Nine times out of 10, concept cars wind up being a giant tease. For example, recall the stunning Cadillac Elmiraj, whose one-off status we still mourn. Sure, some elements can appear in a later production car, but it’s rare for a concept car to survive from auto show to dealership largely unchanged. Following are five mostly affordable cars that went from concept to production almost unscathed:
1970-77 Alfa Romeo Montreal- The Montreal would be Alfa’s only V-8 sports car until the 2009 Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione. A Marcello Gandini (of Lamborghini Miura and Countach fame) design, it was based on a 1967 concept car shown at the Montreal Expo world’s fair. Powered by a racing-derived Alfa Romeo T-33 V-8, the show car was easily the most exotic Alfa since the BAT series of concept cars from the 1950s. The production car differed in some minor details, but it retained the flair of a one-off concept car. Never officially sold in the U.S., plenty have been privately imported over the years. They’ve more than doubled in value over the last ten years or so yet they still seem too cheap for what they are. Fewer than 4,000 were built.
1981-90 Isuzu Impulse- We mentioned that Giugiaro was prolific. He and his son Fabrizio also have a talent for penning concept cars that are sufficiently dramatic enough to attract attention, yet actually practical enough to be produced. The Impulse was based on the 1979 Tokyo Auto Show Ace of Clubs concept car. It was sold in most markets as the Isuzu Piazza, the latest in a long line of very pretty Isuzu coupes sketched by Giugiaro. Known as the Impulse in the U.S., it was the only one of the aforementioned Giugiaro Isuzu coupes sold here. Sadly, the suspension was derived from the General Motors T-car, otherwise known as the Chevette, with predictable results in the refinement and handling department. Late in the Impulse’s run, Lotus sorted out the suspension and the car finally handled the way it should have all along. Survivors are rare but relatively cheap.
1976-77 Lotus Esprit S1- In addition to having James Bond cred, the Esprit also made it from a ‘72 Turin Motor Show concept car to the showroom, almost unaltered. Also conceived by ItalDesign, it showed that a mid-engine Lotus sports car didn’t have to look like a 2/3 scale Chevy El Camino. While the Esprit’s gestation period was glacially paced, when it finally replaced the Europa in 1976, the difference couldn’t have been more pronounced. The wedge-profile Esprit was one for the ages. While currently appreciating, Esprits of any flavor remain undervalued compared to their supercar contemporaries.
1996-date Porsche Boxster- Porsche seems to have learned its lesson from the 914. The Boxster would be an entry-level Porsche that looked like a Porsche. When the Harm Lagaay/Pinky Lai/Grant Larson-designed concept debuted at the 1993 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, it could have been revealed without a single badge and nearly any sighted person would have recognized it as a Porsche. It was obvious that the designers looked to the 718 RSK racer of the ‘50s as inspiration for Porsche’s first mid-engine roadster since the 550 Spyder. Some of the details did change for production, particularly the front fascia, the rear ¾ view and the side air intakes, but few people were terribly disappointed by the final car. Now 20 years on, early Boxsters have reached the bottom of the depreciation curve. Snap one up before they appreciate like the 911.
1991-96 Subaru SVX- The SVX was a giant departure for a company that was the automotive equivalent of a pair of Doc Martens. In the same showroom, you could shop a sturdy, upright Outback or something that looked like it could be running down replicants in Blade Runner. Powered by a 3.3-liter 231 hp naturally aspirated flat-six, and available with all-wheel drive, this Subaru’s low stance and distinctive, “window within a window” design was attractive from some angles, and downright bizarre from others. The production car looked very similar to the 1989 Tokyo Auto Show concept that the prolific Giorgetto Giugiaro, and his firm ItalDesign, executed for Subie. SVXs are great to drive in almost any weather. The one letdown is the fact that they’re all autoboxes. Adding insult to injury, the automatic transmission is notoriously fragile. Nearly any SVX you consider will have had at least one replacement or currently need one.