From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.
For this installment, the Mechanic Next Door does some heavy lifting, delving into the GMC Sierra pickup’s history and looking at the newest model.
Max and Morris Grabowsky may not be household names, but they cemented their place in automotive history nonetheless. In 1901 the Grabowsky duo built a truck prototype in Pontiac, Michigan, and went on to form their company – the Rapid Motor Vehicle Company – a year later. It didn’t take long for the brothers’ truck-building efforts and success to attract competitors’ attention, with General Motors buying them in 1909. Just three years later at the New York Auto Show, the name GMC Trucks would make its debut.
And so begins the story of GMC’s Sierra – a leader in the category of full-size pickups and a nearly identical twin to Chevy’s Silverado truck lineup. It wasn’t until the 1970s, however, that GMC would debut the name Sierra, using it to designate their trucks’ trim level, until 1987 when Sierra began serving as the permanent name for GMC’s full-size pickups.
GMC’s early, 1960’s-era pickups – before the Sierra name change – were designated as either “wideside” or “fenderside” – the latter corresponding to what many drivers today refer to as “stepside” pickups with fenders that flare out over the rear wheels. GMC also was one of the first to use numbers to indicate its trucks’ hauling capacities using the “1000”, “1500”, and “2000” designations that are common today in one form or another among all the major truck manufacturers. A “K” attached to those numbers indicated a GMC truck with four-wheel drive, and there were just two trim levels available – base or Custom. The standard engine was a 236-cubic-inch inline six delivering 135 horsepower.
Through the mid-1960’s, GMC trucks underwent a suspension change, additional engine options, and cosmetic changes to freshen the truck’s appearance. One of the most notable changes, and perhaps the start of pickups’ migration to becoming more than just work vehicles, was the debut of air conditioning in 1965.
1973 saw GM completely redesign its pickup truck line with longer wheelbases and the debut of a four-door crew cab. Engine choices ranged from a 100-horsepower, 250-cubic-inch inline six on the low end to a 240-horse 454 V8. GM’s next complete overhaul of its Sierra truck line wouldn’t occur until 1988 with trucks sporting a third more glass for improved visibility and a marked focus on more luxury items, such as upholstery and instrumentation.
That 80’s-era “luxury” pales in comparison to today’s model, considering that the 2016 GMC Sierra sports such innovations as advanced safety features and a 4G Wi-Fi Hotspot. The pickup’s evolution from being strictly a work vehicle to becoming a multi-purpose vehicle today is clearly evident on GMC’s site for Sierra, where a review of the vehicle’s interior receives precedence over its capabilities – something that would have been unheard of when trucks were meant solely for hauling and pulling. This old school Sierra’s transition into a show vehicle shows that there’s clearly a lot of life left for these pickups even when their days of doing hard work are over.
That’s not to say that new Sierra’s lack anything in the performance department. Its 6.2L V8 cranks out 420 horsepower, which GMC says is more than any other light-duty pickup. And, according to GM, the available EcoTec3 5.3L V8 engine delivers the best V8 fuel economy available among any full-size pickup. Balancing that power with control is Hill Descent Control, allowing for less nerve-wracking downhill journeys in rough terrain, and the Eaton Locker which automatically locks the rear wheels when slippage is detected.
Other automatic technology features aimed at assisting drivers include the Lane Keep Assist which helps drivers avoid drifting out of their lane by automatically correcting steering, and IntelliBeam which activates or deactivates Sierra’s high beams based on traffic conditions. Forward Collision Alert provides audible and visual alerts to help prevent collisions while the Safety Alert Seat vibrates as a warning signal to drivers.
Technology inside Sierra’s cab that’s aimed at driver convenience rather than strictly safety includes IntellilLink for customizing and organizing a variety of media, Apple CarPlay for syncing phones to the IntelliLink system, the previously mentioned 4G WiFi hotspot, and OnStar’s RemoteLink app to remotely start the vehicle, pinpoint its location on a map, and monitor the vehicle’s mechanical functions.
Available in four trim levels – Sierra Base Trim, SLE, SLT, and Denali, Sierra’s base MSRP is $27,275, and heads higher from there. After decades of popularity among truck buyers and features that give drivers what they want, the Sierra’s popularity doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.
Editor’s note: When you need anything related to your GMC Sierra, turn to Advance Auto Parts first. Buy online, pick up in store, and get back to the garage.