(Pocket-lint) – Concept cars are nothing new, for decades car manufacturers have been pushing the boundaries of design and creating incredible cars way beyond their time. Usually, these cars are created to gauge public interest at the big motor shows before production begins in earnest, but sometimes they’re just a way for carmakers to demonstrate creative abilities and show off new technologies.
We recently covered incredible new concept cars from the last couple of years, but what about concept cars from the past. Incredibly, some of the vehicles we’ve found date back to the 1930s and yet they’d be just at home on today’s roads or those of the future.
BMW iX Flow
BMW did something interesting at CES 2022 by showing off a colour changing car. The outside of the car uses a special wrap with E Ink technology. This means the car can change colour between light and dark with just the press of a button.
Citroen Karin Concept
At the 1980 Paris Motorshow, Citroen unveiled the Karin concept car. A three-seater vehicle with a design as quirky inside as it is outside.
The driver would sit in the middle with passengers riding either side. An unusual pyramid-like outer shell, flush glass panels pyramid-likey doors made this a car to remember.
The addition of onboard computer screens and pop-up displays really set the car ahead of its era.
Chevrolet Astro III
The Chevrolet Astro III was a sleek experimental vehicle produced by Chevrolet in 1969.
With a rocket-ship like design both inside and out right down to joystick control, the Astro III was an incredible view of the future.
Powered by a gas turbine engine and housed in a light fibreglass body, the car was as light as it was quick with 317hp available to blast it down the American highways.
BMW Turbo Concept
The BMW Turbo concept, also known as the E25 Turbo, was a sports car built by the German car manufacturer for the 1972 Olympics.
This gull-winged monster featured a mid-mounted turbocharged engine capable of powering the car from 0-60mph in 6.6 seconds.
Only two of these cars were ever built, but it’s easy to see how the design themes influenced BMW’s future cars.
Alfa Romeo Navajo Bertone
The Alfa Romeo Navajo Bertone was a concept car based on Alfa’ race car chassis and the 33 Stardale. The familiar wedge profile is brought to life again, complete with active spoilers and a tapered body. The car embraced its futuristic theme with colours inspired by Colonial Vipers from Battlestar Galactica.
Light and compact, the Alfa Romeo Navajo Bertone was also interesting because of its shape and size. It was shorter than a Mini Cooper and even lower to the ground than most modern supercars. Powered by just a 2.0-litre V8 engine the car boasted 230hp so it was as fast as it looked.
The Dodge Deora is something of an oddity on this list as it’s not a concept car in its own right, but a heavily customised vehicle given a new lease of life. The Deora is actually an altered Dodge A100 truck that was chopped up to create a futuristic looking vehicle. This one proved extremely popular and won multiple awards at the time.
In 2002 the original Dodge Deora was restored and put on display as part of the 50th-anniversary celebrations of the Detroit Autorama car show. A few years later, the restored car would go on sale at auction fetching a cool $324,500.
Lamborghini Athon Speedster
Not one to be left behind, Lamborghini also unveiled its own concept car in 1980 in the form of the Athon Speedster.
This car was a 3.0-litre V8 capable of 260bhp allowing it to reach 60mph in 7.3 seconds. This one-off vehicle never made it into mass production as Lamborghini concentrated its efforts on updating the Countach instead.
Still, the working concept car was remarkable and sold at auction in 2011 for $487,000.
This unusual design from Ferrari came about as a celebration of Italian design studio Pininifarina’s 50th-anniversary celebrations and represented the first and only four-door Ferrari to ever be built. This saloon appeared in the 1980s and originally hinted at a production vehicle that never came about.
The car was mocked-up with a 4.8-litre flat V12 engine but didn’t actually run until 2010 when an engineering team was given the task of getting the vehicle working.
Fiat Abarth 2000 (1960s)
The Fiat Abarth 2000 is said to be one of the first cars to use angular sloping lines in place of the usual flowing designs of the 1960’s. Its shape would later influence other manufacturer’s designs, including cars like the Lamborghini Countach.
The racing chassis and aerodynamic designs of the Fiat Abarth 2000 allowed it to put the 220hp to good use to reach a top speed of 167mph. An impressive feat for a road legal car from that era.
The Ford Gyron was unveiled at the Detroit Motorshow in 1961. This gyrocar had just two-wheels like a motorbike and was stabilised by gyroscopes and the distribution of the weight of the passengers. When stationary, the Ford Gyron was supported much like a motorbike, with legs that came out from underneath to keep it steady.
Alas, the Ford Gyron was never intended for mass production, but once again we have to enjoy the rocket-themed design from this era.
Another concept car from Ford that shows mankind’s obsession with space exploration during the 1950’s reflected in a car design that could just as easily have been right at home in The Jetsons.
Complete with rocket-booster tail-lights and a seriously funky front end, the Ford X2000 was certainly something special.
Alfa Romeo BAT5
This car came about as a partnership between Alfa Romeo and Italian design house Bertone. The Bat 5 was the first car in the project and a design based on a detailed study of aerodynamics.
The car was designed to be light, fast and sleek enough to eliminate the issues with airflow at high speed. The BAT 5 was said to be capable of 120mph and was a testament to the design capabilities of the two companies.
Alfa Romeo Carabo
In 1968, the Alfa Romeo Carabo concept car was put on display at the 1968 Paris Motorshow. The design of this car was said to be the predecessor for the much more well-known Lamborghini Countach.
The wedge-shaped design of the Alfa Romeo Carabo would be copied and imitated by car manufacturers around the world for the next few years despite the fact the car never made it into production.
The Buick Y-Job has the title of being the first concept car ever produced and shown off by Buick in 1938.
This car was packed full of futuristic features for the time including power-operated hidden headlights and electric windows.
The classic lines here would inspire future Buick designs well into the 1950s.
Buick Centurion Concept
In 1956, General Motors introduced the world to the Buick Centurion, a concept car with a radical design for the time – a four-seater sports sedan that was meant to be an insight into the future of Buick.
As was the theme at the time, the Buick Centurion boasted a rocket-like design and sloping aerodynamic angles. Its futuristic appearance was supported by future technologies that included a reversing camera integrated into the bodywork. The Centurion name would live on in future models of Buick with a more traditional design.
Dome Zero P2
The Dome Zero P2 was a prototype sports car that was designed and built by Minoru Hayashi who took his knowledge from the racing circuits to the design drawing board.
Dome’s intention was to create a series of sports cars but it never gained enough traction and the project was scrapped.
The Buick Questor was a concept car bursting with computer technology. This car was one of the first to feature a laser key opening system, an automatic adjusting light-sensitive windscreen, a computerised navigation system and a rear view camera.
The vehicle also had a variable positioning system which meant it could be parked lowered to prevent theft, raised up for driving (according to the user’s needs) and would even adjust to a nose-down position at speeds of over 25mph in order to improve aerodynamics and enhance fuel efficiency. There were more than 14 computers built into this concept car which showed the future of electronics in modern vehicles.
Ferrari 512s Modulo
Ten years before the Ferrari Pinin, the 512s Modulo was unveiled at the Geneva Motorshow. With a more familiar Ferrari shape, this concept car pushed the limits and offered not only a cutting-edge design, but monster power from the V12 engine that boasted 550hp and a top speed of 220mph.
In 2014, American film producer James Glickenhaus bought the car with the intention of restoring it to full operational glory. We love the design of this one and can easily imagine it reappearing as a spaceship or flying car of the future.
Ford Seattle-ite XXI
The Ford Seattle-ite XXI was a quirky looking concept car first shown at the 1963 World’s Fair. With six wheels, strong angles and an incredibly futuristic design the Ford Seattle was a big and bold statement of Ford’s future intent.
The Ford Seattle-ite XXI was unusual in many ways, including a variety of design concepts that offered everything from an interactive computer navigation system and automated information systems to interchangeable fuel cells that included the possibility of working with a compact nuclear propulsion device.
GM Firebird III
The GM Firebird III was the third in a line of concept vehicles from General Motors with a design inspired by fighter aircraft of the time. Firebird III made its debut at the Motorama car show in 1959 and stunned the world with its extravagant design that included a fibreglass body, wings, tail fins and a joystick where a steering wheel would normally be.
This two-seater concept was powered by a gas turbine engine with 225hp available to power the wheels. The Firebird III also included a variety of technological advancements such as anti-lock breaks, air conditioning and remote unlocking that were not the norm at the time.
One of the more unusual car designs from the 1980s, the ItalDesign Machimoto was an open-topped economy vehicle designed to hold as many as nine people. Due to the roofless design and the aspirations of a vehicle that’s meant to sit somewhere between a car and a motorcycle, it was suggested that all passengers wear helmets.
The design included a 1.8-litre engine from a VW Golf GTI capable of just 139hp. With nine people on board, we can’t imagine it was terribly quick but the ItalDesign Machimoto certainly boasted a unique style.
