So many concept muscle cars over the years never saw the green light of production. Here are a few that we wish made the cut and one that almost has.
Concept and muscle cars are as American as apple pie and baseball. Famous auto designer Harley Earl is generally credited with developing the first concept car back in 1938, the Buick Y-Job. Then, as now, the purpose of these prototypes is to show off radical innovation and gauge public interest in order to determine production viability. Muscle cars have historically been American vehicles with a thundering V8 motor and rear-wheel drive, ideal for cheap gas and long, straight roads.
In the intervening 80 odd years, there have been countless concept muscle cars displayed at auto events and many of them never go further than a rotating podium. Here’s a look at a handful of notable machines that we wish had been given the green light.
If the ultra-low-slung, long-hooded look aping the 60’s era Shelby Daytona wasn’t enough, the shimmering, polished aluminum finish of this concept muscle car sealed the jaw-dropping deal. Introduced as a clay model at the 2004 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the Shelby GR-1 was a flat out stunner. The following year, a fully fleshed out version arrived at the Detroit auto show with serious performance creds.
While a V8 is considered standard muscle car fare, two more cylinders is always appreciated. As in the all-aluminum, 6.4-liter V10 found in the GR-1. Built by Ford’s Advanced Powertrain folks, this naturally aspirated beast churned out 605 horsepower and 501 lb-ft of torque that powered the rear wheels via a 6-speed manual. Gorgeous 19” rims and butterfly doors, like those on modern McLarens, completed the killer looks.
Much of the running gear for the GR-1 concept was pulled from Ford’s Shelby Cobra Concept of the prior year. That car, a version of which was driven rather callously by Ice Cube in xXx: State of the Union, is actually going up for auction this August at the Mecum Monterey event, replete with the beefy V10. If you can’t get your hands on that brute, California tuner Superperformance has fluttered the hearts of enthusiasts everywhere with a promise of actually building the Shelby GR-1. Sign me up.
Though the Corvette is just now being built with a mid-engine layout, the people at Chevy have been pushing for it for the last fifty years. The four-rotor Vette – as in Wankel rotary engine – began life in the late 60’s as the mid-engine, transverse V8 Experimental Project 882 (XP-882) thanks to Corvette legend, Zora Arkus-Duntov.
His boss, another legend by the name of John DeLorean, canned the program until Ford released the DeTomaso Pantera. Feeling the need to compete, the XP-895 was born with gullwing doors, side intakes and NACA-ducts on the hood. Aluminum foil company Reynolds then built an additional, 450-pound lighter version out of aluminum – of course – and Chevy dropped dual, two-rotor Wankels in the engine bay.
Joined by a central shaft, the combined 585 cubic inch Franken-motor was said to make around 370 horses though close to 500 was thought possible. Ultimately, this rotary-powered Corvette idea was eighty-sixed due to inefficiency and impractical production while the XP-895 body went on to become the well-known Aerovette with a mid-engine V8 configuration. Today, it’s hard to imagine a Corvette with anything besides an eight-cylinder power plant, but it’s fun to daydream about the shriek of those rotors at full blast, not to mention the handling with such a compact motor in this concept muscle car.
Ford was clearly on a V10 kick back in the early aughts as evidenced by the GR-1 above and the earlier, 427 sedan concept. Slab sides, squared haunches and wheels pushed deep into the corners slathered in black paint leant plenty of old-school coolness. You could imagine Frank Sinatra behind the wheel. In fact, the front end was pure retro Ford Galaxie, which later appeared on the Fusion sedan.
Under the hood was a 7.0-liter, 10-cyllinder motor making close to 600 hp thanks to its Mustang Cobra R roots. Debuting at the 2003 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the 427 prototype is maybe not a traditional concept muscle car due to its four-door setup but its American, its rear-wheel drive and it has muscle in spades. Oh, it also featured a manual transmission.
Unfortunately, consumers ended up with the comparatively lame Five Hundred sedan while Chrysler assumed the American muscle sedan helm with the 300C that went on to long term success and spawned a host of platform stablemates with a similar formula. Now that Ford has officially canceled sedan production, it is unlikely the 427 concept will ever be resurrected.