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Concept cars: the greatest concept car designs of all time

Concept cars: the greatest concept car designs of all time
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2019-02-01 10:35

Concept cars are where the car industry lets its imagination run wild. We pick out the greatest ever concepts...

Greatest Concept Cars - header

Concept cars. They’re not for sale, and a lot of them aren’t even able to move under their own power. Yet the concept car is a vital asset to the car makers that build them. They can showcase a new design direction for a company, or reveal future technology that will reach production in later years. Either way, the reveal of a concept car can be just as exciting as the announcement of a brand-new production model. So here we’ve highlighted some of greatest concept car designs that have gone down in history as the cars that shaped our motoring world.

But what makes a good concept car? Well, there are a variety of factors. Innovation is one of the key elements that makes a new concept car stand out on the international motor show circuit. For starters, the concept car has to look good. Now, style can be a subjective thing, but there’s no doubt that the concept cars which stand the test of time are the ones with show-stopping looks, and can go on to determine the design themes of a manufacturer’s production cars for a long time in the future.

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There have been a number of concepts over the years that have also also showcased major innovations in technology, both in terms of motive power and the kind of tech you’ll find on board. While autonomous production cars are closer to reality than ever, self-driving cars is a concept that car makers have toyed with for decades, while electric, hydrogen and even nuclear energy have all been considered worthy of inclusion on a concept car or two down the ages.

The Auto Express team raided the archives and our own collective memories of the concept cars that have made an impact in the past decades. Our list isn’t definitive, rather a snapshot of what’s happened in the concept car world from the 1930s right through to the present day.

Greatest concept cars ever

Below is our pick of the greatest concept cars of all time. Be sure to tell us about your favourite concept cars in the comments section.

The cars are listed in alphabetical order. Just click the links to jump to different sections of the story...

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Alfa Romeo BAT 5/7/9 (1953-55)

The name BAT stands for Berlinetta Aerodinamica Tecnica, but it also describes the look of this trio of winged Alfas pretty well, too. All three cars were designed by Nuccio Bertone to study the effects of aerodynamics, and were revealed in 1953, 1954 and 1955 respectively. Under the skin they’re based on the modest Alfa 1900, with 90hp engines.

The distinctive rounded nose and prominent rear fins meant they were bat-like in appearance, while BAT 7 had a drag coefficient of 0.19, which still impresses today. All three cars still exist, and are part of a collection based in the US, although they are often seen together at classic car shows such as the Pebble Beach Concours.

Aston Martin DB10 (2014)

When James Bond needs a car, he’s going to turn to Aston Martin. But with a new V12 model still a couple of years away, and the rest of the range feeling its age, Bond would need something special for the movie Spectre. So the film’s producers commissioned Aston to build an all-new model, called the DB10

Under the skin, there’s the modified running gear of the V8 Vantage, and the DB10 is good for a top speed of 193mph. To make it even more exclusive, Aston only built 10 DB10s, making it a rarity even in the exclusive world of Aston Martins.

Audi Avus quattro (1991)

Back in the 1990s, Audi was on a crusade for lightness, which it displayed in its concept cars. One such model was the Avus quattro, a mid-engined supercar study that featured aluminium bodywork over an aluminium frame. Designer J Mays took inspiration from the Auto Union land speed record cars for the supercar’s low-slung body, while the polished panels made a highlight of the car’s aluminium construction.

Power was supposed to come from a 6.0-litre W12 engine, but the show car had to make do with a wooden mock-up, so nobody really knows whether the Avus would have supercar potential. Its design cues, as well as its aluminium construction made production in 1994, with the arrival of the first Audi A8 limo

Audi Nuvolari quattro (2003)

Named after Auto Union’s famous grand prix driver Tazio Nuvolari, this coupe concept will look familiar because it was the precursor to the original Audi A5 Coupe. And when comparing the Audi Nuvolari to the production A5 Coupe, it’s easy to define where concept car ideas fail to meet production reality.

The Nuvolari’s low roof and small glass area was ditched for the A5, while the headlights increased in size and the grille was toned down. Also dropped was the show car’s 591bhp 5.0-litre V10 - the closest the A5 got was 444bhp for the RS 5, although quattro four-wheel drive did carry over.

Bentley EXP 10 Speed 6 (2015)

With the current SUV arms race in full swing, it was good to see Bentley counter the controversy of its Bentayga SUV with this stunning two-seater coupe concept. The EXP 10 wowed crowds in 2015, so much so that Bentley is on schedule to put it into production.

Unlike most concepts, the EXP 10 is likely to get through to production without many changes, seeing as it already looks like a variation on the Continental GT which it shares a platform with. That road car is due to be revealed in 2019/2020.

BMW E1 (1991)

More than 20 years before the BMW i3 hit showrooms, BMW’s first attempt at an electric city car was the E1 concept. This Fiat 500-sized machine featured the design cues of other BMWs of the era - including a comically large window area - and had light weight built into it to boost its driving range as much as possible. 

Claimed range for the 900kg machine was 155 miles, which is quite something when the i3 claims a similar distance today with higher tech batteries on board. In some ways the E1 was a teaser for the i3 and the 1 Series hatchback, too, as both have styling and tech that can easily be traced back to this compact ancestor.

BMW GINA (2008)

When designers are given free rein, they can come up with some weird stuff, including names. GINA stands for Geometry and functions In 'N' Adaptations, and to understand what that means, you probably need to step inside the brain of BMW’s then-design chief Chris Bangle.

When it comes down to it, the GINA is unique thanks to its fabric ‘skin’ stretched over a metal frame. That skin was made from waterproof Spandex, a fabric more commonly associated with big-haired heavy metal bands from the 1980s. Of more concern was the slightly risque way in which the bonnet opened, with the two sides of the bonnet separating to reveal the engine...

Bugatti 16C Galibier (2009)

With the Veyron in production, it was time for Bugatti to think about a second model. And as it had gained a reputation for luxury with cars like the Royale, it seemed fitting that this car should be a luxury machine to compete with Rolls-Royce.

Cue the 16C Galibier, named after an earlier Bugatti, which in turn was named after an Alpine pass. Power was planned to come from the same quad-turbo W12 as the Veyron, and a 235mph top speed was mooted. Production numbers for this luxury five-seater would have been far higher than the Veyron or Chiron, but the model has still yet to appear in showrooms.

Buick Y-Job (1938)

Widely regarded as the first concept car, the Y-Job was the creation of General Motors design boss Harley Earl, and went on to dictate the design of Buick’s cars throughout the 1950s. It featured smooth bodywork with hidden headlights, electric windows, wraparound bodywork and flush door handles.

What’s more amazing is that Earl used the Y-Job as his daily driver for over a decade, because it was based on existing Buick running gear. Earl later went on to introduce tail fins to US production cars, as well as create the Chevrolet Corvette.

