Home Cars 26 Interesting Sports Car Concepts Detroit Never Produced

26 Interesting Sports Car Concepts Detroit Never Produced

Vukasin Herbez April 8, 2019

Although the average car enthusiast recognizes a few American sports cars, primarily the Corvette, Camaro, and Viper, the U.S. car industry has produced some obscure models you could consider as such. Unfortunately, there are many interesting, influential concepts that never saw the production line.

But most people believe that today, car history would be much different if the Detroit manufacturers decided to put these dream cars into reality. So keep reading to learn about the 26 cool and most interesting sports car concepts Detroit never produced that car fans would love to see.

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26. Ford Cougar II

In the early ’60s, Ford desperately wanted something to compete with the Chevrolet Corvette. And in 1963, they found just the car for the task. With the help of Italian Vignale design studios, the Ford engineers produced an interesting, elegant prototype they called the Cougar II. They built it on a Shelby Cobra chassis with a 260 V8 engine. It featured a closed body, more luxury options, better aerodynamics, and higher top speeds.

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The downside of the Cougar II was that its production was costlier. Also, it looked too much like the 1963 Corvette, which is something the top brass at Ford wanted to avoid at all costs. So, Ford decided to kill the project and concentrate on their Mustang and Shelby products.

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25. Ford Mustang I

The Mustang I concept was a big deal when Ford introduced it in late 1962 as a fully functional concept vehicle. This was the first time they used the Mustang name. However, right from the start, it was clear the public loved it. Also, the connection to the Wild West mythology was a great marketing gimmick.

Photo Credit: Vista Pointe

The Mustang I was a little two-seater roadster with a rear-mounted V4 engine from Ford Europe and a modern wedge-shaped body of aluminum. The original idea behind the concept was to develop a small sports car to compete with those European imports like the Triumph TR3 or MG A. But despite the favorable reaction from Mustang enthusiasts, Ford decided to go another way.

Photo Credit: Motor 1

24. AMC AMX/3

Everybody knows about the heroic Javelin and two-seater AMX muscle cars the American Motors Corporation (AMC) they introduced in 1968. In those days, AMC offered inexpensive models lacking any special features or thrills. But when a pair of hot muscle cars hit the streets in the late ‘60s, everybody paid attention. And better yet, the AMC executives noticed a significant bump in their sales. Encouraged by the success of the Javelin and the AMX, AMC wanted to attack the sports car market. They had the funds to do so, but they didn’t have a starting point. So, AMC hired renewed sports car creator and ex-Ferrari engineer, Giotto Bizzarrini. They asked him to build them a modern sports car with a rear engine and transaxle, and a sleek body.

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Bizzarrini did that since the AMX/3 prototype was capable of 170 mph. Also, it came with world-class handling and sexy Italian styling. The power came from an AMC 390 V8 engine with 340 HP. Despite the promising start, AMC realized the finished product would cost somewhere around $12,000. Unfortunately, that was significantly more than the similarly designed De Tomaso Pantera and almost double the price of the Corvette. Understandably, they decided to kill the fantastic AMX/3 after building just six preproduction cars in 1970.

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23. Cadillac NART Zagato

Back in the late ‘60s, encroaching tightening emission laws threatened the import sports cars, especially exotics like the Ferrari. Luigi Chinetti, the exclusive Ferrari importer for North America realized domestic customers would look for alternatives if foreign cars couldn’t meet emission regulations. So he thought of a plan to build some exotic cars with domestic components.

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Since Cadillac just introduced the mighty 400 HP V8 with 500 CID, Chinetti bought the Eldorado with that engine. And then he sent it to Italy to the famous Zagato design house. In Italy, Zagato transformed the Eldorado into a two-seater sports coupe with a new design and with the engine behind the passengers. They abandoned the front-wheel drive, so the car was now a rear-wheel drive coupe. Unfortunately, due to production delays and the lack of interest for such a venture, GM only created one Cadillac NART Zagato.

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22. Pontiac Banshee

In the early ’60s, people considered Pontiac to be a performance brand. And with the newly introduced GTO model, the muscle car and performance market was booming. However, company management had bigger ambitions. So, they introduced a fully operational concept vehicle they called the Banshee. The Banshee I was the first in a long line of Pontiac concept cars that had an influence on future production models. The first one to emerge in 1964 was extremely advanced with compact dimensions, a lightweight body, and a powerful engine.

