These didn't lose their striking designs in the transition to production cars.
Concept cars have a real place in the automotive industry as a playground for designers to try new things and the brands to gauge public reaction. It's easy for us as enthusiasts to become cynical, though. The list of cool concept cars that either never made production, or somehow even more disappointing, made it onto the road as watered-down versions of themselves looking little like the original idea is massive. But it's not always the case and, sometimes, manufacturers surprise us. So we've come with a list of our favorite concept cars that made it into production close to the designers' original vision.
The Audi TT first appeared in concept form, complete with Bauhaus-inspired lines, at the 1995 Frankfurt auto show. While Audi chairman Herbert Demel described it as "an enthusiast's car with great charisma," he also made sure to remind people that it wasn't a preview of a production car. It was a design study, but Audi dropped jaws by unveiling the production version at the 1998 Paris auto show with remarkably little changed, including the 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine from the Audi A4 and a quattro all-wheel-drive system. Its influence on car design was monumental, with many Audis adopting similar styling cues. To this day, it's a neck-snapping piece of design whose cues live on into the second and third-generation TT models.
Ford's GT40 race car famously put Enzo Ferrari's nose out of joint by taking four Le Mans victories at the tail end of the 1960s. At the turn of the millennium, Ford had yet to make another production supercar, though, so when the Detroit automaker unveiled the GT-40 concept at the 2002 Detroit Auto Show, the world paid attention. The announcement that Ford would be building the 500-hp, 200 mph modern-day Ferrari competitor had rich people reaching for their checkbooks and the rest of us wondering if we should re-mortgage the house.
The mid-2000s brought a renascence for pony cars, but Dodge was toying with the idea of an honest-to-God muscle car. An orange prototype was unveiled at the 2006 Detroit Auto Show, exciting classic muscle car fans with its classic lines and 420-hp Hemi V8 under the hood. With the revamped Mustang and Camaro's sales going through the roof, it became a good idea for Dodge to go ahead and build the new Challenger. It arrived as close to in 2008 as close to an original concept as we've seen, and the shape hasn't changed since. If anything, it's gone from strength to strength, resulting in the Hellcats and Demons of the world.
When Toyota went looking for a way to associate its road cars with its Formula 1 race cars, Lexus took the bull by the horns. Rumors at the time had the 2005 concept developing 500 hp via a V10 engine. In 2008, prototypes were spotted on racetracks, complete with a howling V10 engine. The final version landed in 2010, making 552 hp and looking like nothing Toyota or Lexus has built before or since. It was a serious supercar, packed with modern tech and as fast around a track as the best exotics the Italians had to offer at the time. Perhaps better, still, was the fact that the production-spec LFA looked even better than the concept.
The first F-Type concept goes back to 2000, but a small sports car didn't happen for Jaguar that decade. In 2011, Jaguar unveiled the C-X16 concept (Concept-eXperimental16) at the Frankfurt Motor Show. While it nodded to the E-Type of the past with certain design cues, it wasn't a retrospective car. In 2014, Jaguar unleashed its first real sports car since the E-Type and loaded the styling from the concept almost without change, right down to the flush doorhandles, throwing in supercharged V6 and V8 engines for good measure. To this day, the Ian Callum design is one of our favorites.
When Lexus said it would be building a production-spec vehicle off the back of the 2015 LF-LC concept, we expected many changes. The concept was heavily stylized, and not many believed it would look like that once it went through the realities of production. However, Lexus dropped a head-turning concept car for the road on the industry. It even came with a naturally aspirated 5.0-liter V8 under the hood to appeal to sports car purists. That car was the Lexus LC, and as far as we're concerned, it's one of the prettiest cars on the road.
Volkswagen bought the Bugatti nameplate in 1998, and immediately the designers started dreaming big with the 18/3 Chiron concept - the third of a series of Giugiaro designed concepts indicating the brand's future. Following that was the 18/4 Veyron concept powered by an 18-cylinder engine and featuring what looked like a production-ready design. Thankfully, Bugatti kept the same super-smooth pebble styling, but toned down the engine to a more sensible quad-turbocharged 16-cylinder engine. Not only does it wow with its styling, but in the tradition of great Bugatti motor cars, it has claimed a slew of world speed records and arguably redefined the hypercar.
What if Dodge was to build a modern car in the vein of the Shelby Cobra? That was what Bob Lutz, Chrysler's then-president of operations, asked in the late 1980s. That gem of an idea to build a powerful and raw sports car grew into a concept with striking looks while its V10 engine was still being developed. Despite overwhelming excitement from the public, the Viper wasn't a slam dunk for production. Chrysler's chairman, Lee Iacocca, delayed approving the $70 million needed for the Viper's production as he wasn't convinced there would be a financial return on the car. His fears weren't entirely unfounded, but it didn't lose money, and more value came in its status as an icon and a halo car for Dodge. The Viper name, and styling, lasted for nearly 3 decades thereafter.
Honda came up with the V10-powered Advanced Sports Car Concept in 2007, but it withered and died. Then, in 2012, the Japanese carmaker debuted the NSX Concept. It was a sleek mid-engined all-wheel-drive hybrid, cut from the same cloth as the original New Sportscar eXperimental. The difference being that the new supercar was being designed, then built, in the US under the Acura brand. The production version sports a twin-turbocharged, 3.5-liter V6 engine and three electric motors. They combine to deliver a total system output of 573 horsepower and 476 lb-ft of torque, using Acura's SH-AWD system to deliver grip and handling levels that compete with more ostentatious supercars.
As Porsche moved into the 1990s, the German sports car maker's lineup included the rear-engined 911 and the front-engined 944, 968, and 928. Porsche was missing a mid-engined sports car, and retro automotive design was about to become all the rage. The Boxster concept harked back to the legendary Porsche 550 Spyder but came with a stiff modern chassis, sophisticated suspension, and a 204-hp water-cooled flat six-cylinder engine. The Boxster name is a portmanteau of "boxer", referring to the engine, and "roadster", referring to its two-seater convertible body style. The little affordable (in Porsche terms) sports car helped stave off the financial wolves until the Cayenne arrived in 2002 to save the brand, and now, the Boxster has matured into one of the best driver's cars in the world.