Not all of us are blessed with the foresight of Tiresias, but the major players of the auto industry know all too well that you need as much of a pulse on the future as you do with the present to impact it. Each year, manufacturers get the chance to showcase what their own vision of the future will look like with their best concept cars. Each is packed to the brim with the most cutting-edge technology to date and designed to serve as a flagship for the company’s ambitions, even if they never actually hit the showroom floor themselves. Here are our picks for the most important concept cars of all time that shaped the auto industry into the empire that it is today.
1938 Buick Y-Job
This one started it all. The first-ever concept car still looks sleek a near century later, but it’s even more striking when you consider what came before it. Running boards, giant spoke wheels, stand-up radiators and screwed-on headlights defined the (albeit cool) clunkers of yesteryear. This Buick wanted none of that and instead made radical changes. Built-in headlights, lower-profile 13-inch tires, and power windows were how General Motor’s Design Chief Harley Earl saw the future, and how right he was. His personal car soon became a blueprint for what the 40s and 50s would bring.
1955 Lincoln Futura
The Jetsons wouldn’t air for another seven years, but this futuristic model looks like it came right off the show and onto the street. That’s not the only silver-screen tie-in this prophetic model might conjure up either. The fully functional concept car was later refurbished by George Barris to become the Batmobile in the 1966-1968 Batman TV series. This model not only talked the talk but walked the walk for more than a decade after its inception.
1964 Pontiac Banshee
You can say many things about John DeLorean, but no one can deny that the man had foresight. His pet project was first coined the XP-833, and it would later be renamed the Banshee as the lightning-fast coupe took shape. The vehicle came out a quarter-ton lighter than the Corvette at the time and very well might have outperformed it, which is why many speculate that GM ordered the vehicle to be scrapped. Instead, DeLorean hid them away and the core concepts later re-surfaced in the 3rd generation Corvette, proving his vision right.
1986 Chevrolet Corvette Indy
Gone were the days of boxy vehicles and in were the sleek ergonomics that define even today’s performance cars. The 1986 Corvette was so ahead of its time that it doesn’t look too far off from the mid-engine C8 Corvettes made today. Its carbon fiber exterior and twin-turbo V8 engine could produce more than 600hp and literally blew past the competition of the era, making it a true game-changer in every right.
2003 Cadillac Sixteen
Once called the “standard of the world”, Cadillac changed the game once again with this powerful concept car. The model was a modern re-imagined vessel for Cadillac’s innovative V-16 engine of 1930. This 19-foot-long firecracker could produce up to 1,000 hp and 1,000 lb-ft of torque. The vehicle was such a hit that Cadillac allegedly planned to produce the vehicle en masse to rival Bentley but the 2008 Market Crash brought a change of plans. Most of the core DNA did work its way into Cadillac’s later CTS models. There are also rumors around Cadillac’s upcoming Celestiq model potentially carrying over as a descendant of the Sixteen to serve alongside its brother, the upcoming Cadillac Lyriq, as the brand’s future EV offerings.
The most important concept cars are the ones that tap into the needs and wants of future buyers. Have a favorite we left off? Let us know in the comments what your favorite concept vehicles of all time are.