Today's list is the 10 Best American concept cars. In this case, best does not necessarily always mean the most visually attractive, or most desirable to send to production. In some cases it's the best because of the gravity it imposed, either on the manufacturer, or even the industry. So as always, feel free to comment with your agreements and disagreements. Enjoy.
The 1938 Buick Y-Job
The Y-Job is generally considered to be the first true concept car in the automotive industry, in the forward-looking vision sense of the word. It was created by General Motors Styling Chief Harley Earl to illustrate the forward thinking vision of General Motors. It traveled on the same show circuit which traditionally only featured production cars.
Unlike many of today's concept cars, the Y-Job was not just a show queen. Earl drove it regularly around the streets of Detroit after it's show tour.
Visually, it's easy to see the influence of the Cord models designed by Gordon Buehrig in the design of the Y-Job.
The 1938 Phantom Corsair concept
Rust Heinz of the HJ Heinz family built the Phantom Corsair as a prototype in 1938, with the intent of selling it as a production automobile. The estimated selling price for a production version was to be $12,500, which translates into $190,000 today. Heinz's unfortunate death by car accident in July 1939 ended any plans for production, leaving the prototype version of the car is the only one ever built.
It's presence on the list is based on it's styling. It is like nothing else from the time, and still draws looks even today. It's appearance is so dramatic and unique, it has become a regularly used car in many first person video games to this day.
The 1951 Buick LeSabre concept
One of the principal functions of a concept car is to create a vision for a model lineup, or sometimes even a company's larger design strategy. Occasionally, a concept comes along that has significant influence on the entire industry. The LeSabre concept arguably was the latter. There are visual elements on the Buick that would not appear on other cars for another 5 to 10 years. The rear fins and the references to aviation- specifically the jet-age - are prominent in the LeSabre concept. Five years after the LeSabre debut, similar tailfins would appear on cars everywhere. Ten years after the LeSabre concept debuted the world would see significant and frequent references to jet age styling in many cars. Even by concept car standards, the Buick LeSabre concept was significantly ahead of its time.
The 1959 Corvette Stingray concept
There is very little doubt that the Stingray concept was the direct influence to what would ultimately become the 1963 Corvette. Like many other GM concept cars of the era, the Stingray was a fully functioning car. Even more, the basis of the Stingray concept was the 1957 Corvette SS racing project car. It weighed an exceptionally light 2200 pounds. The concept car was actually used to test handling and performance and was raced quite extensively. It even won the SCCA National Championship in 1960. How many other concept cars can claim that?
The 1989 Dodge Viper concept
Early renderings for a Viper concept were conceived in late 1988. Then-Chrysler President Bob Lutz suggested to Design Chief Tom Gale that the company should consider producing a modern-day equivalent to the Cobra. They were ready. In a matter of a few months they produced a clay model for consideration. Only a few months after that in January 1989, a sheet metal version appeared at the North American auto show in Detroit.
The Viper concept not only provided a rallying cry for the otherwise mundane Chrysler product lineup, it arguably inspired a renaissance for the American auto industry - by reminding American car companies that it was not necessary to replicate the Germans or the Japanese to be successful, but rather to be American. It was OK to design and build quintessentially American cars. Even if you're not a fan of the Viper, it's hard to ignore the role it played in the revival of the American car industry.
The 1991 Ford 49 concept
J Mays had made a career of resurrecting classic designs in contemporary interpretations. He started with the New Beetle at Volkswagen, then ultimately moved to Ford. During his time at Ford, he brought back some of the heritage of the brand. The 49 was just one of those design exercises. Long before the Pro Touring movement had gained popularity, Ford wondered what would happen if you use the aesthetic essence of a hot rod classic - the 1949 Ford, but with modern performance capabilities and conveniences. While it lacks many of the subtle nuances that make the original a better version, for 1991, seeing the elegant proportions of a familiar classic were a welcome change of pace in a sea of ubiquitous sedans. Furthermore, it was interesting to see some of the visual impact conceived by hot rodders being integrated by a large-scale manufacturer.
The 1995 Ford GT 90 concept
Ten years before Ford would produce the GT, they built the GT 90 concept. Relative to the GT, the GT 90 was significantly larger, and it's styling was far less classic in nature, acting as a focal point for Ford's Edge styling of the era. Even if it wasn't a visual classic, Ford needed the GT 90. In the mid 90s, Ford didn't have anything resembling a halo car. Just two years earlier, Dodge had released the Viper, and Chevrolet had the increasingly powerful Corvette. Ford needed something at another strata above the Mustang. The GT 90 showed that Ford was thinking bigger.
At the time, Ford touted the GT 90 as the worlds mightiest supercar, capable of 235 mph. It was powered by a quad-turbocharged V12 generating 720 hp.
The 2003 Dodge Tomahawk concept
One could argue whether the Tomahawk is a car or a motorcycle. What is less debatable is the impact the Tomahawk had on spectators when it first appeared at the Detroit auto show in 2003. It was, for all intents and purposes, a Dodge Viper V10 wrapped very loosely in an Art Deco package of motorcycle controls and suspension, with two sets of motorcycle wheels and tires.
The Tomahawk was claimed to be capable of a top speed of 420 mph. What is known now is that it was so precarious to ride, they never found anyone willing to take it faster than 100 mph.
The 2003 Cadillac Sixteen concept
Part of the beauty of the Sixteen requires that you remember the shape Cadillac was in as a company in the early 2000s. They were just starting to find their way out of the dark, and were working hard to re-establish what the Cadillac brand would stand for going forward. The Sixteen concept sent a clear signal to the world that Cadillac was back. It remembered what made it the premium marque it once was, and that they were serious about getting back on top. The Sixteen, named after the enormous V16 under the hood, harkened back to the 1920s and 30s with its old-school luxury car proportions, in addition to the legendary V16 engine once used by Cadillac. The design team also used the Sixteen to socialize visual cues that would appear on their upcoming production models, starting with the second-generation CTS. The Sixteen became a rallying cry for a brand that has since seen a pretty remarkable renaissance.
The 2005 Ford Shelby GR-1 concept
In the modern era, so many concepts are essentially paying homage to legendary cars of the past. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. Ford got it right with the GR-1.
With it's Kamm-tail and side profile, yes, it bears more than a passing resemblance to the legendary Daytona coupe. While some may criticize the industry for shamelessly knocking off the glory days, others might say, why mess with success? True beauty knows no age. The GR-1 has beautiful proportions, and more importantly, is not overwrought with extraneous visual clutter. The elegant polished aluminum finish helps amplify the simplicity and raw nature of the car. The GR-1 looked perfectly at home on the Ford stand when it debuted next to the production version of the Ford GT in 2005.