The History of Concept Cars | WheelHouse


– [Male Speaker]
Trendsetting, crowd pleasing, outlandish, it’s the concept car. A fantasy vehicle filled
with possibility and wonder. But don’t fall in love
with that Nissan IDX, or Porsche Mission E,
because the reality is, the rubber will never meet the road. What, it’s just a showpiece? Ah, so why build these dream machines if they’re never expected to
roll of the assembly line? This is Wheel House, and
we’re talking concept cars. Concept cars are often
stocked with innovative and over the top features, but
lack economic viability or practical application. They are dream big cars, and
automakers will spend the time and money to show off new
technology and styling, or simply to gauge customers’
reaction to new ideas. In the early days of the auto industry, the only people building them
were the people who had before been building coaches, and that’s why they looked
like horseless coaches. In 1896, the French, I
don’t know, all of them, launched an effort to set the automobile apart from the horseless carriage. A well-known department
store in Paris held a contest and invited all types of creatives, from painters, sculptors,
and even architects to come up with their own
ideas for a modern motorcar. The winning entry was by an
architect and furniture designer named Pierre Selmersheim. His scale model design
called the Car House, was made of wax, cardboard, and glass, and was a fairly radical and
advanced model for the time. I mean, look at it. It looks like a Steampunk funny car. That’s the first and last
time I’ll ever mention Steampunk on this show. (lively music) While Selmersheim’s Car House
never got past the sketch and model stage, many
concept cars that got built featured some pretty impressive designs. With improved infrastructure
and safety of paved roads in the US, car designers were
able to trade the rugged, bulky, tractor-like models for more attractive looking vehicles. The decade also saw a
fascination with the burgeoning aviation industry, and the
automobile was even seen as your own personal flying machine. One concept car to capitalize on this was the Auburn Cabin Speedster. Their concept car design
was promoting as having the speed of a racing car with the comfort of a closed car. The cabin on this beauty was
pushed to the back of the car and was characterized as cabin rear worth. The hood was long and sleek. Designed in 1928, just a
year after Charles Lindbergh made his famous Transatlantic flight, the aeronautical themes of
the Auburn Cabin Speedster are clear cut. Position yourself behind the wheel and you might think
you were in the cockpit of a two-seater airplane. Sadly, the excitement over
the Auburn was short-lived. While on display at a car show, either a cigarette was
carelessly discarded, or there was an electrical short, because the tent went up in
flames and 320 cars were lost, including the Auburn Cabin Speedster. This car had a ton of influence, you put it next to the Jaguar E-Type, or Dodge Viper, or even the Mercedes GT, and the lineage is pretty clear. (lively music) Moving into the 1930s, we
actually saw a couple concept cars that predated the minivan of today. Buckminster Fuller was a famous inventor and visionary of the 20th century. He was an accomplished
poet, architect, engineer, mathematician, the list goes on. You name it, he probably did it. And he built one of the most significant, and progressive cars ever. The Dymaxion was a 20 foot
long pod like three-wheeled contraption that Fuller
didn’t see as radical, but as logical. This highly streamlined car
used the Ford V8 at the rear to drive the two front wheels. And the single back wheel steered the car, like the rudder of a ship. It could carry up to 11 passengers, got 30 miles to the gallon, and claimed to travel as
fast as 120 miles per hour. This thing is awesome. I could see it in a Wes Anderson movie. The Dymaxion could turn on a dime, and parallel parking was a breeze, just pivot its wheels toward the curb, and zip sideways into the parking space, like a crab or something. And there were no rear
windows, just a periscope. Excentric, definitely,
but it was also stylish, efficient, and attracted
lots of attention. Celebrities wanted to take it for a spin, and the rich wanted to invest in it. Unfortunately, the same month that Fuller applied for a patent, one of his prototype Dymaxions crashed and killed the driver. Ultimately, only three
Dymaxions were completed before Fuller ran out of money. Curiously enough, a few years
ago a guy built a replica of the Dymaxion and
