The GMC Safari was launched in 1985, sharing the stage with its sibling, the Chevrolet Astro. The Safari was a rear-wheel drive, mid-sized van introduced to compete with its American and Japanese rivals—the Dodge Caravan/Plymouth Voyager twins and the Japanese Toyota Van. Aside from its standard passenger uses, the GMC Safari was also available as a cargo van, which inspired converters to build small conversion vans. Let’s take a look back at the many style and performance updates that the GMC Safari has gone under through the years.
1885 – 1990: Rookie years
The GMC Safari first came out as a truck-based rear-wheel drive that featured higher towing ratings and payload compared to its front-drive rivals. It offered an all-wheel-drive option and featured 4-wheel antilock brakes and an extended body style. For its 1990 model year, the GMC Safari was restyled. The changes included an updated instrument panel that offered a larger glove box and a standard five-passenger seat. It was also equipped with a standard 4.3-liter V6 engine with 150 horsepower and a four-speed automatic transmission.
1991 – 1995: Upgrades galore
The GMC Safari went through a lot of updates in the next five years. In 1991, the 2WD passenger Safaris received a new high-output V6 engine with a 175 horse power. This was immediately upgraded the following year when a more powerful V6 engine option with a 200-horsepower rate became available in 1992. That same year, a new door option was available for the Safaris. Dubbed as Dutch doors, the new door option featured a one-piece glass lift gate with split panel doors that open separately. In 1993, the Safari’s transmission was upgraded to a new four-speed automatic transmission with electric controls. Aside from the newly added optional driver-side airbag, the 150-horsepower base engines were also updated to 165-horsepower engines for this model year. In 1994, all Safaris received a driver-side airbag and other new safety features including a guard beam located in the front door and the sliding side door and a center high-mounted stoplamp placed in the roof. For the 1995 model year, all regular-length vans were dropped and the GMC Safaris received yet another makeover. All Safari models received freshly extended bodies and a new 190-horsepower engine.
1996 – 2000: Minor changes
The following model years saw only minor changes to the GMC Safari. For the 1996 model year, the Safaris received a new passenger airbag and a revised dashboard with a locking glovebox. Speed-sensitive power steering and daytime running lights were available in 1997, there were no significant changes in 1998, and only the running boards and outside mirrors were redesigned in 1999. For its 2000 model year, the GMC Safari received rear child-seat anchors, a standard third-row bench seat that can accommodate 7- 8 passengers and a larger fuel tank made of plastic. Other new features included updated headlamps, battery-rundown protection, and retained accessory power.
2001 – 2005: The last five years
In 2001, only the SLE and SLT trim levels were left for the GMC Safari and the second-row bench with twin bucket seats was replaced with a new seven-passenger option. In 2002, deep-tint rear glass was added to the passenger versions while the cargo versions got remote keyless entry and a rear heater. For 2003, all-disc brakes and 16-inch wheels were added on all models. The GMC Safari remained unchanged for its 2004 model year and marked its final run in 2005.