Concept cars embody the greatest aspirations of a car company, and although they rarely make it to production, serve to inspire future models. Here are ten of the greatest
The Oxford dictionary definition of the word concept is explained as ‘a plan or intention’. This is somewhat misleading when it comes to the world of concept cars as the myriad of utterly desirable vehicles that very rarely develop further than a show stopping plastic motor show model.
Perhaps the second explanation is more accurate, namely ‘an idea or invention to help sell or publicize a commodity’. Now if we consider the automobile as a commodity then this is a far more accurate reflection of what a concept car is all about. Designed to get people salivating over new technologies and design directions, the concept car has represented that achingly desirable yet unattainable car. Namely, the next one. Our list contains a mix of cars that range from fanciful design concepts to fully functioning production ready supercars, take a read through them and let us know your favourite.
Buick Y-Job – 1938
The granddaddy of them all, with a name you’d probably hesitate to say around your mum. The Y-Job is largely regarded as the motor industry’s first concept car. With power operated hidden headlamps, a massive vertical chrome grille and wraparound bumpers, it gave motorists an idea of where Buick was heading with their car design over the next decade and beyond. Why the odd name, well experimental cars generally bore the letter X and designer Harley J Earl just went and used the next letter.
Rather than a single car, the C111 concept cars were a range of experimental vehicles designed to test new engine technologies. Wankel rotaries, turbochargers and diesels were all experimented with. Various iterations set a number of speed and endurance records over the years, a C111 fitted with a 4.8-litre twin-turbo V8 diesel engine averaged over 403km/h at the Nardo Test track in 1979. Nineteen seventy nine! Take that Bugatti Veyron.
Audi Avus – 1991
Debuting technologies like an aluminium space frame and 6.0-litre W12 engine, the Audi Avus was a concept supercar which hinted at the direction the brand was heading. In true German fashion, they had already ironed out most of the technological kinks, and both of these advances made an appearance on top-line A8 models over the coming years. The mid-engined, Quattro all-wheel drive layout also saw light of day in the R8 many years later.
BMW Nazca C2 – 1992
Collaborations between Italian designers and German engineers can sometimes produce amazing results. The BMW Nazca C2 is a case in point: its bodywork was taken care of by Italdesign while under the skin modified 8 Series underpinnings replete with breathed-on 5.0l V12 lurked, giving it a rumoured 191mph top end. Mooted as a replacement for the financially unsuccessful yet brilliant M1, three concept cars were built before BMW decided it was all too risky.
Isdera Commendatore 112i - 1993
Isdera is a specialised auto manufacturer building one-off cars for an exclusive and very small client base. The Commendatore 112i was their swoopy 1990s concept supercar which utilised a Mercedes-Benz derived 6.0-litre V12 producing 402bhp giving the Commendatore a top speed of 213mph. Gullwing doors, an automatic air brake and adjustable chassis were just some of the advanced features of this secretive supercar. It is unknown how many were produced but rumours are that only one prototype actually exists, so if you ever see a low-slung supercar that looks like a cross between a ‘90s 911 and a prototype Le Mans racer, it may well be the one-and-only Isdera Commendatore 112i.
Lamborghini Cala – 1995
Another Italdesign entry, this time with design aspects and running gear from Lamborghini. The V10 powered Cala bore many aspects that were eventually seen in the most financially successful Lamborghini of all time, the Gallardo. Thanks to the usual calamities that typified Lamborghini before the VW group take over, the Cala remained a one-off concept car. With 400bhp a 6-speed manual gearbox and rear wheel drive it must have been a proper handful too.
Ford GT90 – 1995
Four turbochargers, 6-litre V12, 730bhp, aluminium Monocoque, carbon fibre body panels and a top speed of 253mph. That’s the sort of Christmas letter adults would write to Santa, and in 1995 Ford gifted the world with just such a car, the GT90. Its styling took Ford’s ‘New Edge’ design language to new heights, containing more triangles than even Pythagoras would be comfortable with. Drawing on the original GT40 and sharing some componentry with the XJ220, this concept car paved the way for the modern Ford GT.
Lamborghini Miura Concept - 2006
Lamborghini is notorious for dangling tasty automotive treats in front of drooling customers, and then steadfastly refusing to put them into production. The Miura concept was just such a machine, celebrating 40 years since the introduction of the original Miura, one of the world’s most beautiful cars, this concept featured Murcielago running gear and retro-modern styling that had petrol heads delirious with excitement. After a suitable period of gloating, the evil geniuses at Sant’Agata wheeled the Miura concept into the Lamborghini museum, mumbling something about how the company was celebrating the past but focusing on the future...
Mazda Furai – 2007
Furai means ‘sound of the wind’ and if the breeze over the treetops really did sound like a rotary engined Mazda Furia at full chat, then the world would be a better place. If somewhat less peaceful. The Furai was a fully functioning concept car, complete with 450bhp rotary engine, and the intention of its designer was to put it into production. Sadly this didn’t materialise, and the one existing example was destroyed by a fire while being tested on track for a Top Gear episode.
Peugeot Onyx – 2012
With a 680bhp turbo diesel/electric hybrid motor and suitably ridiculous top speed and acceleration figures (220mph+ and 0-60 in 2.9sec), the Peugeot Onyx easily met the essential concept car requirements to showcase game-changing potential future technologies. All this paled in comparison however to how this thing looked, with a carbon fibre/copper composite body and lines that only the French (and perhaps the Italians) could design, it was an absolute stunner.
Ford Nucleon – 1958
Few auto manufacturers were as unfettered by the limitations of contemporary technology as the American big three in the post-war heydays of the 1950s. The Ford Nucleon was a pickup truck, with mobile nuclear reactor situated where your shopping would normally go. The reactor would power a steam engine, similar to the system found in submarines apparently. Thankfully it did not make it past the scale model stage; perhaps the potential for global nuclear annihilation every time a Nucleon was involved in an accident managed to curb Fords boundless enthusiasm.
Words: John Tallodi