These 1960s concept cars were radically designed technological marvels that influenced automotive designs for decades to come.

60s Show Cars

Concept cars tend to come in two flavors: the outlandish and the embellished preview of a production car. Our look at the greatest concept cars of the 1960s features a good cross-section of each. Some, like the Chevy Mako, are close to the production car we got (the C2 Corvette in that case). Others were exercises in branding like the Lamborghini Marzal or technological showcases never destined for production like the Ford Gyron. Whatever their original purpose, the concepts of the 1960s represent a major transitionary period in automotive design and engineering.

Ford Gyron

Ford Gyron - thehenryford.org
Ford Gyron - thehenryford.org

The Ford Gyron is easily the weirdest and most speculative of concepts on this list. Debuting at the 1961 Detroit Motor Show, the Gyron features a Jet-Age design that looks as much like a UFO (UAP?) as it does a terrestrial vehicle; its design is by Alex Tremulis who also penned the Tucker 48. The Gyron also is as much a motorcycle as it is a car since it was designed to run on two wheels, using gyroscopes to balance the vehicle; a challenging task since the two seats for driver and passenger were placed side by side. Ingress and egress were facilitated via a rear hinging canopy and propulsion provided by a small electric motor. The gyroscopes were never actually fitted to the car, which balanced on two small stabilizers when stationary. The Gyron concept was destroyed in the Ford Rotunda fire a year later in 1962.

Mustang I

Ford Mustang I - ford.com
Ford Mustang I - ford.com

The Mustang I concept represents the beginnings of Ford’s reentry into racing, and despite the name was never intended to become a production car. Despite that, you’ll notice plenty of items that made it to the actual production Mustang like the side vents, which in the case of the Mustang I are functional. That is because they cool a mid-mounted V4 engine (from the German Ford Cardinal). The Mustang I has a pronounced silhouette thanks to the low windscreen, lack of a roof, and prominent roll bar. Note the white livery with blue Le Mans racing stripe, shades of the future Shelby Mustang. Economies of scale being what they are, Ford went with adapting the existing Falcon architecture for the Mustang rather than anything so radical as the Mustang I concept.

Plymouth XNR

Plymouth XNR - Mr.choppers on Wikimedia.org
Plymouth XNR - Mr.choppers on Wikimedia.org

The Plymouth XNR was designed by Virgil Exner late into a storied career that included work at GM, Studebaker, and finally Chrysler where he created this two-seat concept intended to spawn a Mustang/Corvette competitor for Plymouth. However grand those ambitions, the XNR (Exner abbreviated) ended up looking even more ambitious despite its Valiant underpinnings. The XNR featured an open asymmetrical cockpit set between an asymmetrical hood bulge and air intake and a large rear wing. Though never put into production, the XNR’s design did inspire that of the Asimmetrica by Ghia, the Italian coachbuilder who’d done the build work for the XNR.

Chrysler TurboFlite

Chrysler TurboFlite - motorcities.org
Chrysler TurboFlite - motorcities.org

Another of Enxer’s concepts, the Jet-Age inspired Chrysler TurboFlite concept mixed what looks on paper as disparate and unrelated (relatable) design features into a surprisingly coherent whole. First there is the bumper less front end with semi-open front wheels and triangular grille tucked under the square. Then there is the retracting glass canopy roof and large rear wing. Most novel of all, however, was the TurboFlite’s turbine engine. Chrysler had been working on a turbine-powered car since 1954 and this 1961 effort would not be their last either. Notably, like the XNR, the TurboFlite concept was constructed by Ghia in Turin, Italy.

Chrysler Turbine Car

Chrysler Turbine - chrysler.com
Chrysler Turbine - chrysler.com

Among the cars on this list, the Chrysler Turbine Car looks the most ordinary while it is in fact the most radical. The Turbine car appears to be a normal two-door coupe from the middle ‘60s but hidden under the hood and in its central tunnel is a turbine engine rather than a piston engine. Influenced by their experiences with aeronautical engines during WWII, Chrysler engineers had been experimenting with turbine engines since the 1950s, eventually producing the Turbine Car which debuted at the 1964 World’s Fair. Between late 1963 and 1964, Chrysler produced 55 Turbine Cars, all painted in “turbine bronze,” and tested them through 1966. The turbine engines had certain advantages over piston engines including less maintenance and a longer operating life, but they were also less fuel efficient and much more expensive to build per unit. Chrysler eventually abandoned the project and destroyed all but nine cars.

