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26 Interesting Sports Car Concepts Detroit Never Produced

Vukasin Herbez April 8, 2019

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17. Chevrolet Astrovette Wankel

The mid-engine layout has been the obsession of Corvette engineers for decades. Between 1960 and 1977, there were around 10 fully functional Corvette prototypes with this drivetrain layout. But there was a more interesting one and that is the 1973 Aerovette Wankel concept. The most important feature of this car was the engine, an advanced four-rotor Wankel unit delivering more than 400 HP from 390 CID. In the early ‘70s, all manufacturers experimented with Wankel rotary engines looking for a more affordable, powerful and efficient alternative to standard piston-type engines.

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Chevrolet realized its car retained the power level of those big-block V8 engines with the Wankel unit but in a much lighter, higher-revving package. So, the green light was given for the development of the Wankel Corvette. They presented the functional prototype at the 1973 Paris Motor Show and it received mixed reviews. The styling was attractive and 420 HP was double the power of a regular 454 Corvette. However, the consumers were reluctant to accept the idea of a mid-engine Corvette. Also, the zooming sound of the engine instead of the recognizable V8 rumble threw them off. After Chevrolet realized the costs of introducing such a car, they scrapped the project. But the legend of the Wankel Corvette still lives on among Chevrolet aficionados.

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16. Dodge Diamante Challenger

Dodge arrived later than most to the pony car segment with the 1970 Challenger. But immediately, it showed they were there to stay. The Challenger was a great muscle car with iconic styling and a lineup of powerful engines. However, Dodge wanted to see if they could transform the Challenger into a sports car to rival the Corvette. That’s how the Diamante concept car was born. This model started its life as a highly optioned Hemi convertible Dodge turned into a yellow jacket show car. But then Dodge took it back to the styling department and re-imagined it as the Diamante. The car received a new front and rear end. And then they gave it a two-seater interior, turbine-style wheels, and an interesting Targa top.

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But best of all, with a 426 Hemi under the hood, the Diamante was fast and with the custom side pipe exhaust, it sounded awesome, too. Even though Dodge abandoned the idea of a Corvette-fighter, the Diamante attract lots of attention. The main reason was that it looked like something Dodge could build with a little investing, and in a short period of time. After all, most of the main ingredients were all there. You can imagine how disappointed many Mopar fans when they realized the Diamante was just not going to happen. Hopefully, Dodge will revisit the concept someday soon.

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15. Shelby EXP 500 “Green Hornet”

During the heyday of the Mustang, Ford and Shelby worked hard to explore the possibilities and limits of its platform and engineering. In fact, together, they produced several interesting prototypes. But one of the most popular is the “Green Hornet” from 1968. Although it wasn’t the only car, the Green Hornet featured the most innovative features. They gave it a 390 V8 they equipped with fuel injection, unique disc brakes on all four wheels, and an independent rear suspension.

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With this layout, the Green Hornet was a capable car that handled and stopped better than any other sports car on the market. In fact, the Green Hornet was no longer a muscle car, but a fully-capable sports coupe. Unfortunately, the cost of producing those features was too big, so Ford and Shelby decided to go with more conventional technology. Also, the Green Hornet is one of the rare surviving cars from the era. Also, it is possibly one of the most expensive Mustangs since they offered it for sale, but $1.8 million just wasn`t enough.

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14. Fitch Phoenix

John Fitch was an American race driver and friend of Carroll Shelby. As a talented engineer, he envisioned a lightweight sports car with his name on the hood, so he contacted Chevrolet for support. At first, GM was interested, so Fitch decided to use the Corvair as a base for his conversion.

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He gave the car a special Targa-style body with a low profile, good aerodynamics, and interesting fender design. The new Finch Phoenix was well-received by the motoring press and car enthusiasts, but GM decided to step out of the project so they only produced one Phoenix.

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13. Ford GT70

If you think the GT70 is on this list by mistake and the Le Mans-winning GT40 belongs here instead, you are wrong. It was Ford Britain who developed the GT70 as a special project. Their goal was to produce a purpose-built rally racer that looked like a scaled-down version of the famous Ford GT40 race car. Ford’s head office in Dearborn imported several cars, testing them thoroughly. They planned to offer the car for sale to U.S. buyers.