The Lamborghini Bravo was another concept car from the manufacturer that never made it into proper production. In 1974, Lamborghini was struggling financially, much like other fine car manufacturers of the time, but that didn’t stop the company creating new designs.
The working prototype used a rear-wheel drive setup powered by a 3.0-litre V8 engine and though it never made full production the model itself was still capable of over 168,000 miles.
The Lancia Medusa was a concept car from 1980 that had bold aims at redefining the humble family car. It was designed to be spacious and practical, but with a focus on an improved aerodynamics not seen before. A mid-mounted engine, pop-up lights, flush door handles and other styling aspects would resonate in the industry and inspire similar bold designs from other manufacturers in the decades that followed.
The interior of the car was just as bold and futuristic as the exterior with a range of buttons on the steering wheel and a comfortable ergonomic style that was way beyond its time.
Lancia Stratos Zero
The Lancia Stratos Zero is another bonkers concept car from the 1970’s with sleek pointy lines and a futuristic design.
This mid-engined 2.4-litre V4 monster only had 115hp but was still nothing to be sniffed at. The fully-functional concept lived on through the years and in 2000 it was fully-restored only to be sold at auction in 2011 for $915,000.
OSI Silver Fox (1967)
OSI (Officina Stampaggio Industriale) built this concept car for the Turin Motor Show in 1967. The Silver Fox was a small-engined car capable of reaching 155mph thanks to the unique aerodynamic design.
The Silver Fox even included manually adjustable spoilers giving it an aeroplane like feel and an extreme quirkiness we just love.
Panther Six 1977
The Panther Six is an extravagant six-wheel convertible concept car built by Panther in 1977. Only two examples of the car were built and both survive to this day under private ownership.
This 8.2-litre twin-turbocharged V8 in this vehicle helped support claims by Panther that the car was capable of reaching speeds in excess of 200mph, though this was never tested. The specification included everything from air conditioning to electric windows and a telephone, pointing to a design well beyond its time.
Pontiac Club De Mer
At GM’s Motorama car show in 1956, the Pontiac Club De Mer was unveiled to the world. The Club De Mer was an experimental vehicle created as a symbol of General Motors’ passion for ultra-futuristic design. Boasting a 300 horse power V8 engine, the Club De Mer showed plenty of powerful promise.
The demo car was destroyed in 1958, but a quarter size scale model was motorised by the chief designer and incredibly lives on to this day, last being sold at an auction in 2009 for $110,000.
The Toyota CX-80 was a concept car built by Toyota and originally shown at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1979. Pitched as a “car of the future” the CX-80 was intended to be fuel efficient, light and compact.
Front-wheel drive meant the cabin was free to be spacious and comfortable. A minimalistic interior included a futuristic looking dashboard and steering wheel way beyond its time. An unusual headlight design made the car really stand out with a truly unique Japanese feel.
Toyota has always been one for pushing the boundaries of car design and in 1969 this sleek coupe was the result of their attempt to create an advanced dream car capable of long distance, high-speed travel.
The distinctive pointed bumper-less front, sharp sloping angles and tapered rear made it incredibly aerodynamic and the design even included a smooth underbody. Design hints in the exhausts pointed towards a gas-turbine engine, but further specs were never revealed and the car never made it into actual production.
The sleek angles of the Vauxhall SRV were inspired by the Le Mans racers of the 1970s. This concept car was developed and designed under the name of the “Styling Research Vehicle” but was never intended for use as a production model.
The car had many features beyond its time, including electrically adjustable suspension, an adjustable aerofoil in the nose section and handle-less rear doors. The SRV had no engine to allow it to run but it worked as intended as the main aim behind production was to raise Vauxhall’s image in the industry.
General Motors Firebird I
The General Motors Firebird I was essentially a concept car that saw a jet aeroplane being given wheels.
This weird and wonderful looking car was crafted in 1953 and was said to be the first gas turbine-powered car tested in the United States. Capable of 370hp from its turbo gas turbine engine, it was tested up to 100MPH but was rather unstable due to the strong engine torque. It wasn’t terribly practical either, considering the exhaust ran at 677 degrees centigrade (some 1,250 degrees farenheit).
Oldsmobile Golden Rocket
This monster was crafted by Oldsmobile in 1956 and was designed to look like a rocket on wheels, while delivering the power too, with a 5.3-litre Rocket V8 engine and a fibreglass body.
The Golden Rocket featured an aerodynamic body, bullet-shaped chrome, sweeping fenders and a solid space-age vibe.
Alas, it was merely a show car and nothing more.
