The GMC Sprint, 1971-1977, by Dan Carr

Here is a trivia question that is bound to stump and amaze your car enthusiast friends (if they haven't already seen this web page). What muscle car has the following characteristics ?:

The answer, of course, is the 1971 GMC Sprint SP-454 (pictured above).

The GMC Sprint, produced from 1971 to 1977, is a little-known variant of Chevrolet's El Camino. In the late 1960's, GMC dealers across the country began asking for a smaller sporty truck that would bridge the gap between GMC's current line and passenger cars. With the introduction of the Sprint in 1971, GMC dealers had a complete line of trucks to offer, from the big rigs all the way down to the sporty muscle car/truck Sprint.

The 1971 GMC Sprint.

The GMC Sprint looked like the El Camino except it had "GMC/SPRINT" emblems on the fenders and tailgate, a large "GMC" emblem on the front grille, and an engine size emblem on the lower driver's side of the front grille. Sprints without air conditioning said "GMC" on the dash where you would normally see "CHEVROLET". Various steering wheels were available on the Sprint. Most said "GMC", but one type of optional 4-spoke sport wheel said "SPRINT" on the horn button (where you would normally see a Chevrolet logo or "SS"). The V8 Sprints had an "Invader" decal on the air cleaner. This decal also displayed the cubic inch displacement of the motor, and it was basically the same decal as used on the valve covers of other GMC pickup trucks.

There were two types of Sprints offered. The base model was called the "Standard" Sprint, and the upgrade model was called the "Custom" Sprint. A total of 5536 Sprints were produced in '71, (142 6-cylinder "Standard" models, 1030 V8 "Standard" models, and 4364 V8 "Custom" models). Of those 5536, 208 were delivered for sale in Canada.

All Chevrolets (and El Caminos) have a VIN number beginning with "1", while all GMCs (and Sprints) have a VIN number beginning with "5". A '71 "Standard" Sprint would have a VIN starting with "533801" (6-cylinder) or "534801" (V8). A '71 "Custom" Sprint would have a VIN starting with "536801" (V8 only). The seventh character in the VIN would be one of three letters for the assembly plant : "B"-Baltimore, "K"-Kansas City (Leeds), or "L"-Los Angeles (Van Nuys). The last six characters in the VIN would be the vehicle serial number, starting at "100001".

The Sprint could be had with all the same options that were available on the El Camino. There was even a Sprint "SP" version which was similar to the El Camino "SS". The SP was an option package added to a "Custom" Sprint. The SP came with the same 15x7 5-spoke wheels used on the '71 Chevelle SS, but with "GMC" on the center caps instead of the Chevrolet logo. The SP also had a round speedometer, while most of the non-SP models had the rectangular speedometer.

As with the Chevelle SS and El Camino SS, a "Cowl Induction" system was available at extra cost, but it was not part of the SP package, and few were ordered. It was available only with the 454 in 1971. If Cowl Induction was not ordered on an SP, then the SP would come with the "SS" style bulge hood. Non-SPs had the "flat" hood.

Despite what some of the GMC literature states, there were no "SP" emblems or decals on a '71 SP. However, an SP could be visually identified by the hood, dash, and wheels. A quarter panel "SP" decal was planned, and even shown in the '71 assembly manual, but it did not materialize until '72.

None of the GMC sales literature (for any year Sprint) states what the "SP" stands for. However, the GMC Sprint parts book identifies it as a "Special Performance" package. The '71 Sprint sales brochure made no mention of the SP and did not include a picture of an SP. In fact, there is not a single piece of '71 GMC literature which includes a photo of a genuine Sprint SP. One of the '71 full-line GMC brochures shows what looks like an SP, but it is actually a retouched photo of an El Camino SS.

The '71 Sprint shared the same assembly manual with the Chevelle and El Camino. GMC service departments were instructed to use the '71 Chevelle and El Camino service manual since none were issued specifically for the Sprint until '72.

