GMC – 100 Years of Heavy-Duty Trucks

History of GMC Trucks

When it comes to trucks, GMC is known the world over for its production of a variety of trucks from service trucks and commercial vehicles to pickup trucks. It had its beginnings with a commercial hauling trucks company created in 1902 by Max Grabowsky called the Rapid Motor Vehicle Company.

Seven years later, General Motors bought out Grabowsky’s business because they wanted to form their own trucking company, which was called General Motors Truck Company. They added Reliance Motors to their inventory in 1911, and in 1912 GMC (General Motors Corporation) Trucks was born out of those two acquisitions.

GMC – The Early Years

GMC produced a mere 372 trucks out of the nationwide total of 22,000 trucks that first year, which pales in comparison to the millions of commercial vehicles they produce today. An interesting note though is that GMC was a forerunner in battery powered electric model trucks and made nine different models ranging from one-half to six tons capacity.

In an effort to bring up their popularity, GMC Trucks put on a publicity stunt in 1916 featuring one of their truck models. William Warwick drove a loaded GMC 1-1/2-ton truck from Seattle to New York and back, making it the very first truck to cross the entire USA in less than 32 days.

GMC During World War I

The venture may have worked, as that same year the Army went with ¾  ton GMC trucks as part of their fleet of vehicles. In fact, WWI brought major breakthroughs for their business, as 90 percent of all its production was bought by the military from 1917 and 1919. GMC delivered 8,500 vehicles to the Army during those years.

GMC Trucks After World War I

The next few years brought more innovation in the GMC Truck production as pneumatic tires replaced solid rubber tires in 1920, and their K model trucks came out that year as well with a capacity between ¾ and five tons. The following year electric lights replaced what had been oil lamps as standard gear on all trucks as well and seven speed transmissions became the standard for heavyweight trucks.

By 1923, GMC trucks had capacities ranging up to 10 tons if you counted the trailer. Rear wheel brakes were starting to be used on some models by 1925.The company expanded by 1927 when they built a truck assembly plant in Pontiac, Michigan which was the biggest truck building plant in the world then at 26 acres of property.

That same year the company brought out their T model of trucks with a ½ ton panel express truck and a screen side express truck and “Cannon Ball” Baker drove a T model 40 GMC tank truck full of water from the Atlantic Ocean all the way from New York to San Francisco in under six days, which set a speed record for heavy duty trucks.

GMC continued its innovative strategies when it started providing tandem driving rear axles for their heavyweight service trucks in 1930 and the following year it was a GMC T-95 model truck that pulled a refrigerated GMC trailer full of fresh produce from Los Angeles to New York, setting another record.

Between 1931 and 1940 GMC Trucks were producing more than 20 models of truck trailer chassis, 15 new models of different weight trucks, and it had added several models of heavy weight trucks to its lines.

GMC During World War II

The next war also seemed to benefit GMC as their production numbers continued to escalate with all of its trucks going to the war effort by 1942.  GMC built 600,000 trucks during this timeframe for the military. In fact, GMC trucks were presented the E Award for Excellence in 1944 because of its help in the war effort.

GMC After the War

The company was back to making trucks for the civilian market by then, but had some issues with a six-month long strike by its workers in 1946 that briefly slowed things down. Even so, by 1950 it proudly had 75 models of trucks going through its production lines.

In 1954 GMC Trucks offered power steering for the first time on some models and in 1956 tubeless tires were standard, and they were the first to put air suspension on front and rear axles on some of their heavy weight model trucks.

GMC Trucks continues to Grow

Between the 50s and the 60s GMC grew even larger and by 1968 they were considered the third largest truck producer in the world. Once again they prospered in the war effort and produced more than 9,000 trucks for the military in 1951. They were M-135 series that had the ability to ford deep water, thus being very useful for military operations.

The company again showed how GMC was first in implementing innovative features when in 1967 they produced trucks with energy absorbing steering columns, instrument panel pads and dual brake systems well before they were required by the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

GMC Trucks Between 1970 and 2012

GMC continued its truck production over the next several decades, weathering many difficulties changes in production lines, increasing production costs, competition from foreign companies,  problems with the fuel shortages in the middle 1970s and deregulation and recession issues in 1980s.  The problems were so severe,  that some trucking companies went out of business. The production plant in Pontiac was also torn down in late 1980s and the production was moved to Janesville, Wisconsin.

GMC’s high points include placing third in the production of trucks in the U.S., being chosen as the official truck of the 1984 Olympics and in 1988 they stopped making heavyweight trucks, in 1990 electronic fuel injection became the norm, and by 1996 the name was shortened to just GMC, instead of GMC Trucks and they merged with Pontiac Motor Division to form Pontiac GMC Division of General Motors.

The following year all of its commercial vehicles production was moved to Flint, Michigan. Since then, GMC Trucks has continued to grow and produce award winning trucks of all kinds with production and distribution all over the globe.

GMC Trucks will celebrate a milestone anniversary in 2012 – 100 years of truck manufacturing.

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