Why? Simple. The ’70s were pretty much a lost decade for American automotive design. Between government regulations and automaker bean counters, designers effectively were hobbled in their creative efforts.
Fortunately, styling underwent a renaissance in the ’80s. Here are my favorite American concept cars from that decade:
10. Ford Cockpit
The Cockpit was a three-wheeled vehicle with room for a passenger to sit behind the driver, tandem style, in a vehicle that used a one-cylinder, 1,200-cc motorcycle engine to provide 75 miles per gallon of fuel economy yet could travel at typical urban freeway speeds.
9. Pontiac Stinger, Ford Splash, Plymouth Slingshot
I group these together because these wedge-shaped vehicles were all done within months of each other in the late ’80s and appealed to the same activity-oriented youth market. Stinger and Splash were very beach-oriented, sort of modern day dune buggies, while Slingshot had a canopy-style roof and looked more like an urban spaceship.
8. Ford T2008
This was Ford’s concept for what we’d be driving in 2008. The design was fetching in a futuristic way, but the key concept was a satellite telecommunications system that would automatically notify the closest Ford dealership should your car suffer any sort of problems on the road. The technology also featured satellite navigation that drove the route for you.
7. Oldsmobile Aerotech
The Aerotech took Indycar engineering and very advanced aerodynamic studies and wrapped them around GMs 2.0-liter Quad-4 powerplant. The idea was small engine, big style and speed. There were short- and long-tail versions of the car. Taking advantage of some very serious turbocharging boost, A.J. Foyt set a world closed-course speed record of 267.399 mph in the long tail. There also were other Aerotech concepts as GM applied the Aerotech design to coupe and sedan architecture.
6. Corvette Indy
Unlike the Olds Aerotech, Chevy’s Corvette Indy used a real Indycar engine, a twin-turbocharged, 2.65-liter Ilmor V8. The car’s roof was a forward-hinged canopy over a passenger compartment packed with all sorts of advanced electronic technology. The car also featured a four-wheel steering system.
5. Buick Wildcat
Yet another Aero-idea from GM, the Wildcat featured Buick’s pole-winning V6 Indy engine mounted mid-ship.
4. Chrysler/Lamborghini Portifino
The resurgence of the American concept car started with the Portifino, unveiled at the Frankfurt show in 1987. Chrysler owned Lamborghini and applied Lambo’s scissor-hinged doors to a big sedan that marked the end of the K-car era and launched Chrysler’s cab-forward design which ignited a resurgence in American automotive design.
3. Chevrolet Express
In the mid-‘80s, GM was talking with the federal government about building high-speed commuter roads open to very specialized vehicles, vehicles such as the Chevy Express concept with its jet-like styling and its 150-mph aircraft turbine engine.
2. Cadillac Voyage and Solitaire
In 1988, Voyage offered a dramatic new design theme for GM’s luxury brand with a large, gorgeously radiused sedan. A year later, Solitaire advanced that theme, applying it two two-door architecture and adding a V12 engine. But the voyage didn’t last long and Cadillac soon switched direction to pursue a very sharply creased and angled art-and-science styling in the 1990s.
1. Dodge Viper
It was at the Detroit show in 1989 that Chrysler unveiled its idea for a modern interpretation of Carroll Shelby’s original Cobra. Shelby was part of the project, though in this updated version the Ford V8 was replaced by a huge Chrysler/Lamborghini V10.