by Rex Roy
It could be argued that the 1938 Buick Y-Job stands as the world's first true concept car. Built under the direction of Genera Motors' first design czar, Harley Earl, the Y-Job was never intended for production but instead foreshadowed styling and engineering cues that would pop up on future GM vehicles. The Y-Job's stubby tail fins found their way onto the iconic 1948 Cadillacs, while the grille design still influences Buicks today.
Concepts like the Y-Job became a staple of the American auto show circus in the 1950s. GM led the way with their Motorama, a traveling display of American post-war optimism and engineering leadership. Concepts such as turbine engines and drive-by-wire controls were explored with fully operational vehicles. Ford and Chrysler followed suit, giving auto show visitors eye candy that looked out far beyond next year's model.
Looking back, dozens of concepts could rightfully be considered significant, but ten is a nice round number and gives us a good place to start. (No doubt many of you will have your own favorites, and the rationale to back them up. Feel free to choose your "most significant" over at the blog.)
TheCarConnection.com’s list begins here:
Chrysler Norseman, 1956
1956 Chrysler Norseman conceptEnlarge Photo
During 1955-56, one of Ghia's main projects was to bring the Norseman to life based on sketches and models created by Exner's studio. The body was to be fully functional and placed over a Hemi-powered Chrysler chassis. Working more than a year, the talented Italians handcrafted every element of the exterior and interior, struggling a great deal with the striking cantilevered roof. Nearly all of the roof's mass needed to be supported at the rear so that the leading edge did not to place any stress on the delicate wrap-around windshield. Completing the roof structure was further complicated by the innovative power-retractable sunroof (think Porsche 911 Targa).
On schedule, the completed Norseman was carefully loaded onto the Andrea Doria, a modern and luxurious ocean liner. The Chrysler design team back in
The Norseman never made it. In an accident chalked up to human error, the Andrea Doria collided with a passenger ship, the MV Stockholm, off the coast of
Photo courtesy www.imperialclub.com
Chevrolet Astro II, 1967
1967 Chevrolet Astro IIEnlarge Photo
The Astro II's mid-engine design differentiates the concept from others that came before it. Fitted with a small-block V-8 and practical passenger doors (as opposed to open or fighter-jet style tilt-up canopies), one could see this as a future production Corvette. Many engineers on the Corvette team felt that Chevrolet's performance icon could be pushed farther, and the Astro II stands as a result of their influence. Mid-engine design concepts would remain a reoccurring theme with GM for another 20 years, and the configuration was studied for production several times. What if GM had ever said, "Yes?"
The Astro II is currently part of The GM Historical Collection.
Chevrolet Corvette Four-Rotor, 1972
1972 Chevrolet Corvette Four-RotorEnlarge Photo
Into this landscape came the Corvette Four-Rotor. Aggressively styled, the design features radical aerodynamics and gull-wing doors. Horsepower output from the four-rotor Wankel engine was said to be considerable. Many elements of the design were considered for production, but nearly all were deemed too expensive or impractical. Had GM made a different choice, perhaps Chevrolet would have fielded something as arresting as the original Lamborghini Countach LP4000.
In subsequent years in a move that smacks of "what have you done for me lately," GM swapped out the Wankel for a small-block V-8 and renamed the car "AeroVette."