Daimler’s recent introduction of a doorless, open-roof electric car might have startled some, but in the wild world of concept cars it’s far from daring.
Since their invention by the auto industry in the late 1930s, concept cars have afforded engineers and designers an opportunity to let their imaginations run free. Notably, some designers have taken the idea to an illogical extreme, producing cars that are more memorable than functional.
But some of today’s production vehicles have their roots in concept cars. The recently introduced Cadillac ELR, for example, started out as the Cadillac Converj at the 2009 Detroit Auto Show. Similarly, the Ford Mustang and Pontiac Firebird evolved from concept cars that seemed daring in their day.
We’ve collected photos of concept cars that range from wild to pragmatic. From Smart’s Fourjoy, to Cadillac’s racy Converj, to BMW’s shape-shifting GINA, we present some of the best-known and most unusual. Click on the concept car below to start the slideshow.
Winner of a Peugeot design competition in 2005, the Moovie Concept Car was designed for city dwellers who needed to fit into tight parking spaces. Each of its wheels were independently driven by their own electric motors, allowing the car to rotate on its own axis. The vehicle’s two-passenger interior was designed for brightness and visibility. (Source: Wikicars.org)
Chuck, there are some wild machines in there. Some are just wierd. Others are fantastic. My vote for cars that should have been produced are the Ford GT90 (the Ford GT LeMans cars were always my favorites), the Chrylser Atlantic and th Mustang Milano. Wild stuff.
I, too, would put the Chrysler Atlantic at or near the top of my list, naperlou. It's such a great-looking car, I can't believe they never produced it. Seems like it could have had a life as a small-volume, premium vehicle.
Ah, this reminds me of my high school years in the '60s when I entered the Fisher Body Craftsman's Guild annual competition. The nationwide contest was sponsored by General Motors (then the world's biggest corporation). It was open only to boys (don't try that today) and the idea was to design and build a futuristic model car to 1/12 scale. Entries were judged on design and craftsmanship. Every state had a 1st, 2nd, 3rd place winner in Junior and Senior division. Then there were 20 regional awards in each division and 40 of us got $750 and an all-expenses-paid trip to Detroit (I flew Braniff on a TWA Constellation) where we toured GM styling studios and testing grounds and cool industrial dreamworks. We saw "How the West Was Won" in amazing new Cinerama. I entered five times and got state awards each time and regional award once in 1965. The national awards were presented at the regional awards banquet and included scholarships of $1000 to $5000. Even my school got a huge trophy for my regional award and the principal held a special assembly to present it.
Do a search on Fisher Body Crafsman's Guild to see pictures of many of the entries and dreams of young boys in the 1960s.
Greg, I thought they were big wheels as well, but I am not so sure. I think that the big circles around the doors are just for style and the wheels are all the same size. Perhaps Chuck could check it out.
Definitely true, tekochip. It's a good thing that most of these vehicles never reached production. On the other hand, I do like the fact that the auto companies give their designers and engineers the freedom to dream up and build these concepts. I can't think of engineers in any other branch of technology that get this kind of opportunity.
Daimler claiming they're jettisoning unnenessary ballast makes thier car look like a dune buggy wannabe, with less character and usefulness. In the USA, such a vehicle might be usable in SoCal and Florida, but you'd not be able to take it on the beach.
Right - someone clearly thought "unnecessary ballast" was a clever turn of phrase, but that pesky "ballast" on any car is almost never considered unnecessary by the designers. The real indicator as to whether it's necessary or not would ultimately be determined by the marketplace.
I especially like the idea of the tri-color tail lights on the Mustang that would depict acceleration and coasting different from braking. With simple accelerometers one could easily depict deceleration as well.
Photo 1, the Peugeot, makes a mistake that has characterized concept cars for decades--too much glass. Leave that one out in the summer sun and you can bake baguettes inside.
Very few of the designs seek to solve the real problems facing automobiles these days except for the VW electric. It offers modest range in what might be affordable and well suited to daily commuting and local trips. That is far more practical than being able to race at 250 mph, however much the latter may seem to compensate for certain masculine shortcomings.