All the '71 GMC brochures show the "GMC/SPRINT" fender emblems placed higher on the fenders than the actual '71 production vehicles. The engine displacement grille emblems are also shown in a slightly different location than on the production Sprints. Most of the brochures show engine size emblems on the fenders, but no GMC Sprints were actually produced with those emblems. The GMC/SPRINT fender emblems shown in the literature also have a slightly different appearance than the actual production emblems. On the production vehicles, the "SPRINT" letters on these emblems were silver, surrounded by black. The "GMC" grille emblem was always white, but the "GMC" letters on the fender and tailgate emblems came in two colors. It appears that most of the SPs were white, while most of the other models were red.

Engine choices for the Sprint included a six cylinder, 307 and 350 small-block V8s (a 350 4-bbl was available), and two big-block V8s (402 and 454). The SP could be ordered with a 350, 402, or 454. The only way to get the 454 was to order it along with the SP package. The six cylinder motor was only available on the "Standard" Sprint.

The V8s were called "Invader 307", "Invader 350", "Invader 400", and "Invader 454". The "400" (actually a 402) had the option code "LS3", while the 454 had the option code "LS5". As with the '71 Chevelle, an "LS6" 454 was planned, and even listed in the '71 Sprint sales brochure, but it never materialized and none were built, even though at least one customer is known to have tried to order one in a Sprint SP.

So, the top engine option in the Sprint was the LS5 454 which featured a forged steel crankshaft. Even with relatively low 8.5:1 compression, this motor was rated at 365 HP. This is the highest horsepower rating of any light-duty GMC ever produced.

GMC did not generally build the SP for dealer's stock. The only way to get one was to walk into the GMC dealer and order one with the "YE7" option selected. Because none were pictured in the literature, and none were available for inspection on the showroom floor, very few buyers (or dealers) were knowledgeable enough to know that such a thing was available.

Only 249 '71 SPs were built. This total was determined by looking at GM RPO totals for the 1971 "Chevrolet" A-body cars. These RPO totals lumped the Monte Carlo, Chevelle, El Camino, and GMC Sprint together (because they were all built on the same assembly lines). Records show that 19542 vehicles were built with RPO "PM7" (60 series white-letter tires). This option was installed only on the Chevelle SS, El Camino SS, and Sprint SP (but not on any Monte Carlos). Records also show that there were 19293 vehicles built with RPO "Z15" (SS package). No Monte Carlos had the "Z15" package. Instead they had the "Z20" SS package. The Sprint SP also never had the "Z15" SS package. It had the RPO "YE7" SP package instead. By subtracting the Z15 total from the PM7 total, it is possible to determine exactly how many '71 GMC Sprint SPs were built (19542 - 19293 = 249).

Of the 249 '71 SPs built, it is estimated that 25 were the SP-454 version. 16 1971 SP-454s are believed to exist at the present time.

The 1971 SP-454 is the ultimate GMC "muscle car".

Additional images of the 1971 SP-454:

The 1972 GMC Sprint.

The '72 Sprint was little changed from the '71 model, with the only visible difference being the front grille. All of the options available on the '71 were available on the '72.

Total production of '72 Sprints was up to 6473. GMC made a stronger effort to promote the SP model this year. In fact, both of the Sprints pictured in the '72 Sprint sales brochure were the SP model. This resulted in higher sales of the SP model, up to 749 units this year. Of those, an estimated 114 were the SP-454. Although not quite as rare as the '71s, the '72 Sprints are seldom seen today.

Once again, the GMC literature showed "GMC/SPRINT" fender emblems which were different than the actual production emblems. As in '71, the "SPRINT" letters on the production emblems were silver with a black background. One '72 Sprint is known to have a "SPRINT" emblem on the glove box door. This was a late '72 production vehicle. Probably only a few '72 Sprints have this.

The top engine option in '72 was again the LS5 "Invader" 454. However, it was now rated at 270 (net) horsepower instead of the previous year's 365 (gross) rating. The '72 LS5 was underrated (for insurance purposes), and it was nearly identical to the '71 LS5. The "real" horsepower difference was probably less than 5 HP, due to different carburetor jetting. 1972 would be the last year that the LS5 was available in any GM vehicle.

In '72, the 307 and the big-blocks (402 and 454) were not available for sale in the state of California.

