Concept cars are a strange and wonderful breed. Their reasons for being can range from humble test mules to far-out design showpieces. Whenever they’re unveiled at shows or design competitions, they never cease to excite, for as concerned as we are with the present moment, the future is what ultimately occupies most of our attention. As such, concept cars provide the perfect fix, acting as a glimpse of what could (and oftentimes what should) be. However, these elusive unicorns rarely make it to production as you see them before you; instead, they’re usually softened or watered-down, catered to current trends such that they don’t buck the status quo. And it’s a damn shame. Rather than being hidden or treated like some undesirable other, these cars ought to be celebrated for their brazen and often-challenging designs. After all, it’s the concept cars that usher each new era of automotive principle. What follows is a compilation of the 25 concept cars we wish had made it to production, displayed in all their righteousness lest they be forgotten.
Alfa Romeo BAT 7
Alfa Romeo debuted its Berlinetta Aerodinamica Technica (BAT) series in 1953 with the BAT 5. Designed by Gieuseppe Bertone and his chief designer Franco Scaglione, the BAT 5 was the first in a series of prototypes commissioned to test the limits of aerodynamic efficiency. It featured an Alfa Romeo 1900 chassis in addition to some visually stunning bodywork influenced by period aircraft. However, just one year later, Alfa Romeo unveiled its successor, the BAT 7. With even more exaggerated paneling to the tune of a lower nose, longer tail fins, and reworked rear air intakes, the BAT 7 achieved an astounding drag coefficient (cD) of just 0.19 — the lowest of the prototype trio. (For reference, the lowest drag coefficient of a modern production car belongs to the Mercedes A-Class, with a 0.22 cD).
Aston Martin Bulldog
In response to the ’70s-era Italian wedge car boom, Aston Martin developed its Bulldog concept, an effort intended to demonstrate the British marque’s supercar chops. Having just finished the Lagonda, Aston assigned William Towns to design a car that would reach the 200mph mark. What resulted was a sharp, wedge-shaped car with five hidden headlamps at the center as well as a pair of distinctive gullwing doors. Under the hood, the Bulldog’s twin-turbo 5.3L V8 produced 600hp with a claimed top speed of 237mph. Though it only reached 191mph in testing, British-based Classic Motor Cars is currently restoring the Bulldog with the aim of taking it to its 200mph target.
As a fitting tribute to the OG, Audi revealed its Quattro Concept at the 2010 Paris Motor Show. Based on the RS5 platform, the Quattro Concept’s turbocharged five-cylinder engine put out an impressive 408hp to all four wheels through Audi’s Quattro all-wheel-drive system. Because of its aluminum Audi Space Frame body and carbon fiber hood, the concept weighed just 2,866lbs — about the same as the 1984 Sport Quattro. At the time of its debut, Audi had considered a limited production of between 200-500 cars, but the project was ultimately dropped in 2012. However, it doesn’t take an Audi aficionado to notice the obvious design influences carried over into both the Audi TT and the Audi R8.
The shape-shifting BMW GINA (Geometry and functions In ‘N’ Adaptations) concept was designed by Chris Bangle as a departure from existing design principles and conventional production processes. Where other cars’ bodies are made of metals, carbon fibers, or plastics, the GINA concept was covered in a unique polyurethane-coated Spandex fabric skin. In addition to being highly durable and temperature-resistant, the body could change its shape in response to the surrounding conditions or at the command of the driver. Beneath said skin, the GINA featured an aluminum wire frame controlled by a series of electric and hydraulic actuators. As such, the GINA had only four “panels” in total — one at the hood, two at the side, and one at the trunk.
BMW M1 Hommage
In celebration of the iconic M1’s 30th anniversary, BMW revealed the M1 Hommage at the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2008. Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, the Hommage concept included a mid-engine layout and some styling cues — such as the trademark kidney grilles and rear double badge — taken from the original M1. Although BMW never went on to produce a new M1 supercar, the Hommage paved the way for the later Vision EfficientDynamics concept and the i8 production car.