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The GT70 had a 2.6-liter V6 engine from the Capri RS2600, a special lightweight chassis, an aerodynamic body and a host of other racing components. Unfortunately, it never got a chance to prove itself on the track since the FIA changed the rules. After building just six cars, they canceled the project because Ford decided they didn’t need a sports car in their lineup.

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12. Oldsmobile F-88

One of the most memorable ‘50s concepts is the Oldsmobile F-88, which they somehow managed to produce in just a few examples. In those days, they created concepts for promotional purposes, so after their life on show circuits, they destroyed them. But, somehow the Olds F-88 managed to survive.

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Oldsmobile made two cars using a stretched Corvette chassis, their own 324 V8 engine, and a specially-designed, lightweight roadster body. Back in the day, Corvette had only six-cylinder motors, so a roadster with a V8 was a big deal. The plan was to build an Oldsmobile sports car. But when GM management realized it would jeopardize their Corvette sales, they canceled the project immediately.

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11. Plymouth XNR

The 1960 XNR concept car was an interesting piece of machinery. Not only it was the idea of Plymouth to become a Corvette fighter, but it was also the pet project of Chrysler’s famous designer, Virgil Exner. If you compare the name of the car, which is XNR, with the designer`s last name of Exner, you get the idea.

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On the other hand, the XNR was one of the rare cars that utilized the idea of an asymmetric design with a heavy emphasis on the driver’s side of the vehicle. The most notable feature was the big fin behind the driver that Plymouth claimed would help the aerodynamics.

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10. Cadillac Cyclone

Cadillac introduced many interesting cars during the ‘50s but the most memorable and influential was the 1959 Cyclone. They built it on a shortened chassis with an advanced independent suspension all around. The addition of the 390 V8 engine made the Cyclone a functional sports car with performance far better than the regular model.

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Interestingly, they allegedly fitted the Cyclone with a radar they mounted in front cones. They designed it to detect vehicles in front to help drivers avoid a crash. However, 70 years later, this technology is common in almost all new vehicles. But back in the late ‘50s, it was science fiction.

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9. Chevrolet CERV III

As you probably know, Chevrolet has been playing with a mid-engine Corvette idea since the ‘60s. But in the early ‘90s, it looked like they would finally present a road-going full production version. Chevy presented the CERV III concept in 1990, and it was stunning. It was a proper supercar with a 225-mph top speed.

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They gave it all-wheel drive and special brakes, and it delivered 650 HP, which was impressive. The prototype looked mature, so everybody expected Chevrolet would introduce the CERV III as a production model. But unfortunately, they decided not to in the end.

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8. Shelby GR-1

In the early 2000s, Ford’s design department was on a retro-futuristic trip with many successful concepts that drew inspiration from the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s. However, the most appealing was the 2005 GR-1, a modern-day recreation of a classic sports coupe similar to the legendary Shelby Daytona Coupe.

Photo Credit: Motor 1

With its bullet-shaped body consisting of polished aluminum and a 6.4-liter V10 engine in front, the GR-1 was a functional concept with fantastic performance. However, Ford never had plans for production, so the Shelby GR-1 remained a study.

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7. Cadillac Cien Concept

When Cadillac first presented the Cien in 2002, the automotive world was stunned. The concept of a super sports car with a mid-engine layout, aggressive design, and brutal stance was something nobody thought Cadillac could do.

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However, Cadillac proved them wrong with this fantastic car. They built it to mark the 100th anniversary of the company in 2002. The Cien featured a 7.5-liter V12 Northstar motor producing 750 HP and was allegedly a fully functional prototype. Unfortunately, GM never saw the potential of a Cadillac that could beat a Ferrari, so this beautiful car remained a dream.

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6. Pontiac GTO Concept

Pontiac spent decades producing Firebirds and Trans Am, leaving the GTO to the history books. For such a specific muscle car like the original GTO, the market was gone. However, some car enthusiasts never forgot the timeless style and performance of the original muscle car.

