1971 GMC Sprint Custom SP
Is it a muscle car or a pickup truck? The answer is simply yes.
Most people are familiar with Chevrolet’s popular El Camino coupe/utility pickup, but not many know that GMC produced a twin to it that debuted in 1971. This rarer, slightly modified El Camino was called the Sprint and was GMC’s offering of a sporty truck to fill the gap between their full line of trucks and the passenger car market.
About the Sprint’s GM Lineage
The Sprint is nearly identical to the El Camino; many people find it hard to spot any differences. Like the Chevelle, it even uses same body styling, from cowl to front bumper, making all three cars identical in 1971 (with the exception of the missing truck bed on the Chevelle). Branded with the GMC badge, Sprints were offered in standard and custom models and came with basically the same standard equipment as El Caminos. For an additional cost you could equip your new Sprint with air conditioning, cruise control, power windows, and power locks. The custom models could also be equipped with the SP (YE7) package, which made those Sprints similar to the El Camino SS. But the SP was offered only as an option package (the YE7 Special Performance package), and few were aware of it, even among GMC dealers.
For whatever reason, GMC didn’t build the Sprint SP for general stock inventory for dealerships, so they weren’t on most showroom floors. Adding to the confusion, the Sprint SP was not pictured in sales literature. Thus, the only way to get one was to march into your local GMC dealership and order a 1971 Sprint Custom with the “YE7” option selected—keeping in mind that you might have to explain the existence of that option to the dealer! And once you have the car, don’t go looking for any special exterior insignia like those on the El Camino SS—the SP insignia didn’t show up until the 1972 models. 1971 Sprints with the SP package has to be identified by the hood, the 60-series white-lettered tires mounted on Chevelle SS spoke wheels (with GMC center caps in place of the Chevrolet bowtie), and the dash, which features a round speedometer in place of the rectangular one in non-SP models. But when you open the hood, you know immediately that this car is special, especially if it’s equipped with the LS5 Invader 454-CID big-block V-8.
Darrell Dechant’s GMC Sprint
Darrell Dechant’s 1971 Sprint Custom SP 454 could be the rarest of the rare among the few 1971 Sprints still in existence. Currently on loan to The Midwest Dream Car Collection, this particular Sprint holds the original H-code LS5-Invader 454-ci big- block V-8, paired with a Hydra-Matic 3-speed automatic transmission. The engine produces a massive 365 horsepower and is one of only 25 built for the 1971 Sprint.
This 1971 Sprint Custom SP 454 is believed to be one of only 16 remaining, and one of only five with documented, genuine matching numbers. If that doesn’t make it rare enough for you, let’s throw in the fact that it’s the only one in tri-black (tuxedo black, black vinyl top, and black interior). This car received a professional, frame-off rotisserie restoration and has less than five miles registered on the odometer since completion!
A little more Sprint history
The Sprint was produced by GMC for model years 1971 to 1977. In 1978, it was renamed the Cabellero, and it was produced under that name through 1987. Sometimes called the “mullet of cars,” the Sprint/El Camino is not the first of its kind. The Ford Motor Company designed the first coupe/truck combo, introduced in 1957 as the Ranchero.
The GMC Sprint/Cabellero sold 74,225 units from 1971 to 1987. In comparison to the El Camino, which sold 982,129 units from 1959 to 1987, it was largely overshadowed by its Chevrolet counterpart. GMC only offered trucks during this time period, so many people would seek out family cars at Chevy dealers instead. This led to the rarity of the Sprint and the legacy of the El Camino today.
In 1971, 5,536 Sprints rolled off the assembly line. 4,364 of them were V-8 Custom models. Of those, only 249 were SPs, and about 25 of those were the SP-454 version.
With the body and chassis of the Chevelle, the Sprint/El Camino did prove successful. The popularity of this muscle car look made it much easier to market to consumers of the baby boom generation, especially with the upgraded engine performance.