Bugatti 16C Galibier
Originally unveiled in 2009, the Bugatti 16C Galibier was a luxury fastback concept inspired by the Type 57 Galibier. Beneath its hinging ribbed hood, it featured an 8.0L twin-supercharged W16 engine with an expected output of 986hp and a top speed of 235mph. The interior was nothing if not luxurious, clothed in an abundance of handsome caramel leather and wood paneling, and matched to some premium chrome instrumentation. Although the 16C Galibier was expected to hit the market as the Royale production car in 2014, Bugatti delayed the concept in favor of the Veyron’s bigger, more powerful brother, the Chiron.
General Motors debuted the Buick Centurion at its 1956 Motorama Show. In addition to its futuristic design aesthetic, the Centurion exhibited a number of innovations far ahead of its time. For instance, beneath its unique all-glass bubble roof, its four passengers sat in individual bucket seats — a design that was highly unusual given the prominence of bench seats in the United States. Furthermore, the Centurion eschewed traditional mirrors in favor of a rearview television camera that would record images from behind and transmit them to a dash-mounted display. But that’s not all — rather than using a standard gear selection lever of the time, the Buick Centurion included a lone dial located at the steering wheel.
So the story goes that the Atlantic concept was first sketched on a napkin by Chrysler’s president Bob Lutz in early 1993. Inspired by the long-nosed french coupes of the 1930s, such as the Bugatti Type 57S Atlantique, it featured a number of retro styling details updated with modern engineering. Beneath its curvaceous hood lay a straight-8 engine constructed from two 4-cylinder Dodge Neon engines. To round out the retro grand tourer look, the Atlantic’s interior was outfitted with a number of art deco-style gauges.
Originally designed by Bob Ackerman and then built as a fully-functioning prototype in 1981, the Dodge M4S concept was meant to be used as a pace car. It underwent extensive wind tunnel testing, with its sleek body managing a drag coefficient of just 0.236. Despite its small 2.2L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, the M4S produced an impressive 440hp and went from 0-60mph in 4.1 seconds with a top speed of 194.8mph. Although it’s most famous for its appearance in The Wraith, the actual M4S was only used sparingly for the movie — most of the time it sat untouched on the set while dummy-mold cars took the brunt of the stunts and race scenes.
Ferrari 512S Modulo
The Ferrari 512S Modulo was designed by Paolo Martin of Pininfarina and revealed at the 1970 Geneva Motor Show. It started life as a standard 512S before being stripped down and given to Pininfarina as the bones for a show car. In addition to an aggressive geometric design that kicked off the era of the Italian wedge cars, the 512S Modulo concept featured a unique canopy-style glass roof and four partially-covered wheels. Beneath its 24-hole engine cover, the Modulo hid a powerful 550hp Ferrari V12 that took it to 60mph in 3.1 seconds and climbed to a mind-boggling top speed of 220mph.
Though the Ferrari Testarossa was already a legend in its own right, Pietro Camardella of Pininfarina felt that he could improve on the iconic design. What resulted was the Mythos, a concept car that left the donor 4.9L flat-12 untouched but lowered the body by three inches, widened it by five inches, and shortened it by six inches. Additionally, Camardella fitted the Mythos with huge air vents in the side panels and an automatic aero spoiler at the rear. Upon seeing the Mythos premiere at the 1989 Tokyo Motor Show, the Sultan of Brunei purchased the only existing concept, also commissioning a second in turquoise.
Termed the spiritual successor to the GT40, the Ford GT90 concept took a number of styling cues — like roofline doors and a mid-engined layout — from its forbearer and combined them with Ford’s “New Edge” design philosophy. It was built around a honeycombed aluminum monocoque with molded carbon fiber body panels, but the GT90’s exhaust would get so hot that it required rear ceramic panels much like those on a space shuttle. With a 720hp quad-turbocharged V12, the GT90 could do 0-60mph in 3.1 seconds and continue to 100mph in nearly the same amount of time. But even more impressive was its (claimed) Veyron-matching top speed of 253mph — unheard of before the turn of the millennium.
