The Passion Effect of Concept Cars – 2

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The Buick Y-Job was the first true dream car. The style cues were evident on early postwar General Motors cars.

no likelihood of ever becoming realities. There were, however, vehicles that were brilliant in terms of engineering and vision. Among them was a Ford prototype longhaul tractor-trailer rig powered by a gas turbine engine. Its design was far in advance of anything by GM and Chrysler. Harley Earl and Bill Mitchell had worked on a diesel passenger-train concept, but it only made it to model form; the Ford gasturbine tractor-trailer rig was a reality. Because it was so advanced, its cost was so out of line with those of other trucks that it was impossible to bring it to market.

Volkswagen has been adept at updating and reintroducing popular past products. The concept Microbus already has buyers waiting for its release as a production vehicle.


Ford also applied turbine technology to a rear-engine Mystere dream car. Unlike the big rig, Mystere was not a functioning car but rather a study in form and future technology. It was another decade before Ford offered a mid- or rearengine car, and that was the limited race-bred GT40. The most famous dream car of all time is perhaps the 1955 Lincoln Futura—another concept in a sea of wild ideas. It cost Ford $250,000, and Henry Ford III and his design whiz kids were disappointed when it was not well received. Some of its features were salvaged for the second- generation Thunderbird, but the Lincoln was mothballed in Dearborn after the 1956 Rotunda show. It stayed there for 10 years. It surfaced again in 1966 when Hollywood custom car king George Barris used it as the platform for a special vehicle for a new television series. In less than three weeks, the forgettable Futura became the Batmobile—the most famous custom car of all time.

Dream cars eventually faded into the corporate sunset as muscle cars became prominent. Futuristic styles became less enticing to the buying public than raw performance and racing accomplishments. GM, Ford and Chrysler didn’t abandon the idea of the concept car, but they cut back on their construction and focused on working prototypes and existing model variants such as the GTO. There were, however, some notable efforts. In 1962 and ’63, Ford developed the Mustang I concept and then refined it as the Mustang II prototype. In 1964, the prototype was used for the midyear release of the Mustang—a sporty car based on the popular Falcon chassis.
The most famous ’60s concept car was the 1965 Mako Shark II. Its design was inspired by Bill Mitchell’s 1961 concept Corvette, and it was wildly successful on the auto show circuit and garnered massive print coverage. So overwhelming was the response to it that Chevrolet used a great deal of its style in the third-generation Corvette.

A common element in current concept cars is their connection with the past. The Cadillac 16 features advances in style, and a V-16 engine pays tribute to the magnificent Cadillacs produced from 1930 to 1937.

From 1965 through 1972, the concept cars were particularly forgettable. The dry spell was broken in 1973 when the Corvette XP-882 caused jaws to drop at the major auto shows. It was soon better known as the “AeroVette.” The first to sport a four-rotor Wankel engine mounted midship, the car was a refreshing change in design and attitude. Its rotary engine was later replaced by a pushrod V-8. It was slated for release in 1980 as the next Corvette, but a boardroom decision mandated that the Corvette should always be a frontengine sports car. That’s when the 1973 XP-898 concept car’s style better fit Chevrolet’s product plan—too bad, as a mid-engine Corvette could have completely changed the balance of power and could have challenged Ferrari and Lamborghini in the world of exotic sports cars. The frontengine C4 Corvette debuted in 1984.
As fuel economy became more important to car buyers than horsepower, Detroit concept cars reflected this shift. Suddenly, miles per gallon became more relevant than horsepower, and autoshow cars

Updated: June 30, 2011 — 11:26 AM
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