For our latest Hagerty Drivers Club livestream, our own Brad Phillips was joined by Alain Squindo, RM Sotheby’s COO. The topic this time was concept cars—the gorgeous, often outlandish styling exercises that give customers a hint at the future styling direction of their favorite automotive brands. As Alain explains, concept cars “are critically important because they’re either the genesis of something very cool, or a flashback to something that was very cool long ago.”
Over the course of their hour-long chat, our two co-hosts chose these as their all-time favorites:
1960 Plymouth XNR
Named for Chrysler’s fin-fanatic designer Virgil Exner, the asymmetrical speedster puts chrome to excellent use. At the rear there’s a vertical dorsal fin that trails from the driver’s headrest nacelle that’s capped by a thin chrome spear that runs off the horizontal back bumper, while the front fascia is ringed in chrome. This slant-six sports car was supposed to rival the Corvette, but no real Corvette competitor emerged until the Viper. We’d see some strong XNR DNA in the production 1962 Valiant but especially in the 1962 Dodge Dart, as their prominent fender ridges clearly pulled from the concept. The Dart even got a similarly shaped grille.
2003 Cadillac Sixteen
Brad’s first pick goes to the elegant and yet still imposing Cadillac Sixteen. The super sedan was powered by a V-16 engine as an homage to the brands most opulent cars from the 1930s, which also relied on V-16 power. Cadillac could have based the one-off engine of this running and driving concept on its 2.8-liter or 3.6L DOHC V-6s, which would have resulted in a V-16 of 453 or 580 cubic inches, respectively. Instead it opted for pushrod power. A V-16 that was double the displacement of the LS1 V-8 would have made for a monster 691-cu-in engine. That wasn’t quite enough. To create an easy 1000 horsepower, Cadillac built a custom V-16 block based on the LS1 architecture but enlarged the LS1’s bore and stroke by 6mm each to create a 13.7-liter behemoth. That’s 837 cubic inches, truly a luxury car engine, and worthy of its place under that long hood.
1954 Buick Wildcat II
Another Corvette competitor that didn’t come to fruition, Harley Earl’s Wildcat II concept melded early first-generation Corvette styling with a front end that was reminiscent of a late-’40s full-size car. Its open wheel wells evoke European cars, as well as the side coves that would appear in the 1956 Corvette.
1958 Corvette XP-700
Bill Mitchell’s first take on a Corvette concept included some sharper lines, a double-bubble roof, and a protruding grille. The twin recessed hood panels would make an appearance on the 1963 and ’64 Corvette. We’d also get sidepipes on the Corvette beginning with the C2.
1970 Stratos Zero
The origin of the wedge design that’s still a part of Lamborghini today, this Gandini-designed concept is a running and driving car. It’s tough to imagine driving this low-slung sportster though, once you consider what must be appalling outward visibility. The Spartan interior features a strange steering column that emerged from between the driver’s legs. Windows forward and low on the door would allow for a nice view of the front wheels when parking, but it seems like lane changes would be a gamble. As far as production cars go, you can see Lamborghini Countach in the profile and short rear overhang.
2003 Dodge Tomahawk
While it technically has four wheels, you don’t drive the Tomahawk, you ride it. So go ahead and call it a motorcycle if you like. This strange contraption is powered by an 8.2-liter Viper V-10 engine, making it one of the most outrageously overpowered concepts ever. We can’t really think of anything from the Tomahawk that made it to production, although you can tell that a company that has the audacity to build a vehicle like that would be the same kind of company to drop a 700+ horsepower Hellcat V-8 just about anywhere it would fit.
2015 BMW CSL Hommage R
This car pays tribute to the BMW “Batmobile” and 40 years of BMW motorsport with its striped paint scheme and tall wing. It has a great stance, with wheels and tires that fill the wheel wells perfectly. It was one of the first looks we got at the large grilles that are now in the showroom by way of the new 4 Series.
1971 Maserati Boomerang
Somewhat similar in style to the Stratos, this wedge-shaped car blends a more usable greenhouse with a wild interior that frames all of its gauges inside the steering wheel. Maserati used the Boomerang’s styling for the Bora that debuted the following year. Brad really sees how the concept inspired the wild Vector W12, particularly its sharp-edged shoulders.
Alfa Romeo BAT cars
Bertone and Alfa Romeo introduced three BAT cars in three consecutive years, 1953–55. The acronym comes from Berlinetta Aerodynamica Technica as these coupes were all built with aerodynamic drag in mind. Wild designs, with steeply-raked windshields, enclosed wheelwells, and fabulous fins, each of the BAT cars is a piece of art in its own right. No production cars really look this outlandishly sculpted, but these cars were pioneers on the quest for low aerodynamic drag.
GM’s Firebird concept cars
Brad’s final pick is also a trio: GM’s Firebird I, Firebird II, and Firebird III. These space-age concepts begin with the Firebird I, from 1956, which looks every bit like a delta-winged fighter jet turned into a Bonneville racer. That’s an appropriate look since it’s turbine powered. Firebird II is a more practical approach and looks absolutely bloated in comparison, but Firebird III brings the Jetsons vibe back. It sports three tall stabilizers, including a vertically-mounted center tail, twin-bubble passenger canopy, and a low, wide, pointed grille that looks like nothing else. Not only did this trio of concepts push the design envelope, but they were also forward-looking in regards to powerplants.
Alain and Brad only had an hour to talk about their favorites, so—of course,—lots of great designs were left off. Feel free to add your own favorite concept cars in the comments below.