Autobianchi A112 Runabout
In the late 1960s the Autobianchi A112 Runabout appeared as an interesting concept car which had a style seemingly inspired by the racing boats of the era.
A long pointed nose, short rear end and other styling touches made it look very sleek. This concept car also had no doors but did sport a rollbar to keep occupants safe. The nautical theme continued into the car’s interior too, with a speedometer styled like a compass.
An interesting looking car indeed.
During the 67th Paris Motor Show in 1984, Peugeot unveiled the Peugeot Quasar. A quirky looking sports concept which boasted similar internals to the 205 Turbo 16 – the company’s Rally car.
The car was designed with a futuristic vibe and science-fiction-like aesthetic, but it also had a shell that was designed to show off the powerful interneals underneath. Those internals could put out 600HP, making the Peugeot Quasar more than just easy on the eye.
In 2005, Peugeot revealed a concept car by the name of Moovie. This was said to be a nippy and yet environmentally friendly car.
This futuristic-looking car never made it into full production or release but was an interesting concept design by André Costa.
Renault Zoe E-Sport
The Renault ZOE e-Sport Concept represents a design fusion of the current Renault ZOE and a Formula E Renault e.dams single-seater. Renault’s aim here is to create a car that’s 100 per cent electric and 100 per cent sporty.
With a claim of 460bhp and 640Nm of torque delivered in an instant and 0-62mph in just over three seconds too. Quite a hot hatch!
NextEV Nio EP9
The NextEV Nio EP9 is one angry looking concept car. In 2016, when it was first revealed, it was said to be both the fastest electric car in the world and also the fastest self-driving one too.
Later it went on to do 160mph without a driver while doing laps Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas. It can reach 62mph in just 2.7 seconds and has a max speed of 217mph. As fast as it is mean looking.
Another self-driving concept. This time from VW. The Volkswagen Sedric is intended to be fully autonomous with no need at all for any driver or even a cockpit.
In 2017 Toyota revealed the Concept-i. A semi-autonomous vehicle that promised artificial intelligence and a really futuristic looking design too.
The Renault Trezor is a 2-seater electric coupé with some serious style and futuristic appeal. It’s been crafted with a nod to classic cars, yet also designed to wow.
Polestar O2 concept roadster
Polestar has been gaining some serious popularity of late and now there’s even more reason to raise an eyebrow at the brand.
In March 2022 the Polestar O2 concept roadster was revealed. A stunning concept car with sleek lines and an “autonomous cinematic drone integrated behind the rear seats”.
Subaru STI E-RA race car
Subaru’s STI E-RA Concept was shown off at the Tokyo Auto Salon. An insane all-electric race car with the offer of 1,073 horsepower.
Not just insanely fast, but utterly gorgeous too.
Cadillac’s Innerspace is a concept of the future of cars as Cadillac sees it. These include self-driving vehicles with no pedals or steering wheels.
The concept also includes biometric input and AI machine learning technologies to “personalise” the user experience.
The Maserati Boomerang is one concept car on our list which actually resulted in a production model of sorts. The Boomerang was the forefather to the Maserati Bora which saw production in 1971 with around 500 cars being built.
Sharp angles of the Maserati Boomerang were supported by a 4.7-litre V8 capable of 310bhp. The design of the Boomerang resonated strongly with the company and inspired many of its future designs. This shape and slopes of this concept can also be seen in many other cars including the likes of the Lotus Esprit from five years later and even the De Lorean DMC-12 from 1981.
The one-off concept car was a drivable model and currently resides in private ownership being put on display every few years at historic car shows. In 2015, it sold at auction for £3,023,010.
Rolls Royce 103 EX
The Rolls Royce 103 EX almost certainly belongs on this list. It’s certainly unique. With a curious design that Rolls Royce says is a vision of the future.
Mercedes Vision AVTR
You’ve probably already seen this concept car from Mercedes. The Mercedes Vision AVTR is a striking concept that includes wheels that can be driven independently allowing it to drive sideways.
It’s also an electric vehicle that uses “revolutionary battery technology” that uses graphene-based organic cell chemistry in place of precious metals. Meaning it’s free from fossil fuels.
It can also recharge in just 15 minutes with a max range of over 400 miles.
Lamborghini Terzo Millennio
You’d be hard-pressed to find a Lamborghini that didn’t already look bonkers. But the Terzo Millennio is interesting for more than its looks. This concept includes an electric drivetrain and nanomaterial technology that helps store energy.
The future of supercars is certainly still eye-catching.