Chevrolet Mako I, II, & Manta Ray

Chevrolet Mako I & Mako II - chevrolet.com
Chevrolet Mako I & Mako II - chevrolet.com

Unlike many concepts that never make production, you are likely to recognize the Mako Shark or XP-755 concept as the basis for the C2 (second-generation) Chevrolet Corvette. Like many concepts, the Mako Shark has embellishments that did not end up on the production car. For the Mako Shark these included the side pipe exhaust that resembles sharks’ gills and the shark-like dark blue to white paint scheme.

Chevrolet Manta Ray - chevrolet.com
Chevrolet Manta Ray - chevrolet.com

The next generation of Corvette revived the Mako Shark name for the Mako Shark II concept, aka the XP-830, which debuted at the New York Auto Show in 1965. The new Mako Shark II was a massive evolution in styling by Larry Shinoda with a pointed nose and tall exaggerated fenders. Under the hood was Chevy’s 427 Mark IV V8. Following the release of the C3 Corvette, the Mako Shark II concept was updated with a new ZL-1 V8, side pipes, a front spoiler, and a new name, the Manta Ray.

Pontiac Banshee

1964 Pontiac Banshee - carsforsale.com
1964 Pontiac Banshee - carsforsale.com

The XP-833, later known as the Pontiac Banshee, was the brainchild of Pontiac head John DeLorean conjured as a “Mustang fighter” in 1964. Ostensibly competing with the Mustang, GM worried that the sleek and powerful two-seater could, if given the looks and performance DeLorean was seeking, cut into Corvette sales. It turned out the Banshee’s potential is what doomed it to remain a concept only. For more on the Pontiac Banshee, click here.

AMC AMX I Concept

1966 AMC AMX concept - wheelsage.org
1966 AMC AMX concept - wheelsage.org

AMC aka American Motors Corporation is often remembered for its unconventional approach to making cars. The brand that built odd-ball commuters like the Gremlin and Pacer also built performance cars like the Javelin and AMX (or American Motors Experimental). The two-door concept version of the latter, the AMX I concept is one of the most striking concept cars of the 1960s. Attempting to shed the commuter car persona of AMC, the AMX featured a long hood, short deck design of a muscle car with one big, very AMC feature. By the middle ‘60s, rear hatches had become common place. Less common, however, was the AMX’s “Ramble Seat,” a rumble seat that could be deployed with the rear hatch open. That design did not, surprisingly, make it to production, but the AMX did.

Lamborghini Marzal

Lamborghini Marzal - genevamotorshow.com
Lamborghini Marzal - genevamotorshow.com

The Lamborghini Marzal was transparently a promotional effort with Ferrucio Lamborghini noting how such a vehicle could easily capture headlines and column inches with a bit of original design. Also transparent? The Mazal’s gullwing doors which had top-to-bottom glass exposing the all-silver interior. The design, by Marcello Gandini of Bertone, was a hit at the 1967 Geneva Motor Show, generating a good amount of buzz for the planned rear-engine Lambo. Even so, the Marzal never made it to production.

Holden Hurricane

Holden Hurricane - netcarshow.com
Holden Hurricane - netcarshow.com

In case you are unfamiliar, Holden is GM’s Australian brand. Back in the 1960s their main competition for domestically produced cars was Ford. While Ford was making hay with the fashion forward Falcon, Holden was stuck in the tropes of the 1950s with their FB. Even more modern designs like the EJ and HD Series cars kept things decidedly conservative. To modernize, Holden created the Hurricane in 1969. The new concept car leaped more than a decade forward, joining the cadre of wedge cars that would come to dominate the designs of exotic cars in the 1970s. The Hurricane’s most distinctive features included its vertical canopy, super low profile, and a mid-mounted 4.2L V8. Radical for the time were it back up camera via CCTV camera and automatic climate control. Engineers even envisioned a “Pathfinder” system that would have helped navigation using magnetic stripes embedded in the roadway.

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Chris Kaiser

With two decades of writing experience and five years of creating advertising materials for car dealerships across the U.S., Chris Kaiser explores and documents the car world’s latest innovations, unique subcultures, and era-defining classics. Armed with a Master's Degree in English from the University of South Dakota, Chris left an academic career to return to writing full-time. He is passionate about covering all aspects of the continuing evolution of personal transportation, but he specializes in automotive history, industry news, and car buying advice.

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