Some concept cars are the stuff of dreams, and some make a justified beeline for the crusher. But then there are the truly glorious ones: the concepts built just for show, never meant to be anything more than the Paris runway model of the automotive world, or those lucky few that see their design elements actually influence production cars, even if they themselves never make it to the street. Tragically, for many of the best, somewhere between an auto show debut and the fevered, hopeful dreams of auto enthusiasts, some kind of childhood-hating shutdown switch gets flicked by faceless bean counters. In honor of the fallen, we take a look at 10 of the best concept cars that only ever got to lay rubber on the auto show floor or cradle the butts of a fortunate few.
Mazda Furai Concept
If the Far East ever gave birth to another version of the Batmobile, the Mazda Furai would serve well as inspiration. Quite possibly one of the most beautiful concepts we’ve ever laid eyes on, it was never intended for production… not for street driving, anyway. The Furai debuted at the 2008 North American International Auto Show in Detroit and marked the final concept in Mazda’s fluid Nagare line. Its name, meaning “sound of the wind”, was fitting: the Furai was powered by an all-new 20B 3-rotor wankel engine that was good for over 400 hp. From its intricate headlight configuration to the sinewy ribcage side vents and the stunning engine canopy treatment, the Furai brought the future to the present, and though it will never be built for the street or see any form of real production, it’s been tested for the track. Doesn’t really matter how fast it is, though. We think it looks amazing standing still.
Lamborghini Estoque Concept
Lamborghini has never built a production sedan, and from the looks of things, they won’t anytime soon. The stunning Estoque was one of those concept cars that looked like it was intended to be as close to the production model as possible, though the Italian automaker claims that it was only meant as a concept. Rakish, long and even more attractive than some of their supercar offerings, the Estoque had all the makings of a top-end sedan, including a powerful 5.2-liter V10 engine and a sophistaced, clean profile, and the automotive world affirmed it as such when it was revealed in Geneva in 2008. Had this beauty of a sport-luxury sedan been built, it would’ve no doubt been a huge success. But the financial crisis proved that timing is everything, and the poor Estoque was mothballed indefinitely. Let’s hope Lamborghini brings it back. Please.
Renault DeZir Concept
Okay, so we don’t even see Renault cars stateside anymore (don’t get misty on us). Aside from horrors like the sardine-can-inspired LeCar, Renault sure can come up with a beautiful concept car, namely, the DeZir (Desire. Get it?). Though it was only powered by a 150 hp electric motor, its sexy sheet metal stole the show at the 2010 Paris Motor Show. Audi R8-style shimmering sideblades, a wide, low stance, reverse butterfly doors and a stacked-layer tail made the DeZir an incredible concept to behold, but it would simply remain as a beautiful example of the kind of automotive design the French carmaker was capable of.
Bertone Jaguar B99 Concept
Though the current and altogether new Jaguar design language is certainly more than pleasing, Jaguar’s long-in-the-tooth XJ design of old didn’t lack for classic lines. As perhaps the final time we saw one of the big cats in its old form, the Bertone Jaguar B99 Concept was quite the last hurrah. It was introduced at the 2011 Geneva Motor show in celebration of Bertone’s 99th year in existence.
Built with aluminum panels and featuring long suicide doors, the B99 was lower, wider and far more contemporary than its similarly designed production counterparts. It also housed a modern power train, with a 1.4-liter gas engine and two 201 hp electric motors for the rear wheels totaling a fat 570 hp. The slender headlights, huge Jaguar grille and the absence of a B-Pillar made the B99 look as modern as it was elegant. Too bad Jaguar didn’t get ahold of this design a few years before Ian Callum got his hands on the Jaguar line. It would’ve brought classic at least one more generation further.
Hummer HX Concept
A Hummer that doesn’t look like it was carved from a huge block of metal and slapped with a few wheels? Shocking, really. The HX Concept was going to be the one that saved Hummer. Smaller than the H3, the HX still had Hummer DNA but in a far less clumsy manner. Other than the smaller dimensions, the HX was marked by a fantastic modular set-up, whereby you could remove the slanted rear roof and convert the vehicle into a pickup of sorts — or even add on a wagon-esque housing to shelter your goodies. The center roof portion, doors and fenders could also be removed. Hummer DNA ensured that a full-time 4WD system with locking center diff was present, as well as 20-inch wheels, Brembo brakes with six-piston calipers and a 304 hp, 3.6-liter direct inject V6 with E85 ethanol capability. Designers got a firm hold on the Hummer interior and tossed it out the bomb hatch. Instead, the HX made use of beautiful aluminum throughout, lightweight seats and four-point seatbelts just to make you feel even tougher. Too bad the HX came too late and Hummer is now taking a dirt nap. This is the one that could’ve saved them.
