Day 617: Immaculate Conceptions, Part 1

originally published September 8, 2013

One of the topics I almost never sprinkle my words upon is cars. Sure, I’ll admit to an ethereal arousal at the curves of a ’65 Corvette, and I melted into my seat a little the first time I experienced a back-up camera. But I’m not a car guy. When a guy opens up his baby’s hood and invites a small congregation of cross-armed frowners to nod knowingly at the stuff inside, my eyes tend to gloss over and I find myself daydreaming about my luggage being first off the plane or a really great pastrami sandwich.

But as unimpressed as I may be if your car has harnessed the power of 60 more horses than mine, I am still drawn to the concept car. These are the fresh-plucked berries of imagination, the fertile soil of fantasy in that pristine moment before the tire-treads of practicality and profit margins grind it into dust.

Those behemoth car companies who eagerly swallow tens of thousands of our dollars with every purchase use the spotlight on the concept car stage to show off to one another, and occasionally drop an idea that will be made into an assembly-line reality.

These are not those ideas. These are the ones that push the funky meter a little further to the right.

In 1955, Lincoln debuted the Futura, a snazzy and pointy two-seater with a glass canopy. It was a huge hit, and Ford hauled it out for a number of auto shows without ever mass-manufacturing the thing. That may be due to the slightly high price tag – $250,000 from its Italian manufacturer, which works out to about $2.1 million in today’s money.

The Futura inspired model kits and toys, but didn’t reach the pinnacle of its popularity until George Barris crafted it into the Batmobile for the 1966 Batman TV show. Three fiberglass replicas were built from ’66 Ford Galaxies, but the original Futura was the one that housed Adam West and Burt Ward’s butts for most shots. After the series was (cruelly) cancelled, George Barris maintained possession of the Lincoln Futura, finally parting with it at an auction in January of this year for a whopping $4.62 million.

On the somewhat more modern end of the spectrum, this is the Lamborghini Egoista, designed this year as a celebration of the company’s fiftieth birthday. This isn’t the most practical of cars, having only one seat and a cockpit designed to resemble a jet fighter. There is no door, just a canopy that swings forward to allow the driver/pilot to enter. The car’s profile is meant to resemble a bull waiting to charge.

The body and wheels are made with “antiradar material” in case you plan on taking a Sunday spin into enemy territory. There will only be one Egoista built, so using it to scoot into North Korea strikes me as an unwise move. I expect this one to sell for at least as much as the Batmobile.

For maximum bad-assery, why not drive a car that looks like it has two ballistic missiles perched on its sides? Or, if your tastes are a little less military, a car that looks like it’s wearing Madonna’s bra? This is the Cadillac Cyclone, a 1959 idea designed by the incomparable Harley Earl – the brains behind Chevy’s Corvette. The Cyclone has a 104” wheelbase, which I can only assume is… I don’t know, significant.

The exhaust on the Cyclone is strangely designed to spew out from slightly ahead of the car’s front wheels. This hasn’t been done on any mass-market car, so I suspect it was a poor idea, but it somehow adds an air of awesomeness to this vehicle. Also, those missile nose-cones aren’t just for show – they feature a radar-operated crash control system, decades ahead of the beeping warning setups found in modern cars. This would be a fun toy to drive.

Chrysler turned to Ghia, the Italian company that designed the Lincoln Futura, to piece together its 1956 Chrysler Norseman, a car that looks like it would be a scowling bastard if Pixar ever decides to work it into Cars 3. It featured a power sunroof, not an easy feat for a roof that was only supported at the back. Chrysler had high hopes for the Norseman, thinking it might cement its reputation as an innovative, forward-thinking company.

Then the damn thing sank. It was on its way to New York to be exhibited at the 1957 auto show, when the SS Andrea Doria upon which it was loaded collided with a Swedish passenger liner off the coast of Massachusetts. Forty-six people died (which, in retrospect, is a little more tragic) and all the cargo, including the Norseman, was lost.

Not exactly a car, the Toyota Winglet is one of the only real competitors to the Segway market. And since that market is notoriously tiny outside of the mall security crowd and fans of Arrested Development, I doubt we’ll see them in stores anytime soon. Toyota’s webpage for the product is taken from a 2008 press release, and a quick web search indicates that it’s still in the testing phase this year.

I have no practical use for a Winglet. But I want a Winglet. Yet its perpetual prison of testing makes it seem as though Toyota will forever deny me a Winglet. Damn you, Toyota.

Ford’s 2007 entry to the concept world was the glorious Airstream, a crossover SUV patterned after the classic mid-century RVs that booted thousands of families around the country. It runs on a plug-in hydrogen fuel cell setup, operating totally on electrical power. The interior was inspired by Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, with a comfy lounge feel. The front seats can rotate all the way around, allowing for a more intimate family experience when pulling off the highway to snarf down some Burger King.

That funky pillar in the middle is actually a 360-degree screen designed for games, movies and internet. There’s also a big screen in the front so the passenger riding shotgun can watch a movie and ignore everyone else in the vehicle. Every parent’s dream.

These are all brilliant ideas that stupidly have never been released to the public. I’m sure it all comes down to money, but I know a lot of people who would fork out a little extra to drive something that looked strikingly similar to the Batmobile. In fact, I am one of those people.

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