Looking Back: 1988 GMC Centaur Concept
By: Mike Levine Posted: 08-15-08 13:54 PT
© 2008 PickupTrucks.com, Photography Courtesy of General Motors Design

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Pontiac's recent announcement that its G8-based sport truck, set to debut for the 2010 model year, would unimaginatively be called the G8 ST brought a collective groan of disappointment from the automotive press and truck enthusiasts. After receiving more than 18,000 suggestions in an online contest, Pontiac stuck with the car/truck's original alphanumeric identifier rather than selecting a new name or resurrecting a classic GM moniker, like El Camino, Catalina or Tempest.

Even if Pontiac wanted to avoid waking classic GM nameplates from their historic slumber, couldn't it have done better than G8 ST? We think so. We think it could have been done in a way that would have created a new nameplate that appropriately described the uniqueness of the G8 ST, with a bit of GM heritage added to the mix.

Two decades ago, GMC created a bullet-shaped concept vehicle that blended "sleek passenger-car lines with the rugged utility of a pickup truck," according to its debut press release, published Jan. 5, 1988. It was called the Centaur, after the half-man, half-horse creatures from Greek mythology. The name perfectly captured the fusion of automotive styling and pickup truck utility - like the form and function of the Pontiac G8 ST -- even though its cab-forward design looks too soft for a truck.

The Centaur concept radically stretched the boundaries of what a pickup truck could be, far beyond the sports-car-meets-hauler nature of the 2010 G8 ST.

The Centaur's cab-forward, jellybean-style shape prioritized passenger
space in a footprint roughly equal to that of a first-generation GMC S-15 or Chevrolet S-10 extended cab pickup. Like the G8 ST, it had only two doors, with bucket seats up front. But the Centaur also added a full-width seat in the rear that provided room for three more passengers.

The Centaur's radical powertrain used an unconventional rear-engine
layout, like a 1960s Chevrolet Corvair pickup. A 3.0-liter, 24-valve horizontal six-cylinder engine was placed under the cargo box, just forward of the rear axle. Shark-like gills on the sides of the bed provided for both cooling and exhaust. A GMC press release at the time said it was paired with an "experimental" five-speed automatic transmission, but photos show a manual shifter and clutch pedal. Power was delivered to the road via all-wheel drive. Its payload was rated at 2,000 pounds, and it could pull up to a 5,000-pound trailer. Other nifty ride and handling features included a self-leveling air suspension and antilock brakes.

Interior styling was a hodgepodge of knobs, dials and buttons spread across rounded surfaces, like the information console of the starship Enterprise. It looks like GM took every idea it ever had for how drivers could interface with their truck and found a place in the cockpit to try them out.

Like most concepts, many of the ideas that were floated in the Centaur never made it to production, but two key elements did: The 1994 Chevrolet S-10 and GMC S-15 borrowed rear styling elements from the Centaur, implementing its angular rear bumper and taillights on their back ends. We always wondered where the idea for that came from. The Centaur also served to demonstrate four-wheel electric steering, which would eventually find its way into production in the 2002 GMC Sierra as Quadrasteer.

There's a third element we think should have been carried over: The Centaur name from this long-forgotten concept could have been perfectly resurrected for the G8 ST.

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