said it was the scariest driving experience of his life. Yeah, no duh, it handles like
a forklift, but can go 120. (lively music) The 1938 Buick Y Job was the
brainchild of General Motor’s design chief Harley Earl. This guy represented a whole
new approach to auto design. His guiding principle was oblongs are more attractive than squares. Harley’s intention was
to build a dream car that would test the
boundaries of consumer taste. So why is it called the Y Job? Experimental cars had already
used the X designation, but Harley believed this
was beyond experimental. And what comes after X? Y. With its aviation influenced design, this two seat convertible
was the first Buick to use the bombsight hood ornament and featured power-operated
hidden headlights, recessed tail lamps, flush door handles, electric windows and doors, and a hidden power-operated
convertible top, in 1938. Technological innovations that were way ahead of their times from the 30s. And every one of these
devices found their way into production cars. In 1939, the press called the
Y Job more than a concept car, it was the car of the future. This observation was dead on, because the oblong shaped, long and low slung body of the
Y Job had a massive influence on American car design that
lasted well into the 50s. When you look at the car,
you’re probably thinking, oh, I’ve seen that before. And you might have, but you
might just think you have, because for almost two decades, manufacturers were trying
their best to emulate it. (lively music) In the 1950s and 60s, the
auto industry’s concept cars still reflected a love
affair with aircraft, but the approach was more futuristic. It’s no wonder, because with
the space race it was game on, and jet planes and research rockets were blazing across the sky, so car makers were inspired
by this exciting jet age. Oldsmobile was a powerhouse in the 50s, and was also very ambitious. In 1956, it showed its bold side with the shark-nosed Golden Rocket. The Golden Rocket was
jaw-dropping, sporty, and strange. It had round headlights tucked
between the skinny grill and high-set missile-like fenders. Its luxury features included a
power tilting steering column and seats that automatically
raised and swiveled when the doors opened. Unfortunately, few of its
chic, styling features made it to production, with the exception of the incredible, wrap-around split rear window treatment, which appeared in the 1963 Corvette. Around the same time, General Motors took an even
bolder step in its concept car designs with GM’s Firebird Show Cars. These series of concept
Firebirds were built, not just to showcase futuristic design, but also to test the usefulness
of gas turbine engines in passenger cars. The GM Firebird Three’s aim was
to build upon the high speed ability of the first Firebird model, and the electronic feats of
the second Firebird model. This extreme jet fighter shaped vehicle was, to say the least, astounding. The GM Firebird Three offered
a keyless entry system and a double bubble canopy, continuing with the Jet H3
of the first two Firebirds. The Firebird Three would be
the only one in the series that actually influenced design of GM car. You’ll find the Firebird’s rear skegs, that’s kind of a weird name, or the stubby little fins
that hung down off the bottoms of the rear fenders on the 1961 Cadillac. With no parallel lines
and very little chrome, the Firebird Three broke a
number of GM styling rules, and that’s one of the reasons it became such a significant design. This car series also delved
into a surprising range of technologies that can be
found in current car models, anti-lock breaking
systems, (jumbled words), and powered luggage compartment platforms, that’s not as exciting as the first ones. (lively music) Fast forward 30 years and the landscape of concept cars shifted. We were seeking not just
sleek and flashy designs, but also cars aimed at
particular lifestyles. You see, in the 1980s market
research found that consumers under 35 were interested
in buying vehicles that would match their
leisure and recreational life, like hiking, biking,
camping, kayaking, surfing, all those other things that
you see on Tinder profiles. With the burgeoning sport utility market beginning to dominate the
late 80s and into the 90s, Pontiac responded with
the 1989 concept car called the Stinger. This neon green, open-top,
two-door dune buggy/jeep combo was a true attention grabber. The Stinger was aimed
directly at young buyers who spent all their time at the beach, and needed a vehicle
