Concept cars are exactly that: concepts. They are designers’ ideas of what could be, rather than what is. Sometimes they are the inspiration for a new model that gets released to the public; other times, they never see the light of day. Let’s focus on the latter group — the bold, the brilliant, and the ridiculous concept cars that never were.
Volkswagen W12 Nardo
Named after the Italian racetrack, this 2001 supercar could hit a max speed of 222 mph and weighed less than 2,700 lbs. Volkswagen was really onto something with this insane car, but they never pursued it, instead putting resources into their subsidiary Bugatti and manufacturing the Bugatti Veyron. The two vehicles do bear many similarities, but frankly this Nardo’s styling is just a bit more compelling. Plus, it would have been interesting to see the public react to a car like this when it was made by the company known for the Beetle, Golf, and Jetta.
Maserati Birdcage 75th
This car is exactly what you think of when you hear the term ‘concept car’. Futuristic, alien, and fast-looking, the Birdcage 75th first appeared in 2005 — over a decade ago, and yet it still looks like it’s from the future. It was designed to have a bubble canopy, meaning that it had no doors; one would climb into and out of this car like a fighter jet pilot. The problem, among other things, was the visibility. As cool as it looked, the seating position was so low—as was the bubble canopy—that it was quite difficult to see out of the car.
2003 Dodge Tomahawk
Anyone up for some Mad Max or Blade Runner? This motorcycle looks like it’s straight out of a dystopian sci-fi movie. Not known for motorcycles, Dodge produced this bike, and it is nowhere near street legal. It claims a top speed of somewhere between 300 and 420 mph, which is kind of a ridiculous range if you ask me. Critics jumped on the speed claims too, and no one was ever reported going faster than 100 mph. Critics also slammed the tiny fuel tank and a few other logistical concerns. It was a cool aesthetic experiment, but the harsh real world chewed it up and spit it out.
In 2004, the world got a Maybach Exelero. That’s right — one. It was made as a one-off car, and despite how well-received it was, DaimlerChrysler never made more. Nobody really knows why. It sported a 700-hp V12 and looked sinister as hell. Rapper Birdman purchased it in 2011 for $8 million, and that’s the only one the world ever got. The car never made it to production. Enjoy it for the rest of us, Birdman.
2005 Ford-Shelby GR-1
The Ford GT was being phased out, but Ford was contemplating a supercar to replace it. The GR-1 had a 6.4-liter V10 that produced 605 hp and sported the polished aluminum that you see in the photo above. Despite its beauty and athleticism, Ford decided that it truly was committed to getting out of the supercar business (at least at that time), so the GR-1 never moved forward.
Jeep Mighty FC
What is this?! The Jeep Mighty FC looks rugged, but it also looks like it’s going to fall forward any second. (It didn’t.) Lots of test-drivers got their hands on this concept car, and nearly everyone came away saying the same thing: This thing was an off-road behemoth. Plus it had, of all things, plaid seats, because — well, of course it did. Maybe Jeep just didn’t think enough people outside of the off-road community would buy it because the strange-yet-functional Mighty FC never made it past the concept phase.
1969 Chevrolet Astro III
Let’s end this piece in style. Enter the 1969 Chevrolet Astro III, a futuristic spaceship of a car. At less than three feet tall, this thing was so low that it needed elevator seats to get you all the way down into driving position. You couldn’t see out the back of the car, so the 1969 concept car included a closed-circuit television to see behind you.
Plus, it did this:
The Astro III was a concept car in the purest form: eye-catching, exciting, and wildly impractical. It’s no surprise that this car didn’t make it to production, but you can tell a lot of love went into it nevertheless.