, because everyone’s definition of "performance" is a bit different, but I gave it a shot — and I think there are roughly 25, from the Porsche Cayenne to the BMW X6M; from the Mercedes-AMG GLC43 to the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT. Dozens of automakers have entered this world. Subaru made a high-performance turbocharged version of the Forester called the Forester XT. Infiniti sells a "QX70" with a 390-horsepower V8. Lexus has created "F Sport" versions of its NX and RX crossovers. Jaguar makes a sporty F-Pace SUV with a supercharged engine. Land Rover offers a high-performance "SVR" version of its Range Rover Sport with 550 hp. I could go on for days, but I think you understand the point I’m trying to make here: This market segment is now filled to the brim with competition. And it all started with the GMC Typhoon.
And this brings us to the Typhoon’s driving experience, which is precisely as follows: It is every bit as fast as I was hoping it would be. I mean it. It moves. Even 25 years later, 0-to-60 in 5.4 seconds remains pretty quick, and the mechanically excellent Typhoon I drove felt like it had absolutely no trouble hitting that number. If you ever have a chance to mash the throttle in a Typhoon, I dare you to try not to smile.
That smile gets even wider when you look down and you realize you’re going this fast… in this thing. Anybody can climb inside a Porsche Cayman, mash the throttle, and go fast. But it’s all the more amazing when you look down at the gauges, and the turn signal stalks, and the steering wheel, and you realize that you’re being transported at modern-era-fast speeds in a vehicle that is by no means a member of the modern era.
And then you just have to chuckle and wonder how this thing was ever approved by the same Detroit businessmen who gave us the Chevrolet Corsica, complete with a red interior and a 3-speed automatic.
Sure, the Typhoon’s handling isn’t up to modern standards. Sure, the steering is a little slow — especially on-center, where you can turn the wheel an inch or two in either direction before you get any measurable response from the front wheels. And sure, the suspension wallows a bit (OK, a lot) in the corners. But you can’t judge this car, or any seminal vehicle from another era, by the performance standards of today. After all, even a 25-year-old Ferrari can barely outrun a modern minivan.
Instead, to understand why the GMC Typhoon is a future collectible, you have to transport yourself back to the early 1990s — the era that gave us that 245-hp Corvette and that minivan-slow BMW M3 — and imagine an SUV that can outrun a Ferrari to 60 mph. You also have to consider all the high-performance SUVs that came after it. And then you start to understand why the Typhoon is so cool. Yes, it’s fast. And yes, it’s weird, and unusual, and special, and largely only appreciated by car enthusiasts. But most importantly, it’s a future collectible, because it started an entire market segment that doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.
And so the next time you see a Porsche Cayenne Turbo on the street, just remember: If you were a genealogist tracing back its lineage, you’d find a GMC Typhoon at the very start of the family tree. Find a GMC Typhoon for sale
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.
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