A YEAR OF TEASING AT SHAPES TO COME (AND SOMETIMES JUST TEASING)
c.2013 New York Times News Service
As in most years, the international auto salons of 2013 showcased scores of futuristic design studies and fanciful concept cars among their attractions. Some of the vehicles were merely exercises in styling fantasy; others hinted at exciting, mold-breaking production cars to come.
There is no official count of how many concepts were introduced over the course of the auto show season. But I can offer some personal highlights, the vehicles I consider the showstoppers of the 2013 circuit, which included stops in Detroit in January; Geneva and New York in March; Shanghai in April; Frankfurt, Germany, in September; and Tokyo and Los Angeles in November.
ASTON MARTIN CC100 SPEEDSTER
Displayed at Frankfurt after taking part in celebrations of the British automaker’s centenary earlier in the year, the CC100’s open-cockpit design draws inspiration from Aston Martin’s Le Mans-winning DBR1 of 1959. Its carbon-fiber bodywork is structured around the chassis of today’s Vantage V12. Said to preview new design cues for Aston Martin, this car is not just decorative; the company said it could hit 180 mph.
AUDI SPORT QUATTRO
Meant to evoke Audi’s mighty Sport Quattro S1 rally car of a generation past, this was one of two design studies the German automaker showed at Frankfurt. While the other car, the offbeat Nanuk concept, seemed to draw more tire-kickers (but may never be seen again), the Sport Quattro, a 700-horsepower hybrid in a winsome wrapper, is certainly something that could go into limited production.
Unveiled in Shanghai, this bold effort reminds us that not all Buicks are created equal. Those built in China have been endowed by their creators with far more lavish, luxurious and lascivious proportions. However, Buick says this concept, inspired by flowing water, could influence a variety of future Buick models. Message to Buick: What happens in China doesn’t necessarily need to stay in China. Imagine how well a Riviera like this might play in, well, Flint.
Dropped on an unsuspecting audience in August as part of the festivities surrounding the Pebble Beach Concours d’Élégance, the Elmiraj was breathtaking enough to upstage an unannounced visit by a celebrity resident of the Monterey Peninsula, Clint Eastwood. But Cadillac has previewed gorgeous design studies at Pebble Beach before, including styling bombshells like the Cien and Ciel. Let’s hope that the Elmiraj breaks the pattern of striking Cadillac concepts like the Cien, Ciel and the bodacious Sixteen that are seldom seen or heard of again.
Making its debut in Detroit, the muscular Atlas was the Blue Oval’s 11th-hour attempt to upstage its crosstown rivals; at the same show, General Motors was unveiling its much-anticipated new generation of Chevrolet and GMC pickups. The Atlas, said to preview Ford’s next-generation F-Series pickup at least a year before the introduction of that redesign, did its job. Its raucous, somewhat unanticipated unveiling rained, or at least drizzled, on GM’s parade.
Shown at Tokyo because it is in the class of Japanese domestic market “kei” cars — small city models powered by tiny engines that are considered too wimpy for high-speed Interstate-caliber cruising — this 3-cylinder 64-horsepower minisport was never a consideration for North American sales. But it wasn’t long after the irresistibly cute S660 roadster’s introduction that Honda started to drop hints that its production plans could be modified for other markets.
MERCEDES AMG VISION GRAN TURISMO
Unveiled simultaneously in Tokyo and Los Angeles, this was a fitting and fabulous capper to the auto show season. It had an unusual gestation, having been created specifically for the PlayStation 3 Gran Turismo 6 racing simulator. But it turned out so well that Mercedes-Benz announced that the car, or elements of it, would make its way to production. Despite its completely futuristic look, the company said it was a thoroughly retro-inspired design, based on the 300 SL that won the 1952 Carrera Panamericana road race.
MERCEDES S-CLASS COUPE
Introduced with great fanfare at Frankfurt, this flagship signaled the German automaker’s intent to reaffirm its hegemony atop the luxury-car market. Mercedes, we are reminded, already sells more six-figure cars than any other automaker. But the coupe makes a stronger statement: “We want more. Much more.” Its production version, which will come with a choice of twin-turbo V8 or V12 engines, will be positioned well above anything in the lineups of either BMW or Audi. Actually, it could give Bentley’s Continental GT some nervous nights.
Making its debut at Frankfurt, this Opel was a flight of design fancy featuring impossibly cool gullwing doors. Those doors, however, are almost impossible to put on a production car because of cost, complexity and consumer skittishness about a radical feature that might bang into the roof of the garage. Nevertheless, Opel promised that the Monza concept would stir up the brand’s typically moribund styling.
This concept, shown at Geneva, was created as a tribute to the company’s leader for 55 years, Sergio Pininfarina, who died in July 2012. The noted Italian design house started with a Ferrari 458 Spider and transformed it into a lightweight open-cockpit design that, Pininfarina said, needed no windshield — the wind is said to be channeled over the occupants’ heads. Ferrari’s chairman, Luca di Montezemolo, said that as many as six might be built, with Ferrari badges.