Last year I brought you an article about the 10 maddest classic concept cars, and it was by far one of the hardest lists to make; not because I struggled to list ten, but quite the opposite, getting the list down to just ten concepts was exceedingly tough. With such an extensive shortlist, I thought it time to dip a toe back into the ever-crazy world of concept cars with another 10 of the maddest classic concept cars.
Abarth 2000 Scorpione
In the world of 70’s wedge concepts the same names come up over and over again: Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Lamborghini, though Abarth is the sleeper of the line-up, though how this astonishing one-off could be forgotten is beyond me.
Penned by Pininfarina in 1969, the Abarth 2000 Scorpione followed the first wedge concept, the Carabo, by only a year, turning it up to 11. Fully functional, the 2000 takes its name from its flame spitting 2-litre engine mounted midship below the glass engine cover. An admittedly small engine, it was very highly strung, kicking out 220 horsepower, enough with the slippery body to push the Scorpione to a quoted speed of 175mph. The epitome of Italian automotive insanity, Pininfarina fitted the 2000 with an Alfa P33-style retracting headlight bar, a pillarless windshield, no windows to speak of and a 90° front folding canopy.
The 2000 Scorpione is by all accounts a modern-day time capsule of late 60’s Italian design, to me the definition of the wedge supercar, the perfect mix of off-the-wall lines and uncompromised beauty in that oh-so Italian way.
What list of concept cars would be complete without the Ferrari Modulo. Probably the best known of Ferrari’s concepts, the Modulo came from the creative mind of Paolo Martin working at Pininfarina. Ferrari quoted possible performance figures for the Modulo being capable of 220mph and 0-60 in a shade over 3 seconds from its 550hp 5-litre V12.
Fitted with a radical forward sliding canopy and covered, ventilated wheels, the Modulo still remains as shocking today as it did in 1970. Having spent the majority of its life in the Pininfarina museum, in 2014 the Modulo was sold to James Glickenhaus who is currently restoring the Modulo to original running condition, so maybe someday we’ll see if the Modulo is actually capable of passing the 200mph barrier.
The second album is never easy, though it’s fair to say when following the Miura, Gandini knocked it out of the park with the awesome Lamborghini Marzal. The forerunner of what would eventually become the Espada, the Marzal was Lamborghini’s first bat-shit insane concept of the long line to follow, kicking it off with one hell of a design.
Unlike the Espada that would follow, the Marzal was not powered by a V12, drive in fact came from a mid-mounted 2-litre inline-6 kicking out around 175 horsepower, in all honesty essentially a Lamborghini Miura engine lopped in half latitudinally. A true styling tour-de-force, Gandini styled every inch of the Marzal to the nth degree, everything from the geometric louvered engine cover, hexagonal dashboard, sharp steering wheel that later saw the light of day in the one-off Miura Roadster to the quintessentially Italian all glass gullwing doors, allowing entrance to the laidback front and rear seats.
Driven by Grace Kelly as the pace car for the 1967 Monaco Grand Prix, the Marzal changed hands after the collapse of the Bertone Museum in 2011, crossing the auction block for €1,350,000.
Ok, I know what you’re thinking, there’s no way Pininfarina, the name behind some of the prettiest cars ever created would possibly produce this strange, central headlight bubble-car. Despite so, the Pininfarina X was actually the passion project of the company’s founder, Batista Pinin, and one decades ahead of its time. Now, the eagle-eyed of you would have noticed the rather peculiar wheel arrangement; power fed to the single rear wheel, the front wheel steers and the two on the side merely stabilising the car, so that’s right, the X has its wheels arranged in a diamond pattern.
Devised in an era wrapt under the pursuit of aerodynamics, the 1955 X was Pinin’s vision of the car of the future. Approaching the aerodynamic teardrop shape, the X’s bulbous front and curved rear glass feed air around the tall fins, the slippery body producing a drag coefficient of just .23 and hardly anything reaches that, even today. Power fed to that single rear wheel by a single cylinder Fiat engine mounted to one side of the car’s rear, the other side used as a boot, the X achieved a top speed 20% higher than Fiat’s conventional saloons thanks to that aerodynamic body. Still fully operational to this day, it’s said Mr Pininfarina drove the little 40 horsepower X around Italy to different manufacturers trying to get his passion project into production. Pininfarina sadly failed, the one-off X crossing the auction blocks in 2015 for $330,000.
Aston Martin Bulldog
As interesting as it is to see concept cars built as exercises of design and engineering one-upmanship, the sad reality is the majority of concepts never see a production reality, though this one got as close as one could. Devised in 1979, the Bulldog was Aston’s attempt to introduce a futuristic supercar alongside the already futuristic Lagonda.
Designed by William Towns, the genius behind penning the Lagonda’s sharp lines, Towns brought his signature flair to the Bulldog, designing a flat planed wedge with some seriously awesome design features; gullwing doors, a digital touchscreen interior (like the Lagonda) and one of the coolest headlight arrangements, where the bonnet pivoted down to reveal the five fixed headlights. Built to show off Aston’s new engineering capabilities, the Bulldog had one job, to wipe the floor with the Lamborghini Countach. Drive fed to the rear wheels by Aston’s own 5.3-litre V8, the engineers behind the Bulldog couldn’t resist whacking on two turbochargers, the resulting output 700 horsepower. Yes, 700 horsepower. In 1979; twice that of a Countach. As you’d imagine, Aston’s hypercar was by no means a low-poke, Aston claiming a top speed of 237mph, the Bulldog was only tested up to 192mph, just shy of what the Ferrari 288 GTO would achieve nearly a decade later.