that centered entirely around the beach-going experience. The folks at Pontiac went all out with an endless supply of gadgets: electric memory seats and steering wheel, a control panel hidden in
the driver’s side door, seats made of wetsuit
material that could be used as beach chairs, and a
removable roof panel. You could also raise the
rear seats up 15 inches at the flip of a switch. But wait, there’s even more, a CD player, a detachable AM/FM stereo, binoculars with a carrying case, why? Are you like, spying on a
nude beach with this car? A pullout drawer that stored
two long-distance cell phones, a drink cooler mounted in the doors, a tool case, an extension
cord, an extension cord? Two dust busters, a first
aid kit, a sewing kit, a flashlight, a camping
table, biking bags, and I’m not kidding, a garden
hose, to hose it out with. I’ll say it again, a garden hose. Crammed with all that, you may wonder, is there anything the Stinger couldn’t do? Well, it couldn’t get made. Even though it’s unlikely
a production version of the Stinger would have to come equipped with all those extras, a roofless, beach-combing
4X4 with some of that stuff would be pretty sweet. It seems Pontiac bigwigs at the time were eager to produce the Stinger, but they decided with
all those extra features, it wouldn’t be cost effective to build. And you’d have to get your dust buster at the Black and Decker
like the rest of us. One of my favorite concept
cars rolled out in the late 90s and was heralded as the
car to save American Cars. Buick unveiled their LaCrosse concept. It was sleek in rear wheel drive with a powerful V8, and
it had suicide doors. Surely, this meant Buick
was back in the game. The LaCrosse did make it to
production about a decade later, as an unremarkable family sudan. (lively music) For concept cars, it’s a glamorous, although short life expectancy. Most are dismantled after
they’ve made the rounds at that year’s given car
shows, on display at a museum, or end up in the hands of private buyers via an auction house. But sometimes car makers actually promise the future and deliver. Tesla was one concept car
that made it to production, against all odds. Debuting at a private event in SoCal, the electric 2009 Tesla Model S show car housed enough battery power to boast an estimated 300 mile range. The proposed specs on the sleek sudan were ambitious, a 45 minute quick charge, a 17 inch infotainment system
with 3G wireless connectivity, and a top speed of 120, and much more. It honestly sounded impossible, and a lot of people said it
would never make it to market. However, in 2012 Elon Musk
and his team delivered on their performance claims
with the Tesla Model S. The dual-motor version
hit 60 miles per hour in three-point-two seconds,
and had a range of 295 miles, a truly impressive feat. And it’s because of this car, the big dogs of the industry are taking electric cars seriously,
and that’s awesome. With environmentally friendly
and sustainable energy the name of the game nowadays, the 2000s and beyond have seen a big focus on green concept cars. Now we have concept
cars debuting at venues outside of auto shows. Shiny, startup Byton unveiled
an all-electric SUV concept at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. This polished four-door features
voice and gesture controls, and face recognition technology
that will probably break after like two years. Side mirrors are nixed
and replaced with cameras, and of course there’s
autonomous capabilities. Earlier this year, Lexus
introduced the striking LF-1 limitless concept car, with
the goal of making the driving experience easier, this
slick, luxury crossover offers expansive touch
controls on the steering wheel, and a touch pad on the center console, because what we need
is more touch screens. Its bold, beautiful body
curves give the appearance of melted steel, or a
rumpled sack of sheets. These cars are a chance for designers to push the envelope and
display radical designs that may never see production, but at least gives consumers an idea of what the future may bring. For those of around in 2050, we’re sure to see
autonomous driving vehicles. And if that’s the reality, will a steering wheel even be necessary? We put out cool stuff pretty
much every single day, so hit that yellow subscribe
button right there. Go to shop.donut.media,
get on our email list so you never miss that. If you wanna know more about concept cars, here’s an up to speed on a
car that was one at one point, it’s the Acura NSX. Check out Science Garage. Be nice, see you later. Bye, Reggie.

Comments 100

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *