Wherever you find race cars, you'll find trucks, usually pulling double duty as a push truck and a support rig. The push truck is an integral part of any high-speed pursuit at Bonneville. Top-speed runs require high gear ratios to achieve maximum velocity, but these ratios make acceleration from a standing start extremely slow or even impossible on the many early Bonneville cars that did not have transmissions, relying instead on high-gear-only direct drive systems. To early hot-rodders the solution was simple: use a truck to push the race car up to speed, engage clutch, and blast off.

In fact, the cover of the May '54 issue of Hot Rod magazine featured the SO-CAL Speed Shop push truck, famous in hot-rodding circles, sporting its trademark red and white colors, posed behind the racing team's record-setting coupe. For the GM Performance Division's land-speed record attempt in a Saturn Ion, the crew decided to honor the hot rod way with an '04 GMC Canyon reprising the role of the original SO-CAL Speed Shop's push truck. The SO-CAL Speed Shop crew, working under the direction of GM Performance Division, transformed the Canyon support truck into what it likes to call a "professional grade" high-performance vehicle. After speeding across the desert between L.A. and Phoenix (see sidebar) we can say without a doubt the result was a dependable workhorse with the speed and spirit of the Bonneville Salt Flats.

"Our intention was to build on the strengths of the production GMC Canyon to create a fully functional and extremely capable race team support vehicle," said GM concept vehicle project manager David Bolognino. "By combining the heritage of the SO-CAL Speed Shop push truck with the technology of the '04 Canyon, we created a modern interpretation of a classic design."

From what we can see, the all-new Canyon Crew Cab is a great platform to build on. It's got a rigid ladder-type frame, a powerful Vortec 3,500cc inline-five (I-5) engine, and a four-speed Hydra-Matic 4L60-E automatic transmission. The production Vortec 3500's technical features include dual overhead camshafts, variable valve timing, and electronic throttle control. In stock trim, the five-cylinder Vortec 3500 produces 220 hp and 225 lb-ft of torque, comparable to many six-cylinder engines. The Saturn LSR team boosted the customized Canyon's output to 350 hp and 350 lb-ft torque with the addition of a GM Powertrain-developed prototype turbocharger package.

The customized Canyon's interior is prepped racer-style, with a full rollcage, competition five-point seatbelts and shoulder harnesses, and a fire control system. A special gauge cluster and console-mounted CB radio keep the driver informed. The driver and copilot are supported by race-inspired high-side-bolster Recaro sport seats.

The Canyon's distinctive red-and-white SO-CAL Speed Shop paint scheme represents the flying colors of the ION Red Line and belly tank Bonneville racers. The ride height was also dropped, with custom-fit coilover spring perches on the nose and lowering blocks for the rear. The team also whipped up a prototype body-molding package and fabricated a soft tonneau cover to give the push truck a clean, high-performance appearance that's finished with six-spoke Budnik aluminum wheels.

From L.A. to Phoenix on Five Turbocharged Cylinders
The GM performance division built this '04 GMC Canyon midsize pickup to support the land-speed record attempt of a Saturn Ion. The ION, while not a traditional big-bore supercharged V-8-powered saltshaker, set the record, and then this trick turbocharged five-cylinder Canyon was just hanging out with nothing to do but look pretty. Not being fans of trailer queens, we challenged the guys in the GM performance division to let us drive it, thinking they'd never really let us have it for an open-road adventure. How wrong we were.

No sooner had we asked when our factory connect was asking, "When do you want to drive it? We've got a program going down in Phoenix. How about blasting L.A. to Phoenix with Dave Bolanio? He was the project manager for the Cadillac Sixteen."

Let's see, we get to cut across the desert with 350 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque wrapped in one the coolest-looking midsize sport trucks on the market. How could we refuse?

When the Canyon finally arrived, we had Dave Bolognino, said project manager and all-around vehicle design and styling talent, as well as Charlotte Grimm, our performance division media contact and chief agitator of this high-speed pursuit. She was very up front: "GM is not responsible for any speeding tickets. Please sign here, and by the way all our conversations are off the record."

Fair enough. Let's get to it.

We reviewed this platform in our Sport Truck of the Year competition and it acquitted itself extremely well, except in acceleration, mainly because it was pitted against some tough V-8 competition. If this turbocharged version of the Canyon's I-5 engine was a factory option, that event would've had a totally different outcome. This engine rocks.

The road between Los Angeles and Phoenix is all freeway, but it cuts across some desolate pieces of real estate with no traffic. For most of the trip we'd just cruise along at the speed limit, or drop down to 20 or 30 mph just to hear the turbo spool up and feel the sensation of the truck's blistering acceleration back up to the legal limit. But at least once, we had to let the machine run all the way to the speed limiter. It just pulled and pulled; not even a hint of the power rolling off. The wind noise, the turbo whine, the racing fuel pump grinding as the truck rolls past 100 mph, then suddenly it's like someone tapped the brakes - speed limiter. Oh, man, it kicks in way too soon.

As fun as it was to give it a full run to the speed-limited top speed, to truly appreciate this turbocharged machine we'd have to defeat the speed limiter and put it on a racetrack.

GMC Canyon Push Truck Specifications
Chassis: welded steel-ladder type
Body: steel
Height: 64.8"/1,646 mm
Length: 207"/5,258 mm
Width: 67.6"/1,717 mm
Wheelbase: 125.9"/3,198 mm
Track: 57.5"/1,460 mm front; 57.5"/1,460 mm rear
Engine: Vortec 3500 3.5L I-5
Displacement: 211 ci/3,460 cc
Horsepower: 350 @ 5,200 rpm
Torque: 350 lb-ft @ 2,000-5,200rpm
Compression ratio: 8.5:1
Boost: 11.6 psi
Transmission: Hydra-Matic 4L60-E four-speed automatic
Suspension: lowered independent with coil springs front; lowered live axle with leaf springs rear
Wheels: cast-aluminum six-spoke
Tires: front, 245/45R18; rear, 255/45R19
Brakes: disc front, drum rear, four-wheel antilock

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