For more than 100 years, fleets of trucks and work vehicles have made there way across the United States and the world, all emblazoned with three bold letters. The GMC brand is one of the most recognizable in the automobile industry, and for good reason. Its long-time commitment to quality engineering and innovative design has ensured that it has stayed at the forefront of the truck class.

While the GMC’s relationship with the U.S. is storied, so is Fort Collins. Here at Markley Motors, we’ve proudly carried the GMC brand since 1979. Since this is one of the most popular brands here in Northern Colorado, we thought it would be a good idea to explore the history of this legendary brand of trucks and how their legacy continues to shape the way we do work.

Like many early automobile manufacturers, the beginning of the GMC story starts in Michigan. In the city of Pontiac, two brothers, Max and Morris Grabowsky, began building prototypes of vehicles. In 1901, they produced their first model of car, and just a year later founded the Rapid Motor Vehicle Company. Built in 1902, the Grabowsky’s truck was primitive, to say the least. Simply a frame with four wheels, a bench seat, a literal dashboard, and a motor, the design would be a mere novelty by today’s standards. But in 1902, it was extremely forward-thinking, especially with its extremely powerful two-cylinder engine that could produce up to 15 horsepower. Over the next few years, the Rapid Motor Vehicle Company would produce 75 trucks.

Eventually, the design drew the attention of General Motors, which was interested in the work of the Grabowsky brothers. So, in 1909, General Motors bought them out, thus ending the short-lived career of the Rapid Motor Vehicle Company. General Motors already had several brands to their name, so they began merging these sub-brands. The result was that the Rapid and Reliance truck brands were reformed, becoming the GMC truck line. The 1912 New York Auto Show was the first time the GMC name would see the light of day. That same year, the GMC brand kept busy, producing 22,000 units, the first ever mass-produced truck.

During this period of transitioning names, makes, and owners, GMC produced a line of electric trucks in 1914. This includes the Model 2B and 4A, establishing GMC’s legacy as an innovative manufacturer. The trucks never quite took off and were used to deliver newspapers throughout Detroit.

The Growth of a Brand

Even with a fairly small lineup of vehicles, the GMC name was gaining notoriety, and GM realized the enormous potential of these high-quality trucks. As such, GMC’s manufacturing operations were dramatically expanded to include three different plants. With plants in Oakland, CA, St. Louis, MO, and Pontiac, MI, GMC could now begin to produce trucks at a record rate, meeting the demands of an increasingly mechanized United States.

As the production of GMC trucks expanded, so too did the brand’s reach. As a testament to the reliability of their vehicles, and as a great PR opportunity, GMC drove a truck from Seattle to New York City in 1916. The journey took an entire month, limited by the smaller motors of the era as well as the poorly maintained roads that meandered through the country. In 1926, GMC would repeat the test with far more impressive results. The GMC truck made it from New York to San Francisco in a blistering five day and 30-minute drive.

The Golden Age of Design

In many ways, the early 20th century was the golden age of design. With no preconceived notions of what a truck should look like or how it should handle and function, brands like GMC could explore and make both style and performance changes with impunity. The result was some of the most iconic designs in automobile history. From the 1920s to the 1930s, GMC completely reimagined their vehicles.

Fenders became curved and offered sweeping lines along the front and sides of the trucks. The headlights were mounted to the radiator, the trim panels of which were now given their defining chrome treatment. In the 30s, these features became even more pronounced, as the Art Deco movement began to make its way into industrial design. The grilles of GMC trucks were sloping and smooth, the fenders more rounded, and the trucks were offered in a myriad of brilliant colors. The new designs proved popular, and GMC sold trucks left and right, even throughout the Great Depression.

During this period, GMC began leveraging its resources to expand its reach and designs. In 1931, GMC began producing all of the six-cylinder engines for Buick, which had been using straight eights until then. Throughout the 1930s, GMC expanded its lineup, producing 21 different truck trailer chassis. In 1936 alone, the company launched 15 new models of truck.

GMC Goes To War

While the 1930s were a renaissance in industrial design, it was also a dark period in world history. Global tensions, sparked by the rise of fascist governments in Germany, Italy, and Japan, slowly crept their way across the oceans and toward the United States. When the United States was brought into the Second World War by the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the entire country knew that it would have to work together to win the war.

This included the entire industrial might of the U.S. Every manufacturer, GMC included, halted commercial production, instead focusing solely on providing war material and supplies to not only American GIs but to the armies of nations all around the globe thanks to the Lend-Lease program. During the course of the war, GMC would produce nearly 600,000 trucks that were used to carry anything and everything to the front lines of war zones around the world.

GMC in Post-War America

Like the rest of the country, the GMC brand recovered brilliantly from the war. With so many American military personnel familiar with the brand thanks to their service, they knew they could rely on these vehicles for their civilian needs as well.

The late 1940s saw the expansion of the GMC lineup to include 75 different models, including the legendary E series of light and medium-duty pickup trucks. The 1950s saw a merging of truck practicality and performance with more car-like features and designs. With hooded headlights, expanded windshields and wood accents, GMC trucks were now safer, more stylish, and still just as powerful.

The 1970s and 1980s introduced features and designs that many now know GMC for. Cummins diesel engines could now be dropped into frames sporting dual rear axle designs, topped off by spacious crew cabs. During this period, many classic GMC lines, like the Sierra, were codified, and have been a lasting presence in the truck market for decades.

In the last few years, GMC has embraced its legacy of innovation to create new trucks, vans, and SUVs that fit a wide variety of needs and roles. Within these vehicles are new designs hybrid engines and more fuel-efficient engines, all without sacrificing the power that the brand is so recognized for.

GMC has also worked hard to make their vehicles the safest on the road. With advanced technological features like Forward Collision Alert, pedestrian braking, the safety alert seat, and OnStar, GMC drivers can enjoy their ride a little more, sound in the knowledge that their vehicle is doing its part to take care of them.

Looking for a brand new GMC truck, van, or SUV in Northern Colorado? There’s no better place to find it than Markley Motors! Our Buick GMC dealership proudly serves communities across the Front Range, including Greeley, Longmont, Wellington, and even as far north as Cheyenne. Thanks to our long history of working with customers throughout the region, we can offer you unbeatable financing optionsthat make it easier than ever to get into a new GMC vehicle the same day you visit our dealership in Fort Collins. Plus, once you drive your new GMC off the lot, you can then care for it at our on-site service department. Using factory OEM parts, our auto body shop can take care of any dents or dings you might encounter, while our auto glass shop can patch up any chips or cracks.

Contact us today to speak with a sales consultant, or simply stop on by. We’re happy to show you the complete GMC lineup and arrange for a test drive! Visit Markley Motors today to experience the Markley Difference.