The BMW with fabric skin is interesting. Clearly there is a century-long history in aviation. Is the shape-shifting feature just cutesy-poo, or does it somehow optimize aerodynamics over varying speed regimes? If so, I would like to know how many teaspoons of gasoline this would save over the life of the vehicle? Also, how durable is the fabric versus sunlight, weather, shrubbery, etc? Again, based on aircraft, fabric skin has a limited life, even without "shape shifting."
The BMW concept seems to have technology that could be adapted to aircraft design. The shape changing capability could re-form a wing from a low drag high speed airfoil to a high drag low speed airfoil. The transition could be such that all intermediate combinations would allow an aircraft to operate in all flight regimes. This would allow the same aircraft to go from STOL to high speed flight, extending it's utility.
@Jim S: To me the BMW looks like a death trap. I think it would lose in a collision with a Smart Car and that is saying something. On the cars I like the old Buick best, but what I really found facinating was the Big Hair on the two models with the 70 Mustang. It brought back uncomfortable memories of choking on my wife's hairspray before we left the house. I wonder how much lung damage is a remnant of that era.
Great show Charles. I agree with an earlier poster about all of the glass. That reminds me of an AMC Pacer. Yuchh.
Ervin, my feeling is that if every artist was an engineer then most of them would probably not be artists. I see the two talents pointing in different directions. Of course some engineers do appreciate appearances but only a few follow appearance to the detriment of functionality. That task is most often handled by marketing and cost reduction groups.
But sometimes it becomes quite clear that some engineers have no concept of what looks good and what does not, and unfortunately a few of them have been architects responsible for buildings that the rest of us have to see.
That FourJoy looked every bit as impractical as any of the concept cars shown. And it was not nearly sporty enough to be a fun sports type of vehicle. WHAt were they thinking?
The Dodge pickup would have sold a lot if they had put regular type doors on it, it looked much cooler than the El Camino. But Chrysler management of that era was often immume to creativity, except for my 1965 Barracuda. I loved that car. With a few modifications to the suspension it handled like a real race car.
Very very informative slide show Charles. I love to see engineering and design talent pushed to extreme as these cars indicate they have been. I am assuming all of the design was CAD and solid modeling. In other words, the products can be built. I know that sometimes what really looks good is very difficult to fabricate. I would love to see most of these newer product on the road.
Good point about fabrication, bobjengr. That's particulaly the case for high volume fabrication. That's why most concept cars never reach production. The ones that do usually see some dramatic (and boring) changes.
It is not reasonable to even think that any of the concept cars prior to the mid sixties could have included any CAD operations in their creation. And just because a single copy can be produced does not mean that even a second copy would be any easier than the first.
Solid modeling and CAD and other simulation software certainly make great designs easier, but they are by no means the only way great designs happen. Engineering brilliance and creativity are the more critical parts of the mix.
One thing that did impress me was: The GT90 concept was declared by Ford to be the "world's mightiest sports car." While I don't know what the top speed of the mid-sixties "Griffith" was, it also had a big Ford engine that was "not quite stock", and probably not even close to stock. The GT90 looks a lot like the Griffith before all of those angles were smoothed out. I don't know it it would have been called a production model, but there were two of them in the college parking lot where I attended in 1966.
One additional thought is that if the Mustang line had followed that first concept, they could have saved a lot of money on tooling since it was so very ugly thyat very few of them would sell. Fortunately wiser folks prevailed.
Great post, thanks. The worst idea has to be the "smart" that has done away with ballast like doors, roof and rear windows. One side impact accident and you're dead, 10 minutes in the sun and you're sunburned or a bit of rain and you're drenched, and anything that isn't nailed down get pinched. Some of the others quite nice and inspiring. Yep give me a GT90
I agree about hose open cars being an intensly poor idea. Completely aside from weather and safety issues is the security issue. In Detroit a car must have doors that lock, because of the car-jackers. So an open car would have a very short lifetime around here.
The question of whether engineers could have foreseen the shortcut maintenance procedures that led to the crash of American Airlines Flight 191 in 1979 will probably linger for as long as there is an engineering profession.
More than 35 years later, the post-mortem on one of the country’s worst engineering disasters appears to be simple. A contractor asked for a change in an original design. The change was approved by engineers, later resulting in a mammoth structural collapse that killed 114 people and injured 216 more.
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