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Cadillac Cien (2002)

With an ageing customer base and a range of stodgy designs, General Motors needed a concept car to revive interest in luxury brand Cadillac. And what better way than with a supercar concept? Cien means 100 in Spanish, and the concept was revealed in Cadillac’s centenary year.

Power came from a 750bhp V12 that featured cylinder shutdown for light loads - although why anyone would care much about that from a 12-cylinder concept supercar is anyone’s guess. While Cadillac built a working prototype, there were never any serious plans to put it into production, although the car’s angular lines were a precursor to cars such as the CTS and Escalade

Citroen GT by Citroen (2008)

Sony’s Gran Turismo racing game on the PlayStation has pushed the boundaries of collaboration between car and game makers like no other. The GT by Citroen was a significant step in this partnership, as it was co-designed by Citroen and GT developer Polyphony Digital. Not only did it look radical, it also injected some extra desirability into the Citroen brand.

In-game, the original GT by Citroen concept car was all-electric, but there have since been petrol-powered roadgoing and race versions created, while the real GT by Citroen is powered by a Ford V8 with nearly 650bhp.

Citroen Karin (1980)

In an effort to revive Citroen’s profile in the 1980s, the Karin was created to cause a stir on the concept car scene. It was largely unconventional, with a triangular-themed design that resulted in a pyramid-shaped body, which only had room for three people to sit abreast in the cabin, with the driver in the middle.

The roof tapered to a point - so who knows how comfortable or cramped the passenger seats were - although under the skin the positively ancient DS suspension would have ensured that the Karin had a plush ride.

Citroen Survolt (2010)

Almost a decade ago, years before the electric revolution began, Citroën was pioneering electric supercar technology. The Survolt is a carbon-fibre bodied, twin-electric-motored, go-kart-like racer with 300bhp and 480Nm of torque. 

Whilst this may not sound like much by modern standards, the Survolt is sprightly enough. We had the chance to drive Citroën’s concept back in 2010, and got it up to 134mph on Thruxton circuit in Hampshire. Given enough space, the Survolt would have kept going to a maximum of 162mph, and it could cover the 0-62mph sprint in five seconds.

Ferrari 512 S Modulo (1970) 

Ferrari was due to compete in the 5.0-litre Sports Car class at Le Mans and, to be eligible, the Italian mark had to build 25 examples for private sale. The Modulo was one of these homologation models, which Ferrari handed to Italian coachbuilding company Pininfarina to turn into a concept car. 

The Modulo was supposed to showcase Ferrari’s design direction for the coming decade and was packed with a host of interesting features such as a jet-fighter style canopy in place of conventional doors, and fixed seats made by attaching padding to the interior. 

It’s fitted with a 550bhp 5.0-litre V12, and has a claimed top speed of 220mph; but it never saw the open road. Curiously, when the Modulo was built Ferrari neglected to supply a steering system. So, while it could move under its own power, it could only move forward and backwards. 

Ferrari Mythos (1989)

The Mythos is a two-seat sports car based on the Testarossa, which featured on Ferrari’s show stand at the 1989 Tokyo Auto Show. It’s powered by the Testarossa’s 4.9-litre flat-12 engine, producing 384bhp and 354Nm, and has a projected top speed of 180mph.

The Mythos was built without a roof or side windows, and has active aero. The rear spoiler can rise by up to 30 centimetres, and the front splitter has a vane which can move by up to three centimetres, to gain aerodynamic advantages when the car’s ECU deemed necessary.

The Mythos wasn’t supposed to be available to the general public. However, Ferrari built two examples for private use, both of which were commissioned by the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah.

Fiat Turbina (1954)

Like all the best concepts, the gas-powered Fiat Turbina comes with a rather good story. It was designed and constructed in secrecy by a three-man team in disused corner of Fiat’s famous Lingotto factory in Turin. The team knew nothing about gas-powered technology before they embarked on the project, teaching themselves everything from fluid dynamics to turbine mechanics.

The Turbina was powered by Fiat’s own Type 8001 turbine engine, developed especially for the project, producing 291bhp at 30,000rpm. It was driven by exhaust gasses passing over an impeller, connected to the rear wheels and could achieve speeds upwards of 100mph.

Ford 021C (1999)

Styled by furniture and watch designer Marc Newson, the Ford 021C made its debut at the 1999 Tokyo Motor Show. It was penned with influences from Newson’s furniture and watch lines in mind, as seen in the dials, which are bespoke Ikepod units, and the steering wheel, which is styled to look like one of Newson’s coat hooks. 

It featured suicide doors, a carbon-fibre body, LED headlights, swivelling front seats and a boot which opened like a bedside table drawer. Also, in place of conventional height-adjustable seats, the 021C’s dashboard moved vertically to accommodate drivers of differing heights.

For all its futuristic looks, however, it was powered by a very average engine. A 1.6-litre four-cylinder Zetec unit with 99bhp drove the 021C’s front wheels via a four-speed automatic transmission.

Ford GT90 (1995)

This was supposed to be the successor to the legendary Ford GT40. The GT90 borrowed the GT40’s door-mounted roof cutaways and rakish lines, but everything else was supposed to be an improvement on the original.

Instead of the original GT40’s carbureted 4.2-litre V8, the GT90 used a 6.0-litre V12. The engine was built by lopping two cylinders off of two 4.6-litre modular Ford V8s, and welding the resulting V6s together. The result was 720bhp and 895Nm of torque, a 0-62mph time of around three seconds and a top speed of 253mph. 

The GT90’s exhaust used to get so hot that it would melt the surrounding body panels. To remedy the issue Ford’s engineers developed ceramic tiles, similar to those used on the Space Shuttle, to insulate the exhaust from the bodywork.

Ford Nucleon (1957)

In the 1950s, nuclear power was all the rage, and it was predicted that it would quickly replace fossil fuels as the dominant energy source. Ford wanted to capitalise on this prediction, and built the Nucleon prototype; a nuclear-powered car, driven by uranium fission.

Unsurprisingly, a production model was never built. The Nucleon was only ever produced in scale, as a means of testing the theory of atomic-powered automobiles. The twin booms in the “bed” of the Nucleon were supposed to house a nuclear reactor, fuel and shielding. The reactor would be used to heat water to power a steam engine, which would then drive the wheels.

Supposedly, the Nucleon would cover 5,000 miles before refueling. This would take place in “recharging” stations and involved removing the entire reactor/shielding/steam engine assembly, and replacing them with fresh units. During this process, Ford envisioned it would provide its customers with a choice of reactors tailored towards the owner’s driving style, offering a fuel-efficient model or a high-performance model. 