The Ugliest Concept Car Ever: The 1957 Aurora Safety Car
Designed and built by a Catholic priest with a passion for
hideous cars, the Aurora was built as an ESV (Experimental Safety Car) to showcase state-of-the art passenger and pedestrian safety features. It boasted hydraulics to raise the car for easy tire changes, an “astrodome” plastic canopy, padded instrument panel, foam-filled bumpers and a supposedly dent-, rust- and corrosion-proof body. It was seemingly inspired by a whale shark. Thank the car gods this never made it to market.
Ferrari P4/5 by Pininfarina
The kind of automotive wonderment that occurs when someone with deep pockets gets involved, the Ferrari P4/5 by Pininfarina is indeed the stuff of legend. Stock exchange billionaire James Glickenhaus, an automotive enthusiast and collector extraordinaire, was approached by Ferrari to commission a unique automobile using a stellar Enzo as its basis. Glickenhaus purchased the last available Enzo and had Pininfarina design over 200 original parts for the car, using the legendary 330 P3/4 (another car Glickenhaus owned) as the aesthetic inspiration. Four million dollars later, what emerged was nothing short of incredible.
The P4/5’s exterior is constructed entirely of carbon fiber reinforced plastic, the unique butterfly doors eliminates wind noise up to speeds of 160 mph, and the car has better acceleration, aerodynamics and stability than the already remarkable Enzo while boasting a nearly 600 pound advantage. Even the seats were custom molded for Glickenhaus and his son, swathed in black mesh and red leather chosen by his own daughter. He’s even got a racing version called the P4/5 Competizione. To the rich go the spoils, eh? Production has been reserved to just one man… Glickenhaus, the lucky bastard.
Cadillac Sixteen Concept
Who says American design is in the crapper? The stupendously lovely Caddy Sixteen Concept proved otherwise, and that was in 2003. This insanely long boulevard cruiser was proudly Cadillac in every way (minus garish fins) and even pre-cursored the stacked LED headlights you see on the next-gen CTS. Along with the elegant lines, platter-sized 24-inch wheels with four-wheels steering, an intimidating but beautiful fascia and an interior to die for, under its hood was a seething beast of an engine — 13.6 liters and 1,000 horsepower from its V16 (twin V8s). Plus, this concept was actually driveable. We hoped to see it as an uber-flagship for Cadillac someday, but it only went so far as to act as a design influence for the American automaker. Too bad Tony Stark didn’t get a hold of one.
BMW M1 Hommage Concept
BMW’s iconic M1 supercar was before its time, and Bimmer fans the world over lament the fact that it hasn’t resurfaced in modern production form (yet). In the meantime, we’ll merely have to gawk at the originals (when we’re fortunate enough to come across these rarities) — and at the M1 Hommage Concept. Echoing the same low and flat M1 dimensions, albeit in a far more muscled iteration, the M1 Hommage was unveiled at the Concorso d’Eleganza at Villa d’Este in Italy back in 2008 in celebration of the 30-year anniversary of the original German supercar. Styling elements like the rear quarter panel gills, slender fascia and twin rear roundel emblems are beautifully present on the Hommage, and the translation isn’t lost on us. We’ll just try to keep our hopes alive that BMW will bless the automotive world with another iconic flagship.
Ford Interceptor Concept
This beast is more evidence that America can do original automotive design that turns heads — without trying to copy the Europeans. The Ford Interceptor showed up and showed off at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show as a modern version of a big muscle car of yore. Never have straight lines looked better on a car, and the fact that it’s got a 5.0-liter, 400 hp engine with E-85 ethanol capability, a six-speed manual transmission and a profile longer than an oil tanker makes it that much better. Its insides were given plenty of attention as well, including unique four-point seat belts, a fully leather-lined interior and some cool roof-mounted headrests. And like some of the other concepts you find here, design cues influenced future cars: the current Ford Taurus sedan and Edge crossover borrow from this very American concept. We’d like to see more of this kind of design from the Blue Oval.
Citroën GT Concept
How could a concept car inspired by a video game show up on this list? Easily, when it looks as incredible as the Citroën GT Concept. In a partnership between the French automaker and racing simulation developer Polyphony Digital, the GT was designed and created for Gran Turismo 5. Long, low and as vented as an A/C compressor, the GT looks like no other concept car we’ve seen, with the huge front fascia vents duplicated by exit vents in the rear. Its space-age interior looks video-gaming appropriate, as if it’d been pulled from the future. The large car weighs a mere 3,086 pounds and houses a Ford V8 with 646 horsepower. Six versions were planned for production at a steep $2.1 million, but the automotive world was robbed of this beauty when Citroën killed any plans to make more, largely because they’d probably take a bath on the whole deal. Oh, those French.