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So, at the 1999 Detroit Auto Show, Pontiac surprised everybody with a fantastic concept they called the GTO. It was a modern-looking, aggressive muscle car that received a lot of attention from the crowd. And it showed Pontiac many people wanted to see the GTO come back. The GTO Concept was a pure styling exercise, but General Motors realized they had a market niche to fulfill.

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5. Ford Mustang Mach I Concept

This car was introduced during the 1966 Detroit car show and immediately became one of the most interesting models even though it was still just a prototype. The Mach I was the first sporty and muscle Mustang released and it showcased not only the 1967 redesign and sexy Fastback lines but also a new name that will be used in 1969.

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With a chopped roof, square headlights, Plexiglas side windows with racing-style cut-outs, cool wheels, and beautiful burgundy color, the Mach I was a muscle car Mustang at its finest and captured the imagination of car enthusiasts all around the globe. Even today, it is one great-looking car.

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4. Corvette SS

They revealed the Corvette SS in 1957 as a fully functional racing car. In fact, Zora Arkus Duntov, the “Father of the Corvette” developed the car himself. Duntov was a racer, so he always wanted to create the ultimate competition version. The GM management allowed him to start a racing program and the SS was the first car he introduced.

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The Corvette SS featured many firsts. Also, it was a capable racing car, setting the track record at Sebring International Raceway. But most importantly, the SS was the first in a long line of racing Corvettes that dominated race tracks all over the world.

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3. 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429 Rear Engine

The Boss 429 Rear Engine is one of the most interesting Mustang prototypes. Despite the fact it didn’t appear on the show circuit back in the late ’60s, it caused a lot of controversies. Basically, they took the 1969 Boss 429 and moved the engine to the trunk. Then Ford extensively tested it to see if this conversion had significant advantages over the standard layout. They placed the engine longitudinally in the trunk and connected it to the rear wheels over the C6 automatic transmission unit.

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Next, they turned the rear glass into a hatchback door to provide access to the engine. In fact, the entire conversion was surprisingly trouble-free. The Boss 429 Rear Engine had a 40/60 weight balance. The added weight over the rear axle helped launch it off the line and reduced wheel spin. However, Ford realized there weren’t any significant performance improvements, so they decided to kill the project.

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2. Corvette Stingray XP-87

The story of the 1959 Stingray Concept is interesting since this car was much more than just another styling exercise. In fact, this car not only presented the ’63 Corvette design but they also based it on the 1957 Corvette SS experimental race car. And it even won the 1960 SCCA championship.

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Using a lightweight plastic body, race chassis, and aluminum, the Chevrolet engineers managed to keep the weight down to only 2,200 pounds. With its fuel-injected 283 V8 engine delivering 315 HP, the Stingray Concept provided a fantastic performance, becoming quite successful at racing. They even featured the car in the Elvis Presley movie, Clambake, with a red paint job.

Photo Credit: Auto Week

1. Pontiac Banshee 1988

Most of the 80’s car concepts were wedge-shaped cars with angular designs, straight lines, and sharp edges. However, the 1988 Pontiac Banshee concept is a prime example of an 80’s concept that still looks aggressive and cool. The 1988 Banshee was the fourth concept car to carry that name, but the first to directly influence production cars afterward. Most design elements of the 1988 Banshee appeared several years later on the 1993 Pontiac Firebird.

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However, this concept car was more than a design study for the fourth generation F-body. It was the vision of Pontiac’s sports car future. They powered the car by a 4.0-liter all-aluminum V8 producing 230 HP to the rear wheels over its five-speed manual gearbox. The suspension was fully independent with adjustable dampers. They constructed the body from lightweight materials with a superb aerodynamic coefficient. All in all, the Banshee was something closer to a Ferrari than to a muscle car. Sadly, Pontiac never built the Banshee but many people think this Pontiac would still around if GM let them produce cars like this. These are 26 of the coolest and most interesting sports car concepts Detroit never produced. Which one was your favorite? Sadly, none of these cars ever got to hit the streets, but they did change automotive history.

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