It’s clear Aston Martin had a winner on their hands, planning a production run of between 15-25 Bulldogs, until Aston’s new man in charge, Victor Gauntlett pulled the plug on the Bulldog concept in 1981.
Whilst the concepts of the 60’s and 70’s explored the outer limits of what car design can achieve, the concepts of the 30’s and 40’s predominantly explored the black art of aerodynamics, often resulting in some drop-dead gorgeous teardrop shapes from Bugatti and Delahaye. The Panhard Dynavia is not one of these gorgeous art-deco designs, though it is an absolute gem of form follows function styling.
Panhard anticipated the need for affordable, economical cars post-war, developing this small concept in 1948. As radical a design today as it was in 1948, the teardrop Dynavia’s rounded front shrouds a tiny air-cooled 2-cylinder boxer motor, only produced 28 horsepower, which whilst is a small amount, when paired with a kerb weight of just 650 kilograms and a drag coefficient of .26, sent the Dynavia to a top speed of nearly 20% more than the Panhard the drivetrain was based on, 81mph.
Set to enter production after a successful debut at the Paris Motorshow, the Dynavia never made it to the driveways of eager post-war families, the only surviving of the two Dynavia’s living out its remaining years at the Cité De l’Automobile, Formerly Schlumpf Collection, in sleepy rural France.
General Motors Firebird III
We touched upon the original General Motors Firebird in the first list of concepts, though this is one that can’t be left out. The star of the 1959 Motorama, GM’s Firebird III ran a slightly updated 225 horsepower Whirlfire gas-turbine engine used in the forerunning Firebird’s, though one with a more civilised cold exhaust operating 1000 degrees cooler than the Channel Tunnel sized exhaust on the Firebird I.
A more conventional approach to the Firebird’s (if you could ever call a Firebird conventional), its designer, Harley Earl, still gave the Firebird III some of his signature flair, such as the awesome double-bubble canopy that cacoons the driver and passenger, dihedral doors, air brake flaps that fold out to slow the Firebird and no less than seven fins.
More jet fighter than car, the Firebird III also brought to the game a rather novel form of control. With no steering wheel or pedals, the Firebird was controlled by the ‘Uni-Trol’, a mouse-like joystick mounted in the centre console that operates just like a joystick, up and down to go forward and backwards, left and right for just that. I think it’s fair to say Harley Earl’s vision of the future may have been a tad ambitious.
What list of concept cars would be completed without the very first concept of them all; the 1938 Buick Y-Job. The first concept from a mainstream manufacturer, the Y-Job, was more of a look into what the average Buick would look like in the near future, rather than a pure exercise in designs future concepts would present. Fitted with electric windows, button operated door handles, motorised hidden headlights and one of many firsts, a power retractable roof, the Y-Job was decades ahead of its time, though still a rear-world car in 1938.
Styled by the mastermind behind Oldsmobile Golden Rocket, Corvette C1 and aforementioned GM Firebird’s, Harley Earl brought his contemporary flair to the Y-Job, though only to the extent where the general public would accept it. Reserving his outlandish designs for future concepts, the Y-Job was Buick’s attempt at revitalising and modernising automobile design after the depression, though still bringing his usual flair, fitting the Y-Job with wraparound bumpers, the gorgeous chrome strakes and a gunsight hood ornament.
Harley Earl personally drove the Y-Job well into the 50’s, only replacing it as his daily driver with another of his concepts, the space-aged GM LeSabre; imagine being Harley’s neighbour.
It’s common knowledge the 356 was far from Ferry Porsche’s first foray into the auto industry, designing countless cars prior, the best known being his Volkswagen Beetle. Though its little know the 356 was not the first Porsche to bear Stuttgart’s most famous badge, that honour falls to the 356/1.
Far from a production reality, the 356/1 came to light in Porsche’s skunkworks in 1948, the same year the 356’s began hitting German roads. Sharing much in common with the later 356’s, including a gorgeous body penned by Erwin Komenda, the largest difference being the identical 1.1 litre Volkswagen motors placement. mid-mounted in the 356/1, it was moved behind the rear axle to accommodate a set of rear seats in the production 356. Built on a Volkswagen chassis out of mostly VW parts, just the one 356/1 was built, today residing in the Porsche Museum.
Renault Espace F1
0-60 in 2.8 seconds and a top speed of 194mph are not the figures of your average people carrier, though they are the ones of this mad thing. The Renault Espace F1 is pointless, though that’s the whole point; if you’re going to build a clapped-out people carrier, you might as well go the whole hog.
Bodied around what was effectively a Formula 1 chassis, the Espace F1 was built to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Espace, and what a way to do so. Just under 800 horsepower sent entirely to the rear wheels, the Espace F1 follows the Formula 1 theme by using the same mid-mounted 3.5 litre V10 from the 1993 championship winning Williams-Renault Formula 1 car. Naturally, the output of which being those incredible acceleration speeds, though combined with carbon-fibre brakes brought the Espace F1 from 0-168mph and back to zero in less than 600 metres. More an exercise in engineering than a papier-mâché concept car built to turn on a plinth at a motorshow, the F1 is at its core the running gear of a Formula 1 car fitted with an Espace body, meaning the four seater was far from slow in the corners, with most of the carbon-fibre body keeping the centre of gravity low the F1 handled flat with next to no body roll.
Used mostly as a marketing tool through the early 90’s, the one-off Espace F1 has been retired to the Matra museum in sleepy rural France, occasionally rolled out for Retromobile in Paris.