Historic Concept Cars, Part II: Yesteryear's Cars of Tomorrow
In the second part of our series on historic concept cars, we’re continuing to look at cars that automakers have used to prototype styling innovations, new technology and futuristic safety features. With the new car auto shows in full swing, it’s a perfect time to look back at some of history’s more memorable dream cars and prototypes.
1961 Chevrolet XP-755 Mako Shark
As the story goes, GM Style VP Bill Mitchell caught a mako shark during a vacation to the Bahamas and was inspired by the sleek, powerful body of this fast-swimming shark. Mitchell had the shark mounted and instructed his team to build a car that replicated the shark as closely as possible.
Larry Shinoda rendered the Corvette’s new stingray body with a XP-700 rear clip and double-bubble roof. The final design incorporated a pointed nose, gill slits, side pipes, a periscope rearview mirror and paint that mirrored the shark’s blue/gray top and sliver/white belly. An aluminum block 427-cid/425-hp V-8 provided power worthy of the predator for which it was named.
According to rumor, Mitchell complained repeatedly that the Mako Shark paint finish wasn’t close enough to the color of his trophy. The frustrated design staff supposedly solved the problem by having the mounted shark painted to match the car.
1953-1954 Dodge Firearrow I-IV
A Virgil Exner design with coachwork executed by Ghia, the 1953 Firearrow I was a styling prototype without a drivetrain. The futuristic roadster was beautifully executed and elicited a favorable public response.
Chrysler attempted to capitalize on the Firearrow’s positive buzz by unveiling three new concepts in 1954, all of which used a standard 1954 Chrysler convertible chassis and Red Ram Hemi V-8 engine. The Firearrow II received modest restyling while retaining a resemblance to its older sibling.
The Firearrow II and IV eventually shared the moniker “Firebomb.” For the Firearrow III, Chrysler and Ghia introduced a sport coupe with dual headlamps, bumperettes and a highly modified version of the Red Ram Hemi that propelled the car to 143.44 mph at the Chelsea Proving Grounds. Firearrow IV was a four-seat convertible version of III. The Firebomb cars were the most production-ready of the series.
Chrysler sold production rights to the Firearrow which later evolved into the Dual-Ghia.
Lancia Stratos HF Zero
Fearing Lancia would reject the idea before a concept was built, Nuccio Bertone named his mid-engine Fulvia replacement Project 0. The futuristic wedge-shaped car looks as though it was plucked from a Jetsons cartoon. Marcello Gandini’s fully-functioning design measured 84 cm tall and required drivers to enter through the front windscreen. Power was supplied by a 1.6-liter, 115-hp Fulvia HF engine.
Ford Seattle-ite XXI
The Ford-built concept for the 1963 World’s Fair was the ultimate in customizable automobiles. It featured interchangeable fuel cells and bodies, four front wheels and a computer navigation and information system that foreshadowed technology now commonplace in modern cars.
Intended to provide better traction and braking capabilities, the six-wheeled car’s four front wheels turned in tandem. The transcontinental sedan delivered 400 hp. But for city driving, the front end could be removed from the passenger compartment, thus transforming the car into a 60-hp capsule. The car even featured an optional nuclear reactor power plant (engine).
While multiple steering wheels haven’t made it much farther than the limited production Panther 6 and the Tyrell P34 Formula I car of 1976, the innovative advances of effortless steering, programmable trip navigation and computerized engine performance displays did provide a template for today’s engineers to follow.