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GM Hy-wire (2002)

In the early 2000s, hydrogen power was being touted as the next big step in automotive propulsion. A fuel source that’s plentiful, reasonably cheap and produces efficient power was a tempting prospect, spawning a handful of hydrogen-powered cars such as the Honda FCX Clarity and Toyota Mirai.

The GM Hy-Wire belonged to this strain of automobiles and, whilst it never made production, it was forward-thinking for its time. It was built on a “skateboard” platform (like many of today’s purpose-designed electric cars) which was planned to underpin a range of vehicles, including a family saloon and a two-seater sports car.

The hydrogen fuel cell could supply anywhere between 94kW and 129kW of power. Also all the controls were drive-by-wire. One large electric motor powered the front two wheels, controlled by an electric-throttle. A series of smaller electric motors allowed the steering and brake callipers to be used, their electronic connections taking the place of traditional mechanical and hydraulic controls, and this is another development we’re seeing more and more often in production cars today.

GM Impact (1990)

Electric cars are about to have their day in the sun but manufacturers have been testing the water with battery-propelled vehicles for almost as long as the motorcar has existed. One EV concept that will surely go down as a landmark car in the development of EV technology is the GM Impact shown at the 1990 LA Motor Show.

The Impact would eventually spawn the EV1 electric production car in 1996, GM’s first electric car and a model so advanced that its demise sparked conspiracy theories about forces behind the scenes working to hold back the electric car. The Impact was a coupe with composite bodywork and a slippery drag coefficient of 0.19. It had regenerative braking, a range of 120 miles and three-phase electric motors driving the front wheels that removed the need for a differential or gearbox.

Over 1,100 units of the closely related EV1 were built before it was axed in 2002. The cars featured electric power steering, keyless entry, a pressure warning system for the low rolling-resistance tyres and magnesium alloy wheels. When GM informed customers, who had all leased the cars, that their vehicles were being permanently recalled, there was outcry. Some were deactivated and found their way to museums but the majority were crushed.

GM LeSabre (1951)

Trailing in the wake of the jet-powered revolution in 1950s aviation, automotive manufacturers produced a wave of ‘jet age’-inspired concepts, such as the Fiat Turbina and this, the General Motors LeSabre.

Even though it was powered by an largely conventional 3.5-litre V8, its styling was influenced heavily by jet-powered aircraft, setting the trend for 1950s car design. Its large central intake was reminiscent of the American-made 1946 FJ-1 Fury fighter jet, while its wrap-around windshield and large rear fins would eventually feature on the Cadillac Eldorado and Chevrolet Bel Air.

The engine could run on either petrol or methanol, and the gearbox was mounted on the rear axle.

Honda Sports EV Concept (2018)

Like the Urban EV beneath, the Sports EV Concept is another nostalgic design exercise based on Honda’s back catalogue. The Sports EV Concept borrows styling cues from the famous Honda S600, and blends them with modern technology.

It uses the same platform as the Urban EV, borrowing its technology. However, as the Sports EV was marketed as a sports car, we suspect the drivetrain was reconfigured, with drive being sent to the rear of the car rather than the front.

The dot-matrix display from the Urban EV remained, but is moved to the rear of the car, whilst the rear-view cameras stayed in the same configuration. Fewer details were revealed about the Sport EV’s interior, but it seems to feature the same infotainment system, and the bench seat from the Urban EV was ditched in favour of two sports seats. 

Honda Urban EV Concept (2018)

Styled to look like a modern interpretation of the original 1972 Honda Civic, the Urban EV is an all-electric, retro-styled three-door hatchback. Much like its grandfather, Honda’s EV Concept is designed to be a vehicle for short-distance journeys, such as commuting.

Performance figures were never announced, with the focus placed instead on the Urban EV’s technology. For example, between the car’s headlamps, a large dot-matrix-style screen displays messages and greetings to other road users, as well as the Urban EV’s charging status when plugged-in.

The interior is a blend of retro and modern styling, with occupants being seated across two bench seats, much like the 1965 Honda L700 estate. The dash has a old-school wood-grain finish and houses a new-world infotainment screen and control buttons. Also, the Urban EV comes fitted with rear view cameras in place of conventional door-mirrors.

INFINITI Prototype 9 (2017)

Yet another blend of old-world style and new-world engineering, the Prototype 9 is a 1940s-style racer, outfitted with a modern electrically-driven powertrain. It was revealed at Pebble Beach, California in 2017.

It was built as an after-hours project, and is designed to show how a 1940s Infiniti racer would have looked, despite the company being only 30 years old. Every panel on the Prototype 9 is hand-beaten, using the same techniques employed by Alfa Romeo and Maserati racers of the 1940s.

Other design features include the trademark Infiniti grille and a rather unorthodox dash. The dials are mounted on a turned aluminium fascia, which is mounted inside the steering wheel’s dish. Much like the airbag system on the old Citroën C4, when the wheel is turned the dash remains fixed. 

Underneath, the Prototype 9 is thoroughly modern, powered by a 146bhp single-speed electric motor. The concept is rear-wheel drive, and can dispatch the 0-62mph sprint in 5.5 seconds and achieve a top speed of 105mph.

Isuzu 4200R (1989)

Another product of joint enterprise, the 4200R was collaboratively designed and built by Lotus and Isuzu. Penned by the legendary Shiro Nakamura (the designer behind the Nissan R35 GT-R), it’s a four-door, four-seat sports car, designed for everyday use.

It’s powered by Isuzu’s own 4.2-litre V8, mounted mid-ship in a transverse configuration for increased interior space. It produces around 350bhp, which is sent through a five-speed gearbox to all four wheels.

It was also full of technology which we’re only now seeing reach mainstream automotive production. For example, Lotus fitted the 4200R with active suspension which could, in theory, be configured for either handling or comfort. Other forward-thinking technology included a colour satellite navigation system and a digital instrument cluster. 

After the Tokyo Auto Show, the 4200R was dismantled and its parts scattered. It would be reintroduced to the motoring world in 2010, albeit in a virtual format, in a joint effort between its designer and the creator of the Gran Turismo racing game franchise, Kazunori Yamauchi. 

Jaguar C-X75 (2010)

Developed in tandem with Williams Advanced Engineering, the Jaguar C-X75 was supposed be an all-wheel-drive, PHEV supercar to rival the likes of the McLaren P1 and Ferrari LaFerrari. It was primed to go into production in 2012 but, due a worsening economic climate, the project was shelved.

It’s powered by a F1-inspired 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, which is turbocharged and supercharged, producing 502bhp at 10,000rpm. The petrol engine is mated to a pair of electric motors (one for each axle), which throw an additional 385bhp at the chassis, producing a total combined output of 887bhp and 1,000Nm of torque.

The C-X75 is a melting pot of statistics. It can pull almost 1G under hard acceleration on a dry surface. It will sprint from 0-100mph faster than a Golf GTI will get from zero to 62mph, in under five seconds. When travelling at 200mph, its body will generate 200kg of downforce. 

