The mid- to late-1980s was a revolutionary time in automotive engineering when GM's Experimental Truck No. 2 hit the track as a pace car in the CART Indy series. The XT-2 helped mark the end of the "Malaise Era" in automobiles and the start of the modern horsepower renaissance and sales growth of personal-use pickups.
The 1970 Clean Air Act and 1973 Arab Oil Embargo crippled engine performance, as manufacturers found the only way they could respond to these sudden pressures was to add bulky new emissions hardware and cut back on power. They didn’t have the powertrain and smog scrubbing technology that's taken for granted today.
The biggest breakthrough for GM arrived in the early-'80s, when the company started replacing carburetors with fuel injection units -- first with throttle body injection (TBI) and a few years later with tuned port injection (TPI).
TBI operated like a carburetor but used computerized injectors instead of a mechanically controlled vacuum to meter and feed the fuel and air charge to an engine’s cylinders. Power was increased by up to 20 percent over a carbureted engine and fuel economy was modestly improved, due to better fuel atomization for a more thorough burn during the combustion cycle.
TBI was an intermediate step that lasted only a few years until TPI
came along. TPI solved a major weakness with carburetors and TBI, both
of which centrally distributed fuel to all cylinders simultaneously
through an engine's intake manifold. TPI placed individual injectors
at the intake port of every cylinder, so each cylinder received a precise
amount of fuel for optimal ignition and power. Controlling individual
injectors stopped engines from running too rich or too lean. The result
was up to 30 percent better horsepower, torque and fuel economy over
a carbureted engine. The more efficient combustion process also improved
About the same time that engines were getting better, small pickups were also very popular with truck buyers. Chevrolet built the XT-2 to celebrate its powertrain breakthrough and the increased popularity of compact trucks.
Several configurations were explored before Chevy's car-truck concept found its final form. The first version placed the engine under the pickup bed with rear-wheel-drive, like a Chevrolet Corvair pickup from the sixties. The second iteration was based on GM's mid-size passenger car platform -- front-engine front-wheel-drive/all-wheel-drive with a 3.1-liter V-6 turbocharged engine. That's a similar layout to the drivetrain in today’s Honda Ridgeline. The final version selected for the XT-2 was based on the 1989 Chevrolet Camaro's front-engine rear-wheel-drive layout. This also happens to be the same drivetrain setup as the 2010 Pontiac G8 sport truck.