Although it is only three issues old, I’ve become a fan of Magneto, the quarterly magazine published in England (and with significant input from American authors) with a focus on collector cars and the culture that has emerged around them. I’ve just received Issue 3/Autumn 2019, have glanced through the pages, am eager to go back and read several of the articles, but already feel compelled to comment on the cover story, “The 50 greatest concept cars ever.”
The article actually features 54 concept cars or “dream machines” as they sometimes are called. That’s because it ranks the Alfa Romeo “Bat” cars by Bertone as a single entity (No. 3 on the list) and does the same thing with the three General Motors Firebirds (No. 7).
Topping the Magneto ratings of concept cars is the Pininfarina-designed Ferrari 512S Modulo, unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in 1970.
“Why?” writes Richard Heseltine. “It’s a car that not only resists easy categorization but defies easy description. As well as being unorthodox, it’s utterly uncompromising.”
No 2 is the Lancia Stratos Zero designed at Bertone by Marcello Gandini and also unveiled in 1970, at Torino.
Also from Bertone, designed by Franco Scaglione, are the Alfa-based Berlina Aerodinamica Technica (aka BAT) cars of the 1950s.
Fourth in the ratings is the General Motors post-war LeSabre, ahead of the fifth-ranked Buick Y-Job, done in the late 1930s and considered to be the first true concept car from an automobile manufacturer. Perhaps the first surprise of the listing, in sixth-place, is another GM concept, the Chevrolet Mako Shark II.
I won’t give away the rest of the ratings, except to voice my concern that the dream machines included display a very Eurocentric perspective, that the list includes only two Japanese concepts — and both are from Mazda, the Furai at No. 44 and the RX-500 at No. 50 — and that on an “all-time” list there is no evidence of any concept car unveiled since 2010.
I point out the above as someone who has written and later updated a second-edition of Concept Cars, a book that was translated into multiple languages, and who has a second such book, The Cars of the New Era, this one focusing on recent concept vehicles, scheduled to be available in October.
Regarding the absence of concept cars from Japanese automakers (not to mention those from Korea or China), a top-50 list should certainly include the Nissan Gobi and at least one of the one-box concepts from various Japanese automakers that were seen by Western eyes as merely objects of entertainment at various Tokyo Motor Shows but that actually were forerunners for the type of autonomous vehicles of our future.
Indeed, you could do an entire top-50 list of only Japanese concepts.
Also absent are vehicles such as the acclaimed Chrysler concepts of the 1990; Guigiaro’s Aztec and Alfa Brera; assorted Citroen, Peugeot and Renault concepts; J Mays’ MA that mimicked the plastic car kits of our youths; the recent Rolls Royce Vision 100, which is that historic company’s first concept vehicle; and the Jaguar Future Type with its “Sawyer” steering wheel/control module.
Another notable absence is the Volkswagen Concept One. How soon we forget, or perhaps didn’t even notice that VW needed a package to draw attention to its new electrical powertrain and so it presented that system in a car that looked like an updated Beetle — and indeed, the concept proved so popular that VW put the Beetle back into production!
I could make a case for the BMW Mille Miglia with its skin-like body covering, and how could any list of the 50-best concepts overlook the GM Autonomy with its skateboard chassis designed to accept body and interiors for everything from a sports car to a sedan, an SUV to a pickup truck?
And speaking of Autonomy, any list of the top-50 concepts should include at least one autonomous car concept. I’d suggest the Volvo 360C with its built-in bed so its “driver” can sleep in comfort while the car drives itself to the destination.
Kudos to Magneto for reminding us of so many concept cars that drew us to car shows, to the dream machines that had us eager for the promised automotive future. But like all such “greatest ever” lists, this has a few short circuits. Perhaps that’s because a future that looms with self-driving cars powered by batteries instead of petroleum isn’t as promising as we’d anticipated.