A '72 "Standard" Sprint would have a VIN starting with "5C80", while a '72 "Custom" Sprint would have a VIN starting with "5D80". As with all of GM in '72, GMC VIN numbers included a character which indicated what size engine was originally installed in the vehicle. So, the fifth character in a '72 Sprint VIN would be one of :

"D" L6 250 1-bbl
"F" V8 307 2-bbl
"H" V8 350 2-bbl
"J" V8 350 4-bbl
"U" V8 402 4-bbl
"W" V8 454 4-bbl

The sixth character in a '72 Sprint VIN would be "2" (indicating 1972). The seventh letter would be the assembly plant : "B"-Baltimore, "K"-Kansas City (Leeds), or "L"-Los Angeles (Van Nuys). The last six characters in the VIN would be the vehicle serial number, starting at "500001". If the vehicle has a VIN with the form "5D80W2_5_____", then it is definitely a genuine '72 SP-454.

The '72 SP was an option package added to a "Custom" Sprint. Just like in 1971, it could be ordered with any optional V8 (350 or larger). As in '71, you had to order the SP package to get the 454. The 6-cylinder was available only on the "Standard" model.

The "Cowl Induction" system was again available as an extra cost option. In 1972 it was available with either big-block (402 or 454). This would be the last year that it would be offered, and few were ordered.

The '72 Sprint SP finally received the quarter panel "SP" decals that were planned for '71, and there was now a service manual specific to the Sprint.

One of the full line 1972 GMC brochures called the Sprint a "Sport Utility Vehicle".

GMC Sprint, 1973-1977.

The '73 Sprint body style changed significantly along with the El Camino. The SP package now consisted of rally wheels, a special suspension, and two stripes along the body sides from the front fender to the back. At the front of the stripes (on the fender) were the letters "SP". From '73-'75 there was a "High Sierra" package available that included simulated wood body side paneling.

The top engine (available only with the SP package) was now the LS4 454 rated at 245 HP. There was a definite power drop between the '72 LS5 and the '73 LS4. 1975 was the last year that a 454 was available in the Sprint (or El Camino). While any SP-454 is rare, the '71, '72, and '75 are probably the rarest.

Starting in 1975, the SP wheels were Corvette style rally wheels (with a slightly different center cap that did not say "Chevrolet Motor Division").

By 1976, the Sprint was still little changed from the '73 model. The big-blocks were no longer available, and the top engine option was a small-block 4-bbl 400 in 1976, and a 4-bbl 350 in 1977. The SP was basically now just a wheel, stripe, and suspension option.

1977 was the last year for the GMC Sprint.

1973 Engines 1974 Engines 1975 engines 1976 Engines 1977 Engines
V8, 307, 2bbl V8, 350, 2bbl, + L6, 250 L6, 250 L6, 250
V8, 350, 2bbl V8, 350, 4bbl V8, 350, 2bbl V8, 305, 2bbl, + # V8, 305, 2bbl, +
V8, 350, 4bbl V8, 400, 2bbl, + * V8, 350, 4bbl V8, 350, 2bbl, + V8, 350, 4bbl
V8, 454, 4bbl V8, 400, 4bbl, * V8, 400, 4bbl, * V8, 350, 4bbl, -
V8, 454, 4bbl V8, 454, 4bbl V8, 400, 4bbl, *

+ Not available in California.
- Only available in California.
* The '74-'76 "400" V8 is a small-block, unlike the '71-'72 "400" big-block.
# The engine chart on the 1976 GMC Sprint sales brochure mistakenly called this engine a "350".

GMC Caballero, 1978-1987.

The '78 El Camino body style changed significantly from '77. GMC still had their version of the El Camino, but they now called it the "Caballero". The Caballero (and El Camino) were made until 1987. Of note during this period is the 350/4-speed Caballero, the "Diablo" Caballero, and the diesel Caballero.


GMC Sprint Restoration Tips.

GMC Sprint Production Totals.

GMC Sprint Parts Sources.

'68-'72 El Camino, Chevelle, Monte Carlo, & GMC Sprint production totals poster

Additional information and images of the GMC Sprint and Caballero are presented in the El Camino spotter's guide.

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