This performance didn’t negatively affect the environment, either. Perhaps most impressively, the C-X75 achieves the same fuel economy and emits the same amount of C02 as the Toyota Prius of its day with figures of 72.4mpg and 89g/km of C02. 

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Lamborghini Marzal (1967)

In 1967, Ferrucio Lamborghini was looking to expand his model line-up, wanting a true four-seat sports car to join the two-seat Miura and two-plus-two 400GT. So, he commissioned the famous Italian styling house Bertone, headed at the time by Marcello Gandini, to design him one. 

The Marzal was the result. Built on an extended version of the Miura’s chassis, this wedge-shaped icon featured two huge, all-glass gull-wing doors which allowed access for front and rear passengers, along with a set of honeycombed rear louvres. 

It was powered by a 2.0-litre straight-six, which was in essence a Lamborghini 4.0-litre V12 that had been sawn down the middle. Fed by three side-draught Weber carburetors, the Marzal had a power output of around 175bhp, and received critical acclaim from the Italian auto magazine Quattroruote due to its “lively” nature. 

Lamborghini Terzo Millennio (2018)

Lamborghini is quite possibly the undisputed king of making far out concept cars that are as impractical as they are astounding. The list of wild Lambo concepts is endless with a new one being unveiled seemingly every year. Take this, the Lamborghini Terzo Millennio, as a prime example. Built in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, this concept is what Lamborghini believe their supercars will look like in the third millennium (hence the name, Terzo Millennio).

Although this is an electric concept, this is an electric car like no other. Instead of traditional batteries, the Terzo Millennio uses electric supercapacitators to give it extra power with fewer drawbacks compared to traditional battery-powered EV's. Other futuristic tech featured include a ‘self healing’ carbon fibre body and a body shell that gathers and stores energy. All of this technology is, current, out of reach but Lamborghini believe one day it could become a reality.

Then there are those science fiction looks, which still mark it out as being a Lamborghini. The designers had more freedom to work with thanks to the lack of an internal combustion engine. Extreme angles and lines coupled with those glowing orange supercapacitators in each wheel help give the Terzo Millennio an incredibly futuristic look.

Lancia Stratos Zero (1970)

This is the concept which spawned the legendary Stratos. Built by the Italian styling house Bertone, and powered by Lancia’s V4 engine, it was designed to be a replacement for the aging Lancia Fulvia, tasked with reasserting the company’s dominance in rallying.

The project almost didn’t come to fruition. It was built in secrecy by Bertone in a bid to win Lancia’s affection as the firm preferred the rival Italian styling house, Pininfarina, at the time. It was unveiled to Lancia shortly before its public debut at the 1970 Turin Motor Show and, as luck would have it, Lancia approved.

To secure production, however, Bertone would have to jump over a final hurdle. In 1971, Ugo Gobbato, the chairman of Lancia, asked to see the Zero. So, Bertone personally drove the car to the headquarters of the Lancia works racing team, parked it in the forecourt of the garage and exited via its hinged windscreen to a crowd of stunned Lancia staff. Bertone was rapidly contracted by Lancia to build a practical rally prototype, which became the Stratos.

Land Rover DC100 (2011)

Back in 2011, Land Rover chose the Frankfurt Motor Show as its preferred launching ground for the DC100, the concept car that many people took to signal the imminent replacement of the Land Rover Defender. In the event, the new Defender wasn’t quite as imminent as many people thought and it wasn’t until 2018 that we even saw spy shots of the production car in development.

What the DC100 did do is stoke up the anticipation for a new Land Rover utility vehicle that retained the essential off-road DNA of its forebear but brought the model line into the modern era in terms of comfort, refinement and technology. The concept, overseen by Land Rover design boss Gerry McGovern, combined the Defender’s tough, upright stance with its essential off-road accoutrements. It was even followed up at the same Frankfurt show by the less convincing DC100 Sport concept, a convertible version that foreshadowed the Range Rover Evoque Convertible.

Land Rover Range Stormer (2004)

While Land Rover has always been known for its sensible, luxurious, and capable mud pluggers, in 2004 its designers really let their hair down with the outrageous 180mph Range Stormer. Complete with a supercharged V8, Lambo-style scissor doors, and laminated plywood seats, it was like no other SUV we’ve seen before or since.

While the Range Stormer was clearly never intended for production, it did set the tone for the much more mundane Range Rover Sport which entered production a year later. Thankfully, the wooden seats were ditched but that glorious V8 did make it into some top spec models.

Lexus 2054 (2002)

When Hollywood director and serial Lexus owner Steven Spielberg was making his 2002 blockbuster Minority Report, he wanted the most futuristic car possible. With the film set in 2054, he asked Lexus to build him a car from that year and they certainly didn’t disappoint.

The low, dramatic supercar still looks incredible today, but sadly the hydrogen fuel cell, crashproof structure, and biometric security systems weren’t actually functional. It did, however, foresee a future of autonomous driving and voice control.

Lincoln Futura (1955)

Designed by Ford’s lead stylists, Bill Schmidt and John Najjar, and hand-built by the Italian styling house Ghia, the Futura was primarily a styling exercise, intended to drum up some publicity for both Lincoln and parent company Ford, and provide a rough indication of the two brands' future design plans.

It was innovative for its time, featuring a double clear-plastic canopy, hooded headlights and large tail-fins. Unlike many show cars, it was drivable, too, fitted with a 6.0-litre V8 and three-speed Borg-Warner automatic sourced from the Lincoln Continental of the day. It produced around 300bhp and 545Nm of torque. 

The Futura performed well as a show car, gaining plenty of publicity in both televised and cinematic media as well as merchandise - it sold well as a model kit and die-cast toy.

However, its most popular appearance was in the 1960s TV series, Batman. Famous Hollywood car stylist Dean Jeffries was approached by 20th Century Fox to produce a car for the series’ hero, and he thought the Futura was a good place to start.

He gave the concept a new set of alloys and a fresh paint job, then outfitted it with a series of ‘bat-gadgets’, creating the Batmobile. The project was completed in three weeks, for the sum of $30,000.

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Maserati Birdcage 75th (2005)

Debuting at the 2005 Geneva Motor Show, the Maserati Birdcage was built to both celebrate the 75th anniversary of Pininfarina and to pay homage to the lightweight Maserati racing cars of the 1950’s.

Built predominantly from carbon fibre and based on the carbon fibre chassis and 700bhp V12 from the Maserati MC12 GT1, the Birdcage still ended up weighing 1,500kg.

The exterior design was created around two fundamental aerodynamic forms; a teardrop, which envelopes the passenger cell and mechanicals, and an inverted wing in which the central section is suspended. The LED headlights were the first of their kind to be homologated and their casings are made from solid blocks of aluminium.