Having produced a series of radical concept cars throughout the 1950s jet-age, General Motors unveiled its Stilletto concept in 1964. In contrast to its played-out predecessors, the Stilletto featured a low-slung fastback roofline and a sleek body absent of any breaks. But GM wasn’t quite ready to wash its hands of the jet-inspired designs of the previous decade — the concept donned a number of styling touches including aircraft steering, numerous toggle switches and dials (some 31 indicator lights, 29 toggles, and 16 gauges, to be exact), and a rear entry hatch. However, the Stiletto was more than a fancy party trick; it was also far ahead of its time, with both interior automatic climate control and ultrasonic obstacle sensors. As an added bonus, it was fitted with three-way communication speakers, presumably to allow the driver to voice their feelings (frustration) to the outside world.
You may recognize the C-X75 from its appearance in the latest Bond film, Spectre. Though Jaguar had intended to produce a limited run of 250 cars from 2013-2015, it shelved the project in 2012 due to the ongoing economic crisis. Designed by Ian Callum, the C-X75 was a hybrid-electric supercar intended to celebrate Jaguar’s 75th anniversary. With two electric YASA turbines at each axle as well as a twincharged (turbocharged and supercharged) 1.6L 4-cylinder petrol engine, the C-X75 put out just shy of 900hp with the added benefit of some incredibly low emission figures. Its top speed was estimated to be in excess of 200mph with a 0-60 time taking less than three seconds.
Unveiled at the 2005 North American International Auto Show, in many ways the Jeep Hurricane concept represents the pinnacle of SUV performance. It featured two powerful 5.7L HEMI V8 engines, each equipped with automatic cylinder deactivation (meaning it could run on 4, 8, 12, or all 16 of its cylinders) and producing 335hp and 370 ft-lb of torque. But the innovation didn’t stop there — in addition to its capable 4-wheel-drive, the Hurricane included a proprietary 4-wheel steering system. Thus, with all four wheels turning in the same direction, the Hurricane could move sideways; with front and rear wheels turning in opposite directions, the Hurricane had an effective turning radius of zero feet. To put it another way — this Jeep could literally turn on a dime.
Jeep Mighty FC
Jeep enthusiasts will recognize the Jeep Mighty FC concept as a modern reimagination of the original ’50s FC (Forward Control) designed by Brooks Stevens. Much like the original, the Mighty FC concept seated its occupants above and also in front of the powertrain, allowing for improved space efficiency and versatile offroad performance. Underneath the concept’s new digs lay a Rubicon, with a cab positioned ahead of the front axle, a stock wheelbase stretched to 117 inches, and an added bed at the rear. Further Wrangler influences included a Rubicon 3.6L V6 and its automatic transmission. Finally, in order to give the Mighty FC some improved all-terrain pedigree, Jeep fitted the concept with a set of portal axles resulting in 5.5 inches of lift — ample room to dress it in some 39.5-inch Krawler tires.
Designed by Walter de’Silva in order to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the iconic Lamborghini Miura, the Miura Concept made its official debut at the 2006 North American International Autoshow. Combining the bones of a Murcielago with the retro-styling of the original Miura, the concept proved incredibly popular amongst Lamborghini’s fans. However, it was never to be — Lamborghini acknowledged the Miura as a fitting tribute to the original but emphasized its commitment to forward-thinking design.
Lancia Stratos HF Zero
Occasionally cars will forgo function entirely in the pursuit of jaw-dropping form. Perhaps the most exemplary of such cars is the Lancia Stratos HF Zero, a concept designed by the famed Bertone and premiered as the yin to Pininfarina’s Ferrari 512S Modulo yang. However, where the 512S Modulo boasted a powerful Ferrari V12, the Stratos HF Zero was powered by a humble 115hp V4 — the very same used in the Lancia Fulvia. But this car was about more than acceleration times or top speeds; it was an exercise in abstract, extremist design. At only 33 inches tall, it was even lower-slung than the extraterrestrial 512S Modulo. Visibility was also even more limited, with only a canopy-style windshield and two small side windows through which the driver could see their surroundings.
Although the Lincoln Futura was first unveiled at the 1955 Chicago Auto Show, it’s most famous for its role as Adam West’s Batmobile throughout the 1966 Batman TV series. Designed by Bill Schmidt and John Najjar (the lead mustang designer), the Futura was hand-built by the Italian-based Ghia. In addition to its iconic double canopied roof, the Futura featured deeply-recessed headlight pods, wing-like fins, and a concave grille. Such futuristic styling made it the ideal Bat car, and despite costing some $250,000 to build (about $2.4 million in today’s money), Ford sold the Lincoln Futura to George Barris for just one dollar.
