Flights of fancy that failed to soar

By Ben Selby

The groundbreakers and heartbreakers of car design

The 1958 GM Firebird III was a concept car that never took off.
The 1958 GM Firebird III was a concept car that never took off.

As the Frankfurt auto show wraps up, it's appropriate to search through the annals of motoring's "what might have been". Some cars that were groundbreaking in so many ways couldn't possibly be made today. So here are 10 of the motoring industry's one-hit-wonders.

1. GM Firebird III

Unveiled in 1958, Firebird III was the last of General Motors' 1950s Motorama gas-turbine prototypes. Styled by GM styling supremo Harley Earl, Firebird III was the Jetsons meets Top Gun, sporting outrageous wings and a dual-bubble cockpit, resulting in a car you'd swear could eject the driver.

2. Ferrari Modulo

Built on the chassis of Ferrari's 512S sports race car, the Modulo's unveiling at the 1970 Geneva auto show signalled the arrival of the wedge-obsessed 1970s. Styled by Pinninfarina's Paolo Martin, the car featured two overlapping body shells and a forward sliding canopy, and the wheels were recessed in the bodywork, meaning tight cornering wasn't really an option.

3. Phantom Corsair

The braindchild of Rust Heinz (from the family of sauce-makers), the Phantom Corsair was the most groundbreaking car the world had seen when it was released in 1938. With an upgraded V8 engine and drivetrain from the glamorous Cord 812, the extravagant styling was constructed with aluminium and supported by a steel-tube lattice framework. However, thanks to small louvres at the front, the car would frequently overheat. No one cared though.

4. Maserati Birdcage

It is a shame this Italian stunner never made it into production. Styled by Pinninfarina as a 75th birthday present to itself, the Maserati Birdcage, in reference to the 1960 Tipo 61 racecar, was the undisputed star of the 2005 Geneva auto show. Built around the upgraded V12 engine and chassis of the MC12 supercar, the gorgeous, flowing Pinninfarina lines, LED lights and jet-fighter cockpit made the Birdcage a design sensation.

5. Holden Efijy

People say you can't improve on the original. Well, someone forgot to tell Holden Australia's chief of design, Richard Ferlazzo, when his tribute to the Holden FJ was unveiled at the 2006 Sydney auto show. Called the Efijy, it wowed the masses of petrolheads who came to gawk in awe at its striking design. A pillarless two-door, the Efijy was based on a Corvette chassis and featured a glass-fibre bodyshell. A 480kW 6-litre V8 gave it the oomph, while the unique purple paint scheme cemented its status as a piece of art. Ferlazzo told Driven at the Commodore VF launch that he's had multiple million dollar-plus offers for the car, which sits in Holden Australia's Melbourne HQ.

6. Lamborghini Marzal

The Marzal, first seen at the Geneva auto show in 1967, was Lamborghini's first attempt at a luxury four-seater. In typical Lamborghini fashion, this meant going all-out to create a car which would knock the socks off the competition. Styled by Bertone's Marcello Gandini, it featured glass gullwing doors, a honeycombesque dash, restyled campagnolo wheels and a mid-mounted 2-litre straight-six engine, though when entering production as the Espada it had a V12.

7. GT by Citroen

Displayed at the recent Auckland speed show, the GT by Citroen concept was designed in conjunction with Polyphony Digital, the boys behind the Gran Turismo Playstation game. The GT by Citroen sports a low, muscular body with hints of Citroen design flair, including the LED lights and the combination of curves and angles.

8. Lincoln Futura

If this shape looks familiar, that's hardly surprising, for the Lincoln Futura was the original Batmobile. First shown in 1955, the Futura was designed by luxury Ford brand Lincoln and designed by Ghia's Italian styling house. However, when a chap called George Barris got hold of it, he transformed the car into the mode of transport for Batman and Robin during the 1960s Batman television series.

9. Aston Martin Bulldog

During the "greed is good" era, Aston Martin managed to shock everyone when they unveiled their mid-engined Bulldog concept car in 1980. With powered gull-wing doors, a mid-mounted 5.3-litre V8 and a five-headlight cluster recessed in the front, the Bulldog, despite the name, was conceived as a thoroughbred. A small production run was planned but only one car was built.

10. Bertone Stratos

In terms of car design, one of the most outrageous ever seen was the 1970 Bertone Stratos Zero Concept. A 1.6-litre engine from a Lancia Fulvia was mounted low and central, while the steering and suspension were designed around the body, which was just 84cm high. Driver entry and exit were done by opening the windscreen and stepping in. Visibility was aided by side windows and the dials were found on a panel next to the steering wheel. It never saw production but the Stratos name was adopted by Lancia and used on their all-conquering Ferrai Dino V6 powered rally car.

- NZ Herald

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