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Pontiac even conceived it as a “Mustang killer.” But since GM was afraid a sports coupe from Pontiac could affect Corvette sales, they canceled the project. Most car fans think that’s too bad since the Banshee I had the potential to be a fantastic car. GM even incorporated several Banshee design cues into the next-generation Corvette. Today, both prototypes have survived: one silver coupe and one white convertible. Some Pontiac fans still wonder what would happen if GM allowed Pontiac to build the Banshee. Would it have changed the history of sports cars?

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21. Chevrolet Astro II XP-880

Despite the fact they didn’t name this concept the Corvette, everybody at the 1968 New York Auto Show knew this was a study of the next generation of America’s favorite sports car. In those days, Zora Arkus Duntov, a Chevrolet engineer and Bill Mitchell, the head of GM design lobbied hard for Corvette to go mid-engine to achieve a better weight distribution, balance, and performance. The Astro II was one of the first in a long line of mid-engine Corvette concepts. And for a while, it looked that Chevrolet would produce it. The concept was a fully functional prototype with a 390 HP big-block V8 engine sitting behind the passengers.

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It would power the rear wheels and give the Astro II a seriously convincing performance. Ultimately, Chevrolet decided to abandon the mid-engine Corvette and go with the standard drivetrain layout for the third generation Corvette in 1968. Had Chevrolet decided to greenlight the Astro II, Ferrari would have had a hard time on the American market. Today, 50 years after the Astro II, Corvette fans are eagerly expecting the Corvette Zora. It will finally have a mid-engine configuration, like so many concepts before it.

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20. Ford Mustang Mach II

The success of the production model gave Ford designers a chance to explore the sports car concept in any direction. As soon as the first redesign of the car appeared in 1967, Ford introduced the Mach II concept. This was one of several cars with the Mach name that would later appear as regular production versions, but the shape and layout were quite unique.

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The Mach II was a two-seater sports car with a long hood and short rear end as well as the mid-engine configuration. The car was a more affordable version of the GT40 race car and was stunningly painted in red with Shelby-style alloy wheels. Unfortunately, they never produced the concept, so the Mach II only served as a car show item.

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19. Chevrolet Corvair Monza GT/Monza SS

Back in the early ‘60s, the Corvair was a hot car due to its unique mechanical layout, turbocharged boxer engine and cool looks. Despite the fact it didn’t provide the performance to could threaten other sports cars, the Corvair still had potential. So, Chevrolet decided to introduce the Monza GT and Monza SS to further explore the Corvair concept.

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Those cars were fully functional prototypes of a new sports car based on the Corvair platform. The GT was a closed model with an innovative opening roof and the SS version was the roadster. Both models had two seats, lightweight bodies, fantastic designs, and great driving dynamics. However, Chevrolet decided they didn’t need another sports car in the lineup, so they decided to kill the project.

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18. Dodge Charger III

The success of the Charger-inspired the Chrysler designers to develop the idea of a Dodge performance model. The original Charger had power, performance and countless racing wins, but it was so big and heavy, it was not an aerodynamic muscle machine. However, the 1968 Charger III concept was something quite the opposite. The Charger III was no longer a muscle car, but a pure two-seater sports machine. It had compact dimensions and a low profile.

Photo Credit: Super Cars Net

Also, it was low in weight and came with several unusual features. Although it lacked conventional doors, the whole top of the car opened to allow access to the interior. Also, the steering column tilted along with the steering wheel to make entry more comfortable. On the back of the car, there were massive airbrakes like on airplanes that deployed under heavy braking. Because the whole car was extremely futuristic, it was doomed from any real production. However, the legacy of the advanced Charger III concept never left Chrysler. So, 25 years after the original car, Dodge produced a muscle sports car in the form of the legendary Dodge Viper RT/10.

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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.

Photo Credit: Automobile Mag

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.

Photo Credit: Drive Tribe

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.

Photo Credit: Super Cars Net

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.

Photo Credit: Motor Trend

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.

Photo Credit: Motor 1

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.

Photo Credit: Motor 1

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.

Photo Credit: Motor 1

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.

Photo Credit: Vista Pointe

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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