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A Brief Outline of GMC Truck History

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On: Thu, Oct 9, 2014 at 3:12PM | By: Teddy Field


A Brief Outline of GMC Truck History

GMC trucks are designed for people who want capability, with a side order of luxury. Not the Bling-bling “look at me!!” sort of luxury. But actual refinement and sophistication. For those people, GMC dealers carry trucks like the GMC Sierra, GMC Canyon, and GMC Yukon Denali. They're rugged, do-anything vehicles that can fit in on the jobsite, or at the country club. And they got started all the way back in 1901...

As the 20thcentury dawned, man still relied on the horse for transportation. A decade earlier, people had started messing around with the idea of “horseless carriages”. But they were still just playthings of the rich. So small business owners still had to depend on 'ole Bess' to make their deliveries. Then one day in 1900, an engineer named Max Grabowsky decided to mount a 1-cylinder gas engine to an old horse-drawn buckboard. The plucky little engine had enough power to motivate the wagon, but it didn't have enough horsepower to compete with an actual team of horses. A year later, Max had refined his idea by using a 15-horsepower 2 cylinder engine. The extra power gave this horseless wagon a top speed of 10 mph, and a cargo capacity of 1-ton.

Max and his brother Morris then started the Rapid Motor Vehicle Company, and sold that 15-hp truck to the American Garment Cleaning Co. in Detroit. That horseless truck was likely the first commercial truck ever built in America. The brothers then raised some money, and the Pontiac Spring & Wagon Works began to build Rapid trucks at their plant in Pontiac, Michigan. By 1909, Rapid had built its own factory in Pontiac, and was selling over 200 trucks and delivery vans per year. Around the same time, Billy Durant was busy expanding his General Motors Empire. He felt the Grabowsky brother's truck line would make a nice addition to his automotive portfolio, so he basically did a hostile takeover, buying a controlling interest in the company on the open market. Rapid would eventually become one of the components of the company we now know as GMC.

A year after the Grabowsky brothers sold their first truck, a company called the Reliance Motor Co. began selling their own 22-hp trucks, vans, and 12-passenger buses. They proved popular, so Durant bought the company in 1908. He then bought the Randolph Motor Car Co. in 1909 because they made a line of trucks and buses that ranged from ¾ ton to 4 tons. And that would allow General Motors to offer commercial vehicles in literally every category. The three companies were then combined in 1913 to form GMC, which stands for General Motors Company.

The GMC Division mostly handled General Motors' commercial vehicle production until the 1990's, when the 'SUV Craze' prompted the company to reevaluate its brand position. Today, GMC makes a range of premium SUVs like the GMC Terrain, GMC Acadia, and GMC Yukon. They also make a full range of pickups and vans. And they can all be ordered in the luxurious Denali trim too. Except the cargo vans of course.


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