Ford’s top concept cars run the gamut from surf inspired 4x4s and future Batmobiles to wedged-shaped rally cars and fastback wagons.
Car shows and concept cars are where automotive dreams come to life, however briefly. Fancy is let fly. Imagination unbridled. Ideally, concept cars are the staging ground for innovative technology and forward-thinking designs. At least some of those designs and new tech make their way into actual production vehicles or even evolve into production vehicles themselves. But just as often, concept cars do not see a life beyond the car show, there is a fleeting glimpse of an ever-unrealized future. Below are some of our favorite Ford Motor Company concepts, some influential, some less so, but all undeniably intriguing.
This mid-90s open-wheeled concept was Ford’s Plymouth Prowler that never was. The Indigo goes a few steps further than the Prowler with its dihedral/butterfly doors, front wing, and a mid-mounted V12. Looking at the Indigo, it is not too surprising it never made it to full production. In the end, just three cars were built.
The Ford Ghia Barchetta was a promising project, a compact cabriolet in the tradition of the British roadsters. Based on the Ford Fiesta’s architecture and design by Ghia, the Barchetta debuted at the Geneva Motor Show in 1983. Though the car never made it to production, it would eventually be the basis for the Mercury Capri in Europe, a mere shadow of the sporty runabout we could have gotten.
Speaking of two-seat sports cars, the Mercury Messenger was another one that looked inspired but never got past the bean counters and into production. The 2003 concept car had echoes of the Cougar but with innovative approaches that included an aluminum monocoque chassis. Looking back at the fate of the Mercury brand it is hard not to wonder what might have been had the Messenger, or at least its designs, been given a chance.
If you have ever wondered why you have never seen another car like the Batmobile from the 1960s TV show, it is because that Batmobile was built from a concept car, specifically the Lincoln Futura. The Futura’s space age design was penned by Bill Schmidt and John Najjar and executed by coachbuilders Ghia for the 1955 Chicago Auto Show. The car was more of a design showcase than a legitimate effort at a production design. Hollywood customizer George Barris acquired the car from Ford years later for just one dollar. When Barris got a short notice gig to do the Batmobile, he already had the car for the job, finishing the design in just three weeks.
Are two butterfly doors ever enough? The Ford Evos concept answered the question with an emphatic no. Debuting at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show, the Evos featured not just dihedral doors up front but a pair of smaller ones in back to allow ingress/egress for rear seat passengers. The influences of the Evos on later Ford models is evident with elements taken for the Escape, Taurus, and even the Mustang.
Back in the early 90s, marketers were in love with Southern California beach life, slapping sand, surfboards, and shades in seemingly every TV commercial and gnarly, bodacious surf lingo into every ad copy. This is the context for 1990’s Ford’s Explorer Surf concept, an extended cab two-door truck-let 4×4 with a Targa top. Too bad we never got Ford’s take on the Suzuki Samurai. A much less fun, two-door Explorer was little consolation.
Back in the late 1960s, Ford UK wanted to go rally racing. The GT70 project built 6 chassis to compete in the WRC. The mid-engine, rear-wheel drive design was nifty enough, but the chassis were not rigid enough for the rigors of rally racing. Troublesome engines and sloppy suspensions did not help matters, either. To salvage some of the work, one chassis was shipped to Ghia (then recently acquired by Ford) for concept work. The result was a striking gold wedge that debuted at the Turin Auto Show in 1971. With the project’s cancellation, the GT70 concept was shuffled away, its ultimate whereabouts unknown.
In case you missed them, 1990s automotive designs were big on streamlining, shaving down the sharp edges of the 1970s and 80s for greater aero and greater aesthetics. The Mach III concept from 1993 took this trend to the extreme with the kind of jellybean curves that would make their way to Ford’s lineup in sort order. The Mach III was a slick two-seat roadster with a stylishly low windshield and a supercharged 4.6L V8 under the hood. Updates to the Mustang that debuted a year later bear the stamp of the Mach III’s design, from the grille and tri-headlights to the rear fender side scoops.
The GT90 was Ford’s re-imagining of the iconic GT40 racecar of the 1960s, giving that car a futuristic spin. The GT90 concept was built off the underpinning from the Jaguar XJ220 (Jaguar/Land Rover was then owned by Ford). The car’s engine was certainly promising: a quad-turbo 5.9L V12 making 720 horsepower, a substantial number in the 1990s. A triangular leitmotif can be seen in the car’s design, both in the side paneling and side air intakes and the tri-tip exhaust and triangular taillights in back. While the GT90 did not make it to production, a more conservatively designed Ford GT eventually did about a decade later.
The 2003 Ford Visos concept was for those car enthusiasts who refuse to compromise between a daily driver sedan and a weekend sports car. The Visos featured a two-door, four-seat shooting brake design, a twin-turbo V6, and all-wheel drive. Innovations came in the form of active aero and LCD monitors for both gauge clusters and infotainment/navigation. You could even plug in your laptop to customize suspension damping, rev limiting, and other performance aspects.
The most bittersweet of might-have-beens on this list is the Ford Shelby GR-1. This concept recapitulated the legendary Shelby Daytona and debuted at Pebble Beach in 2004. The design was certainly enticing: a 605-horsepower 6.4L V10 and six-speed manual, RWD, and yet another set of butterfly doors. Sadly, just one example was ever built. However, new US regulations on super low-volume cars now allow for the manufacture of replicas of cars like the GR-1. Builder Superperformance has a partnership with Ford and Shelby America to build new GR-1 replicas soon.
The 1966/67 Ford Magic Cruiser is another product of customizer George Barris’ imagination. This concept was built from a ’66 Galaxie 500 when Ford requested a show car that converted a fastback into a station wagon (they eve stipulated the back needed to lift in under seven seconds). Barris used a hydraulic power lift to raise the rear fastback up, even including a pair of triangular windows. With the rear section raised a third, rear-facing row was accessible to passengers. Barris built a second Magic Cruiser, this time from a ’67 Galaxie XL, the next year. As cool as it looked, the Magic Cruiser was never destined to pass safety regulations, even in the lax regulatory days of the late 1960s, and never made it close to production.