The entire Perspex canopy section rises skyward, giving the car its most dramatic design element while also providing access to the cockpit. Once inside, there was a transparent dashboard that was supported by a triangulated tubular structure in a nod to the original 50s race cars. The Birdcage featured some futuristic technology inside including a heads-up display and a Motorola communications unit housed in the steering wheel, while a special headset worn by the driver could feed information on the driving experience to a chosen audience. Unfortunately, this was only ever destined to be a concept car and is now housed in the Pininfarina collection.

Maserati Boomerang (1972)

Following its success with the Maserati Bora, Italian styling house Italdesign built the Boomerang concept for the 1972 Turin Auto Show. Penned by the legendary Giorgetto Giugiaro, it arrived at the show as a fully-functioning prototype, fitted with the same aluminium 4.7-litre, quad-cam V8 from the Maserati Bora.

The Boomerang has around 300bhp and 460Nm. Power is sent through a five-speed manual gearbox to the rear wheels, and the top speed stands at a theoretical 170mph. Which isn’t bad for 1972.

According to Giugiaro, the Boomerang was designed “almost exclusively with a ruler.” The doors featured similar glass panelling to the 1967 Lamborghini Marzal Concept, while the windscreen was raked at only 13 degrees.

However, the Boomerang’s most interesting design feature is its unorthodox dash. All the dials and switchgear are housed on a panel within the dish of the steering wheel, which was originally designed to house an airbag.

Mazda Furai (2008)

The Furai was revealed at the 2008 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Named after a Japanese phrase meaning ‘the sound of the wind’, it was designed as the final model to use Mazda’s “Nagare” design language.

The Furai took its inspiration from the world of motorsport. It was built on a modified version of the French-made Courage Compétition C65 Le Mans Prototype chassis and was powered by a 450bhp three-rotor wankel engine, inspired by Mazda’s Le Mans-winning 787B race car.

The engine ran on E100 Ethanol, and was mated to a six-speed sequential transmission, which sent its power to the rear wheels. The Furai was no trailer queen, either; it was regularly taken to the track and thrashed by Mazda’s test drivers.

To pay further homage to Mazda’s motorsport history, the Furai wore the Mazda 787B’s race number; 55.

Tragically, during a shoot at Bentwaters Park in 2008, the Furai’s engine bay caught fire and the concept was destroyed before the fire crew could extinguish it. Mazda were unable to rebuild the Furai, and the whereabouts of its remnants remain unknown.

Mercedes C-111 (1969)

Some concept cars are little more than an exercise in shocking motor show goers into dropping their champagne flutes but the Mercedes C111s were a whole series of concept cars that were as much about technology as they were eye-catching design.

From 1969, the basic C-111 platform served as the foundation for Mercedes to showcase innovations including multi-link rear suspension, gull-wing doors, Wankel rotary engines, advanced diesel technology and futuristic interior concepts. Third in the model line, the C-111-III used a 230bhp diesel engine and super-slippery aerodynamics to set and break nine speed records while the C-111-II used a 350bhp Wankel motor to deliver a 4.9s time for the 0-62mph sprint. In 1979, the last version of the car, C-111-IV, used a 500bhp 4.8-litre V8 to break the world closed circuit speed record with a 251mph effort.

The original C-111, with its 280bhp three-rotor Wankel engine and gull-wing doors, appeared at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1969 to huge critical acclaim. The Bruno Sacco designed fibreglass body is enough of a treat even without the technology beneath and the knowledge of what the car would go on to achieve.    

Mercedes F200 (1996)

Big Mercedes-Benz has frequently used concepts to showcase tech that will feature on production cars of the future. The grand F200 previewed the styling of the W220 S-Class and the C215 CL-Class, but many of its systems would hold much greater influence, with some only just making it into mass production over 20 years later.

The suspension, for example, introduced Mercedes’ Active Body Control system, compensating for body roll through corners. An electrochromic sunroof, which could be switched from transparent to opaque at the touch of a button, later appeared on the Maybach  62, while Bi-Xenon headlights and window airbags both appeared on later Mercs and many other cars.

It still continues to influence cars today, too: the F 200 featured video cameras in place of rear view mirrors - an idea that made it to production for the first time on the Audi e-tron.

It’s most unique feature still hasn’t made production, however: there was no traditional steering wheel, instead a joystick in the centre console which controlled steering and speed in-effect allowed the F 200 to be driven from either of the front seats.

Mercedes-AMG Vision GT (2013)

The Mercedes Vision GT  was designed initially as a virtual concept car for exclusive use in the Gran Turismo 6 racing game. However, Mercedes’ design team was so proud of its digital handiwork, that it also brought the car to life with a real 1:1 scale model.

It was built around an all-aluminum space frame, clad in carbon fibre and borrowed a handful of components from Mercedes’s AMG parts bin. As a result, the Vision’s performance figures were considerable; with an AMG-sourced 577bhp 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 propelling a car weighing only 1,385kg, it easily had enough grunt to outpace the SLS supercar of the day.

The Vision drew its inspiration from Mercedes’s historic models, with a gaping grille similar to that of the 300SL racer from the fifties as well as the company’s trademark gull-wing doors. Its interior was inspired by the 2013 Mercedes F1 programme, with the an F1-style steering wheel and gauges mounted in a floating glass console at the driver’s eye-line.

MINI Rocketman (2011)

When the MINI was first re-introduced under BMW ownership back in 2003, it had gained some noticeable weight over its predecessor. With each generation since, the MINI has gained inches in every direction and spawned bigger variations such as the Countryman and Clubman. People began to wonder how big a MINI would have to get before it would not be fit to hold the MINI name. Step forward the Rocketman.

Launched at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show, the Rocketman was designed to show that a modern MINI could indeed be ‘mini’.  It measured just over three metres in length, which meant it was just 400mm longer than the 1959 original. The Rocketman was not just a design study as serious effort went into making this concept as production viable as possible.

The Rocketman used a carbon-fibre space-frame chassis and featured several unique design touches such as a large glass floating roof, stirrup-shaped rearlights and double-hinged doors for easier access to the cabin. MINI had hoped to put the Rocketman into production but this idea fell through. As of yet the brand has not completely shelved the idea of a mini MINI.

MINI Superleggera Vision (2014) 

While Minis have always been quirky, first and foremost they are designed to be stylish yet affordable, mainstream transportation for the masses. Every now and then though, the designers like to take a break from scaling up hatchbacks, and in 2014 they blew us away with this, the MINI Superleggera Vision

Inspired by classic racers of the 1950s and 60s, the two-seater roadster was handcrafted by Milan-based coachbuilders Touring Superleggera, injecting some Italian flair into the quintessentially British design.

No standard MINI parts were used on the concept, yet it remains unmistakably on-brand. The iconic bonnet stripes are embossed into the metal, and the spotlights are replaced by LED rings blended into the grille.

Working down the side of the car to the rear, things get decidedly more exotic with a pronounced ‘Touring’ coachline flowing from the front wheel to the tapered rear end. There we find some now-familiar Union Jack rear lights and an aero fin, reminiscent of that on a classic Jaguar D-Type. Inside, the retro roadster gets a minimalist interior while the electric powertrain provides the go to match the show. 

Unveiled at the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este on the shores of Lake Como, the little MINI held its own against some of the finest, most expensive cars in the world. Like so many of the cars on this list, the Superleggera Vision sadly never made it into production, but it did remind us that the plucky MINI can still be more than just a family hatchback.

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Nissan IDx (2013)

Nissan chose its home motor show to unleash the IDx concept on the world in 2013 and the world lapped it up. The Tokyo crowds were treated to not one by two IDx variants, the IDx Freeflow, a more subdued beige number, and the IDx Nismo resplendent in racing livery.

The cars are very much of the retro school of concept car design. Rather than vainly attempting to predict the automotive future, designer David Beasley cast his eye back to Nissan’s past and hit upon the Datsun 510. The IDx was essentially a modern reinterpretation of that car, a 3-box coupe aimed at a youthful audience, and after the show the clamour for Nissan to build a production version was intense.

It never did, but the retro concept car theme has gone from strength-to-strength since the IDx with the Honda Urban EV, Peugeot e-Legend and others following on where Nissan’s effort left off.

Nissan Pivo (2005)

We were first introduced to the compact, ultra-manoeuvrable Nissan Pivo electric city car back in 2005 and at first glance, one could have been forgiven for thinking it was just another “vision of future mobility” that would be forgotten by the next big motor show.

The Pivo, though, was a bit different. Designed purely for city driving, it featured four-wheel steering and great all-around visibility. On top of a battery-filled deck, the electric Pivo featured a unique 360-degree rotating cabin, eliminating the the need to reverse.

Interestingly, the car also featured a 3-seat layout with the driver sitting in the middle, one of the few design features it shared with a McLaren F1.

A couple of years later, a refreshed Pivo 2 was unveiled which was largely the same but could drive sideways crab-style. 

The Pivo 3 came along in 2011 and reduced the turning circle to just four metres. Sadly, however, the third iteration of the mould-breaking EV did away with the car’s one unique feature, the rotating cabin. While more feasible for production, it lost the original car’s imagination, and thus was largely forgotten about by the next motor show.

Oldsmobile Aerotech (1987) 

In 1985, General Motors had just finished the development of its latest Oldsmobile “Quad-4” 2.3-litre four-cylinder petrol engine. It was innovative for its time, with an aluminium head, four valves per cylinder and dual overhead camshafts, producing 150bhp and 217Nm of torque.

The “Quad-4” engine outclassed its four-cylinder rivals from BMW and Mercedes, a fact which GM’s engineers were particularly proud of. So, to show the extent of their engine’s capabilities, the Aerotech project was devised and tasked with breaking some of the land-speed records of the period.

Like all good concepts, the project was carried out in secrecy, with the development for the tuned version of the Quad-4 engine being shrouded behind the standard engine’s use in the new Oldsmobile Cutlass and Pontiac Grand Am.

Two versions of the tuned Quad-4 engine were produced. The first was fitted with a single turbocharger, and produced around 800bhp. Not content with such conservative power figures, the engineers designed a second model in 1987, which featured a twin-turbo setup, producing upwards of 1000bhp.

The Aerotech’s chassis was borrowed from the series-winning 1985 March Engineering Indycar, while the body was built entirely from carbon-fibre, after being shaped in a wind-tunnel for maximum aerodynamic efficiency. In total, it weighed a meagre 726kg. Other innovative design features included an aerodynamically optimised underbody, consisting of a series of adjustable panels which could alter the amount of downforce the car generated.

As a result, the Aerotech was quick, even by today’s standards. It could achieve a top speed of 275mph, which is enough to outpace a Bugatti Chiron. In August 1987, it set a new speed record, averaging 267.39mph after two flying mile runs at the Ford Stockton test track.

Peugeot e-Legend (2018)

The e-Legend is a modern take on the classic Peugeot 504, and was unveiled at the 2018 Paris Motor Show. Interestingly, even though it was a concept, it was designed with “realistic,” showroom-friendly proportions, with properly-sized windows, no unrealistic overhangs and production-car-like 19-inch wheels.

Throughout, the e-Legend blends next-generation technology with 1960s materials. The 49-inch dash-width infotainment screen sits alongside retro wooden trim and velour upholstery. The wooden trim is projected on a pair of 29-inch screens that act as door cards, while a steering-wheel-mounted screen acts as the instrument binnacle. 

The e-Legend is powered by a 100kWh battery pack, feeding an all-wheel-drive, all-electric drivetrain. Performance figures stand at 456bhp and 800Nm of torque; enough for a 0-62mph sprint of under four seconds and top speed of 137mph. Supposedly, it’ll cover 373 miles on a single charge under the new WLTP regulations, too.

Other innovative technological features include Peugeot’s latest autonomous driving capabilities. It’s available in two modes; a paired-back one displaying a minimal amount of information on the e-Legend’s infotainment system, and a busier mode which displays the full array of connectivity features. In both autonomous modes, the steering wheel folds away under the dash.

Peugeot Quasar (1984)

Peugeot has a proud history of supercar concepts, including spectacular efforts like the Oxia, 907 and Onyx, but the 1984 Peugeot Quasar stands out. Not only does it have the requisite concept car ground-hugging stance and scissor doors, it also forged a link between the gleaming motor show stands and the mud-soaked stages of Group B rallying.

The Peugeot took the heavily turbocharged 600bhp 4-cylinder engine from its legendary 205 T16 rally car and applied the Quasar’s sci-fi inspired bodywork and interior over the top. The all-wheel drive powertrain went on to prove its worth in spectacular style with the 205 T16 winning the World Rally Championship in 1985 and 1986.

Inside, the Quasar’s striking red leather and blue carpets were an acquired taste but it also featured a Clarion stereo and an early satellite navigation system that could send and receive teletext messages. Just in case the passenger got bored of reading the pacenotes.

Red Bull X2010 (2010)

Kazunori Yamauchi, the man behind the Gran Truismo video game series, posed an interesting question: "If you built the fastest racing car on land, one that throws aside all rules and regulations, what would that car look like, how would it perform, and how would it feel to drive?”. This was the answer from Red Bull Racing Engineering boss and F1 design legend Adrian Newey - the Red Bull X2010.

The car doesn’t exist outside of the Gran Truismo games and a motor show model but it has still found fame as a stunning indication of where F1 technology could go in the future. Aerodynamics are at its core with enclosed wheels and fan technology designed to suck the car to the road. A 1,479bhp engine provides the power with the aims of launching the 545kg machine to a 292mph top speed and pulling 6g in lateral forces.

Sebastian Vettel took the car on its first virtual test drive and is said to have lapped the Suzuka circuit over 20 seconds faster than modern Formula One cars could manage on the same simulator. Off the back of that, the Red Bull X2010 became so sought after in the Gran Turismo 5 game that fans were paying upwards of $250 to buy virtual versions of it on eBay.

Renault Dezir (2010)

Renault has developed a bit of a habit for creating bedroom poster concept cars and the Dezir, shown at the 2010 Paris Motor Show, certainly falls into that category. The Dezir concept was one of six concept cars designed by Renault to showcase the different stages of life that it customers might encounter but they also hinted at the future design language of the brand.

The Dezir was a fully functioning mid-engined electric sports car with the powertrain from the Fluence saloon and a tubular chassis from the Megane Trophy race-car. The styling is a blend of quirky French design, from the enormous Renault badges and grille stretching across the front, to the wave-like slats that adorn the tail. The asymmetrically hinged ‘butterfly’ doors are equally dramatic and complete the car’s outrageous yet functional look.

The Dezir never made it to production unfortunately, although you can clearly see elements of its design in current Renault models - particularly that full-width grille. Perhaps the biggest achievement that this car managed was that it put down the foundations for the return of the Alpine A110.

Renault Espace F1 (1995)

What do you get when you cross a typically French MPV with the engine of a Formula 1 car?  The one-off, madcap Renault Espace F1.

Back in 1994, Renault was celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Espace MPV, a car so practical and versatile it went on to define the MPV sector for another two decades. Instead of having a simple birthday cake and some balloons, Renault decided to team up with its Formula 1 operation and insert one of its competition engines into the Espace.

The engine in question was a 3.5-litre V10 sourced from a 1993 Williams-Renault FW15C Formula 1 car but was tuned to give 820bhp instead of the regular 700bhp. Fitting such a large and powerful engine to the standard Espace meant some serious engineering changes, including putting the engine in the middle of the car and making the entire body out of carbon fibre (bar the hood, tailgate and roof panel which were carried over from the original Espace).

The resulting weight loss meant that the Espace F1 weighed only 1,300kg and was capable of 0-62 mph in just 2.8 seconds while hitting a top speed of 194 mph. Possibly the most impressive thing about this car was that it was still able to seat four people in four individual carbon-clad bucket seats with full harnesses. Whether you could find three passengers brave enough to climb in is another question but at least it proved that the Espace was still a practical MPV. 

Rinspeed Presto (2002)

The people at Rinspeed have long been the kings of the bizarre concept car, and the Swiss firm arguably hit peak weirdness in 2002 with the Presto.

The tiny roadster had one hell of a party trick up its side-mounted silver rollers: an extending wheelbase. One push of a button stretches the Presto by 746mm - turning it from a two seat, three-metre long micro car into a four seater with more rear legroom than a typical family hatch. 

The floorpan grew courtesy of a centrally-mounted electric motor and a pair of screw-and-nut gears. Despite the car looking like a 1950s bathtub with some Mercedes C-Class Sports Coupe lights attached, Rinspeed claimed that the Presto’s structural rigidity was strong enough to make it feel sturdy on the road. 

Rinspeed’s madcap engineers didn’t stop with the design, either: they altered the Mercedes-sourced 1.7-litre engine so that it could run on a mix of diesel and natural gas. The cabin featured a Sony hi-fi - it even came with a few sets of wireless headphones so that you could still hear your tunes over the wind - and onlookers’ incredulous laughter. 

Rover Mini Spiritual (1997)

Had Rover got its way back in the late nineties, you’d now be looking at the Mini for the 21st century. The Mini Spiritual concept aimed to succeed the original British motoring icon - not from a styling point of view, but by taking inspiration from its groundbreaking approach to the small car concept. 

As a result, the Spiritual (and the larger Spiritual Too) promised exceptional packaging, thanks in no small part to its - at the time - revolutionary mid-engined layout and compact ‘Hydrogas’ suspension. The Spiritual was tiny at 3,000mm - the same length as the original Mini - yet inside it offered legroom to match a contemporary supermini. At 3,500mm, the Spiritual Too is 100mm shorter than a Volkswagen Up!, yet legroom matched that of the BMW 7 Series

The mid-engined layout wasn’t just developed for practicality, but safety, too. The empty space up front allowed for a greater deformable volume in order to pass the more stringent crash tests that Rover predicted would become a factor in the 21st century automotive industry.

It all showed huge promise, but parent group BMW eventually preferred to succeed the Mini with a retro-styled premium product we have today. It would have been fascinating to see whether or not Rover’s interpretation would have achieved similar success. 

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SEAT Tango (2001)

The Tango makes a strong case to be one of the prettiest cars that SEAT has ever designed. The gorgeous shape was penned by Walta da Silva - a man also responsible for the Alfa Romeo 156 and the original Audi R8 - and showed a tiny two-seat roadster that, had it made production, would have had the wow factor to upstage the original Audi TT.

Trotting out of the same VW Group stable as the TT meant that, even in concept form, the Tango seemed like a plausible production prospect. Power came from a 1.8-litre turbocharged engine, sending its 178bhp to the front wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox. Sadly, SEAT, or its VW Group bosses, didn’t see the potential for big sales and pursued the Altea MPV instead.

Suzuki GSX-R/4 (2001)

‘If Suzuki designed a modern day Caterham Seven’: that’s the concept behind the wildly-styled Suzuki GSX-R/4, which wowed onlookers when it was revealed at the Frankfurt Motor Show back in 2001.

Spectacular looks aside, it was the engine that stole the show. The GSX-R name tag is a reference to the brand’s motorcycle range, and as such this little track-day toy was powered by the same 1,299cc four-cylinder engine used by the Suzuki Hayabusa - at the time the fastest production motorcycle in the world. That meant 173bhp at a screaming 9,800rpm, sent to the rear wheels through the bike’s six-speed sequential gearbox.

An aluminum spaceframe chassis kept the weight down to just 640kg, so while the power-to-weight ratio couldn’t match a Suzuki superbike, it was still phenomenal by road car standards. Formula 1-inspired inboard pushrod suspension controlled the huge wheels, each pushed out into the corners of the body to improve handling.

Toyota FT-1 (2014) 

The FT-1 was Toyota’s return to its performance car roots. It was a front-engined, rear-wheel-drive sports car unveiled at the 2014 North American International Motor Show and, although never explicitly stated at the time, it was a first look at Toyota’s planned replacement for the legendary Supra.

It was visually striking, with an F1-style nose-cone moulded into the bonnet and bumper (like a McLaren-Mercedes SLR) and a wrap-around “glasshouse” cockpit borrowed from the old Toyota 2000GT. Two vents in the car’s front wings were designed to draw hot air out of the engine bay and the rear spoiler was fitted to active mounts, which could rise or lower to adjust the amount of downforce.

The interior was equally dramatic, featuring a wrap-around dash and centre console, an F1-style steering wheel which housed most of the FT-1’s major controls and a digital instrument binnacle. 

Toyota revealed little information about the engine which powered the FT-1 concept. The only detail it disclosed was that it wouldn’t be a hybrid, but a “high output” internal combustion engine. We now know that Toyota and BMW were working jointly on a 3.0-litre turbocharged six-cylinder petrol unit, which powers the Supra and new Z4 production cars.

We now know that the production Supra hasn’t strayed too far from the FT-1’s design brief, roughly retaining its exhaust and headlight shape, as well as its double-bubble roof and “glasshouse” cockpit.

Toyota Pod (2001) 

The ’pod’ is a common theme at motor shows today, urban transport bubbles that promise to autonomously whisk people around the cities of the future. Well, back in 2001, Toyota was on the pod bandwagon early with the aptly named Toyota Pod concept.

The quirky city car was one of no less than 17 concept cars that the firm trundled out at the Tokyo Motor Show that year. It made no claims of autonomous driving but instead promised to sense your moods by collecting biometric data and have a gentle word to calm you down if your pulse or perspiration rates got too high.

Better still, the Pod lets others know its mood by changing the colour of the lighting on its frontal ‘face’ (red for angry, blue for sad and orange for happy) and in a move of pure genius on the part of the designers’, wags the ‘tail’ that sticks out below its rear window.

It can communicate with other cars in the vicinity, sending them messages like “Let me pass” and “Thanks”. Meanwhile, the interior contains four swivel chairs with the whole shebang controlled by the driver through a single joystick.

Toyota S-FR (2015)

Small, simple sports cars are thin on the ground at the moment - indeed it’s a corner of the market that the Mazda MX-5 has dominated for some time. In unveiling the S-FR back in 2015, Toyota hinted that the compact, rear-wheel drive roadster format might not be hogged by its Japanese rival forever.

Under the skin was a naturally aspirated 1.5-litre petrol engine producing 130bhp. That might not sound like much but, tipping the scales at just 980kg meant that the S-FR weighed roughly one large human less than the current entry-level MX-5. It’s all the more impressive considering the fact that the S-FR is technically a 2+2 - though the tiny rear seats would probably be more suitable to a little extra weekend luggage than people.

And then there’s the way it looked: the curvy, retro style, garish yellow paint finish and frowning round headlights gave the look of an angry Pokemon. The dashboard design was a showcase of beautiful simplicity; featuring all of the major controls stacked on a single tower beside the steering wheel.

Of course, rumours still persist that an MX-5 rival might make production, but the S-FR’s front-engined layout is likely to be ditched in favour of a mid-mounted format, reviving the classic MR-2 name. 

Volvo Tundra (1979) 

There’ll be something naggingly familiar about the 1979 Volvo Tundra concept to anyone with a soft spot for French cars of the 80s and early 90s. Volvo commissioned Bertone to come up with “something delicious” to replace the Volvo 340 but Marcello Gandini, the Italian design house’s chief designer, did too good a job.

The Volvo 343-based Tundra, with its angular, wedge-inspired shape, gold colour scheme and blacked-out pillars, was at odds with Volvo’s line-up of staid estates  and saloons. The Volvo top brass thought it was overly modern and would be difficult to sell so they rejected it.

The actual design had been based on the FW11 concept that Gandini created for Reliant a couple of years earlier and when Volvo said no, it went back into the Bertone vault only to re-emerge at Citroen where it received a far warmer reception. The Volvo Tundra became the Citroen BX - a car which sold 2.3million units in a 12-year production run. Maybe Volvo should have been braver.

VW Microbus (2001)

Nostalgia is a force that should never be underestimated by any concept car designer and few concept cars capitalise on that fact better than the VW Microbus concept that graced the Detroit Motor Show in 2001. VW essentially concocted a modern interpretation of the classic Microbus that was sold in the 1950s and based on the Type 2 VW Transporter.

Modern interpretations of cult classic vehicles rarely fail to make their mark and the Microbus concept prompted loud calls for a production version. Volkswagen looked to be caving-in too. In 2002 it announced that the Microbus would indeed be built, based on the then current T5 Transporter van. It never happened, and in 2005 the project was officially axed.

Volkswagen wasn’t done yet though. In 2011, the Microbus formula was re-visited by the smaller Bulli concept, which offered similar retro design themes. Then the basic idea returned again in 2017 rebranded as the I.D. Buzz electric MPV and complete with a surfboard on the roof. It seems that we might finally get our Microbus production car in this guise, with the I.D. Buzz scheduled for a 2022 launch. Just don’t hold your breath.

VW Nardo (2001) 

Some concept cars lack the mechanical bite to back-up their show-stopping looks but the VW W12 Nardo is an exception. When it appeared at the 2001 Tokyo Motor Show, the 591bhp 12-cylinder engine was fully plumbed-in and the 1,200kg supercar was good for a 221.8mph top speed plus a 3.5s 0-62mph time.

The Nardo, named after VW’s test track near the Italian city of the same name, was the third in a line of W12 supercars commissioned from Giugiaro to showcase VW’s new W12 powertrain. The 1997 W12 Synchro concept was followed by the W12 Roadster in 1998 and then the Nardo arrived, created by Charlie Adair with more power, scissor doors and a fully formed interior.  

The Nardo would go on to set the world 24-hour speed record twice, covering 4,809.8 miles in 24 hours at an average speed of 200.6mph in February 2002. The W12 engine tech would appear in various VW Group production cars from the Phaeton to the Bentley Continental GT and the Nardo became a fixture on the front covers of various Gran Truismo video games.

Yamaha OX99-11 (1992)

What would happen if you designed a Formula 1 car for the road? That's the question that Yamaha tried to answer with the outlandish OX99-11; a car which, like its modern-day equivalent, the Mercedes-AMG Project One, is powered by a Formula 1-derived engine.

Unlike the Mercedes, however, there are no small capacity hybrid power units to be found here. Back in 1992, atmospheric 3.5-litre engines of varying cylinder configurations were mandated by F1 rules, and Yamaha’s V12 powered the Brabham team in 1991. Throttled back from the race car’s 660bhp for the road, the OX99-11 produced 400bhp, yet still revved to an astonishing 10,000rpm red line.

Then there was the way it looked: a remarkable carbon chassis wrapped in aluminium body panels, gave the OX99 the look of a mini Le Mans prototype. There’s room for a friend, too - the tandem-style seating was inspired by Yamaha’s motorcycle division. 

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