Yesterday’s SUV of Tomorrow

Chevy’s Blazer XT-1 concept was more than just a styling exercise, it was somewhat of a rolling contradiction. Perhaps, rolling convergence is a more accurate phrase.

Its truck roots and rugged capabilities were complimented by styling and gadgetry not uncommon to a shuttlecraft from the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-D, that is… so there’s a bit of Trekkie in me).1987 Chevrolet Blazer XT-1 Concept

1987 Chevrolet Blazer XT-1 concept front rightActually, the XT-1 was introduced only a few months before the Star Trek: The Next Generation series first aired. It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than a quarter of a century since they both debuted. The effects of time ordinarily ratchet futuristic design work from visionary, to obsolete, to vintage in as many years, but they’ve steadfastly remained fresh.

Think of it in these terms: in 1987, a comparably aged concept would have come from 1961. I can remember all the way back to 1987 and concepts from the early 1960s appeared antiquated. This doesn’t.

1987 Chevrolet Blazer XT-1 concept rear leftThat’s not to say the age-resilient trait is unique to the XT-1 (or ST:TNG for that matter). In fact, many futuristic renditions from that period, and onward, remain viable. Though over-enthusiastic at times, designers’ ambitions were perhaps better aligned with the promises of science fiction props than ever before. Industrial design had entered the epoch of electronics and computers were playing an ever more visual role in the automobile. In light of that, it’s sort of ironic that the same gizmos which are effectively used to convey a link to the future can later be the most obvious connectors to the past.

There was a time when the age of a vehicle’s design could be inferred by the amount of metal it wore, sort of like counting the rings in a tree trunk. The more brightwork, the older it was. But as the busyness of car bodies homogenized, trim was shed and bumpers gradually became enveloped by plastic; most all traces of metal were eradicated. Recognizing a new norm, I remember wondering what elements would most distinctly date the new breed of chromeless cars.

Technology seems to have taken over the primary role of saying “old” or “clunky.”

1987 Chevrolet Blazer XT-1 concept instrument panelSpeaking of which, that is indeed a CRT instrument panel shown to the left. Or, as Chevy’s literature described it, “a high-resolution, high-brightness, flat-faced full-color cathode ray tube display, or CRT.” Hence the bulk behind the display face. I remember those heavy things all too well.

Despite a no doubt blurry display by today’s standards, it must have been quite the show stopper. Keep in mind that, when this debuted, Windows version 2.0 was still half a year away. Apple’s Macintosh had been out since 1984 but, even so, graphical interfaces between man and computers were still relatively uncommon by 1987. Employing such a display as the XT-1’s instrument panel helped Chevy demonstrate they were staying on top of technology, while generating extra mystique for the concept.

1987 Chevrolet Blazer XT-1 concept instrument panelBeing a distant forerunner of systems that to this day face their share of criticism, the XT-1’s capabilities and information options are comparatively humble. Nonetheless, critical data is well organized, cleanly presented and visually pleasing. The layout of the screen is reconfigurable and controlled by buttons located where you’d find an airbag today. Available information includes: vehicle speed, fuel level, tachometer, engine temperature, engine oil pressure, oil life, cumulative mileage odometer, trip mileage odometer, trip data, battery/electrical data, service information, drivetrain mode, suspension status, steering system information, vehicle warning and operation indicators, high beam lights, turn signal indicators, brake system malfunction/park brake on, and seat belt reminder.

It must have seemed like data overkill when conceived of–and quite the laborious assignment for whatever graphics hardware was tasked with making it work. By 1987, high-end computer processors were only operating at speeds of 35 to 40 MHz. Despite advances making today’s processors crunch numbers around 100 times that speed, even modern digital infotainment systems, albeit vastly more sophisticated, are often referred to as “laggy.”

The five thumbnails below provide more angles of the XT-1’s overall interior.

1987 Chevrolet Blazer XT-1 concept interior front 1987 Chevrolet Blazer XT-1 concept interior rear seats 1987 Chevrolet Blazer XT-1 concept rear hatch open 1987 Chevrolet Blazer XT-1 concept interior front 1987 Chevrolet Blazer XT-1 concept interior IP

I like the cockpit’s black and yellow motif. I’m big on dark interiors (particularly charcoal) and think there’s just enough color inside to make it pop. The information GM sent me didn’t provide any details about the two yellow cases behind the rear seatbacks. I imagine they are some sort of removable storage containers.

There are lots and lots of buttons at the helm–a good thing to me, understandably not to some. A substantial number of the controls were grouped to within a finger’s reach, including on pods that extend from either side of the steering column.

Speaking of steering, how about that steering… er, uh… wheel? (A wheel by definition is round, so is calling it a “steering wheel” proper?) I’m guessing the yellow thumb buttons fire the photon torpedoes. If not, they may just honk the horn.

1987 Chevrolet Blazer XT-1 concept sketchThere were 45 pictures for me to choose from and I selected 25. Many I hadn’t seen before. About 10 or so had to be approved by Design for release.

So, next, we’re going to take a look at some of the development work done on the XT-1.

After looking through the initial proof pictures, despite being low-resolution thumbnails, I saw something that answered a question that had been in my head for a while, possibly in yours too. That is: was a GMC version of the XT-1 conceived?

Continue to page 2, below.

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