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The Concept Car

Before a new model of car hits the road, the trade papers and the forecourt, it goes through a multitude of development stages. Everyone, from engineers to scientists, test drivers and accountants, gets to have their say, put forward their own particular viewpoint and, let’s be honest, do their best to make the car in question as ordinary as possible. This may sound like a strange statement, considering the millions spent on advertising and marketing in an attempt to convince us that this car or the next is a reinvention of the wheel and a redefinition of the driving experience, but the truth is that most cars, outside of the high end luxury market, are built with mass appeal in mind, which tends to result in eccentricities being ironed out. All too often, the day to day experience of driving is about the mundane – waiting out a red light, bemoaning the price of fuel and getting pranged and sorting out a compensation claim. In the unfortunate circumstance that you find yourself needing to claim due to injury, then a page online I came across, ( can point you in the right direction. It also has a compensation calculator tool, describing parts of the body and how much on average is expected to receive if injured.

In the life of every car you’ve ever driven or rode in, however, there was a moment, a brief shining moment, in which it was a stunning testament to innovation, style and adventure. That moment, of course, was when the designer sat down with a pencil in hand and a blank piece of paper in front of them, and drew whatever their heart desired, before the pragmatists and realists got their hands on things. After all, ask yourself, when was the last time that a car you saw on the road actually took your breath away or made your heart beat faster? A Ford Focus? A Nissan Micra? A VW Golf? Didn’t think so. There is still a vehicle, however, which allows for these wilder vehicular dreams to be expressed and realised. Lots of vehicles, in fact, and they’re called Concept Cars.

Concept cars are the director’s cut of the motoring world, the twelve inch remix, the deluxe edition. They’re what happens when the designers and manufacturers get to show off what they can really do, safe in the knowledge that the ideas they come up with will never have to be mass produced or driven through a traffic jam during Monday morning rush hour. Concept cars may seem like a fanciful indulgence, and in some ways they are – after all, cars are supposed to be fun on some level - but they also perform a valuable role. They allow car manufacturers to play around with concepts and ideas which may seem wildly fanciful at the time but which end up, much further down the line, being reflected in the cars which anyone can buy. The fact that concept cars never need make it to production results in ideas which push the envelope a little further than would otherwise be the case, and these innovative ideas often then filter down to the mass market. 

The first concept car is generally regarded as the Buick Y-Job, which was designed for General Motors by Harley Earl. It featured innovations such as wraparound bumpers, electric windows and flush door handles which, whilst extreme at the time, have gone on to be standard design features.

Other notable concept cars included the following:

The Lancia Megagamma – designed by Italdesign in 1978 and seen as the forerunner of the modern MPV.

Porsche 989 - The first four door Porsche and a forerunner of the Porsche Panamera.

Chevrolet Corvette Mako Shark Designed to reflect the creature after which it was named, the Mako Shark went on to have a huge influence on the design of the Corvette production model between 1968 and 1982.

Chevrolet Volt – launched in 2007 as an electric concept car, the Volt was launched as a production model in September 2008 and has since gone on to win many green awards.

Phantom Corsair – launched in 1938 and viewed as a failure at the time, the Phantom Corsair can, in retrospect, be seen as being ahead of its time. Its aerodynamic design meant that it was only 57 inches high, had completely skirted wheels and flush fenders. Other innovations included doors which opened with electronic buttons rather than handles, and a dashboard which indicated if the radio or lights were left on, or the doors left ajar.

BMW GINA – at first glance this may seem like a more extreme concept car than most. The body of the car was made of a type of fabric stretched over an aluminium frame, which meant that the shape of the vehicle would alter to match the driving conditions, or even on the whim of the driver. As far-fetched as this might seem, however, the basic platform was then utilised for the BMW i3 and BMW i8 Electric Vehicles.
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