As the product of a collaboration between Maserati, Pininfarina, and Motorola, the Maserati Birdcage was developed in honor of the storied Italian car designer’s 75th-anniversary. It took its name from the Maserati Birdcage cars of the 1960s, a series of racers known for their curvaceous body paneling and cage-like meshed structure. Built on the same carbon fiber chassis as the Maserati MC12 GT1 race car, the Birdcage 75th also borrowed its powerful 700hp Ferrari V12. However, the most notable feature of the Birdcage 75th was its bubble canopy. Much like the Ferrari 512S Modulo that came before, it used such a design in place of traditional door entry. As a key technical partner of the collaboration, Motorola designed much of the interior, including such elements as a heads up display, a Bluetooth headset, and a series of cameras for the driver to broadcast their experience.
The last of Mazda’s Nagare concept line, the Furai — meaning “Sound of the Wind” — was revealed at the end of 2007. Intended to compete in the American Le Mans series, it was built around a chassis based on the C65 Le Mans prototype and was powered by a 450hp three-rotor Wankel engine. It wore a slew of silver and red aero work, as well as the number 55, that of its 24 Hours of Le Mans-winning predecessor, the 1991 787B. Although the Furai was slated for production, the concept met its demise at the hands of Top Gear Magazine during a road test, catching fire as it crested a hill. Its remains are said to have been taken to Mazda’s Advanced Design Studio located in Irvine, California.
The Mercedes-Benz C111 prototype series was intended as a test mule for innovative technologies such as multi-link suspension, aerodynamic plastic body paneling, and various Wankel engine configurations. Designed by Bruno Sacco, it made its debut in 1969 with the C111-I, a car sporting a 280hp mid-mounted three-rotor Wankel engine and a set of iconic ‘Benz gullwing doors. Despite carrying over such features to the C111-II, Mercedes eventually ditched the rotary drivetrain in favor of a turbocharged 5-cylinder diesel engine ripped from its 240D production car. Thus, out of the abandonment of the Wankel — amidst stringent emissions regulations and the ’70s oil crisis — came the iconic German turbodiesel.
Introduced at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show, the Nissan IDx was inspired by the Datsun 510 of old. It served as Nissan’s conceptual answer to the rear-wheel-drive tuners coming from the likes of Hyundai in the form of the Genesis couple and Subaru in the form of the BRZ. A NISMO version borrowed the 1.6L inline-4 used in the production Juke NISMO, producing 230hp with a 0-60mph time of seven seconds and a top speed of 130mph. Though it was incredibly popular with JDM enthusiasts and gamers alike, the development of an all-new RWD drivetrain proved too costly to warrant the production of the IDx.
Debuting at the 2006 Geneva Motor Show, the Spyker D12 should be thought of as one of the forefathers of today’s luxury performance SUV craze. It boasted a 6.0L Volkswagen W12 engine, putting out some 500hp and accelerating from 0-60mph in five seconds despite its hefty 4,079lb curb weight. Like many of Spyker’s other sports cars, the D12 rested on aluminum aeroblade wheels and utilized aluminum rearview mirrors. Access to the luxurious quilted-leather and brushed aluminum cabin was provided through a full-length panoramic roof and a set of rear-hinging doors.
In designing the Volkswagen W12, Giorgetto Giugiaro had just two requirements he had to adhere to with the final car: first, it had to be a mid-engined W12; second, it had to incorporate Volkswagen’s Syncro four-wheel-drive system. That’s it. Such was Volkswagen’s determination to prove to the world that it could not only build a large and reliable engine but also build an entire supercar. What resulted was the W12 Syncro, a car first debuted at the 1997 Tokyo Motor Show, but that made later reappearances in both roadster and Nardo track forms. At its most powerful spec, the VW W12 put out a hair under 600hp, taking the car from 0-60mph in 3.5 seconds and to a top speed of 221mph. In creating its W12 engine, Volkswagen laid the groundwork for models such as the Audi A8, Bentley Continental GT, and even the Bugatti Veyron.
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