Companies revealing concept cars is one of my favorite things about the car industry. It takes automakers so much time and effort to create concept cars, so the anticipation surrounding concept vehicles is especially exciting for car lovers. Concepts showcase innovation in both mechanical and technological automotive design, featuring the newest advancements in horsepower, driver assistance, automation and whatever else designers can imagine. Concept cars from the 1990s are especially interesting, as they are representative of design choices that are either timeless, or completely bizarre. Maybe it was the cultural influences of the time, but the 90s has a seemingly endless list of crazy concept cars that feature unique ideas, some of which are a bit outlandish and others that we wish were on the road today. That's the second thing about this list: all of these concepts never saw production in entirety, although some concepts on this list have spiritual successors in the market today.
I will say though, it's not surprising that many of these vehicles didn't make it to production, as the design ideas they used were a bit out of touch with reality. Some concepts just aren't realistically practical and end up forgotten about, which I suppose is exactly the reason that I can make a list like this. Although, many concepts face cancellation for many other reasons also, like merging with another design concept or change in focus from the design team.
Whatever the reason, these are some interesting concepts from the 90s, 10 of which we'd love to drive and 10 that we're glad stayed in design.
20 Weird: Toyota AXV-IV
Making its debut at the 1991 Tokyo Motor Show, the Toyota AXV-IV is a small, lightweight coupe that was designed to be an economical personal commuter vehicle. It comes equipped with a supercharged 2-stroke engine that outputs about 64 horsepower, which means this car is definitely lacking in the speed department. Moreover, the car is pretty ugly: it reminds me of the Porsche Boxster design but with less class and aesthetic. The ride height is ridiculously high and while the car tries to be sleek, it ends up leaving more to be desired. I will note though, the AXV-IV a good start at a concept and Toyota shouldn't shy away from this style of car.
19 Weird: Mazda London Taxi
As part of a project from the Royal College of Art in London, the Mazda London Taxi is a concept that gives us a glimpse into the potential future of urban transportation.
The idea of this taxi is to offer single passenger transportation, possibly with some level of automation, all in a compact package.
While I like the concept behind this car, I just think there are so many better ways to design it: the car resembles a roller skate and the styling is rather "off-world." There is definitely a niche for cars like the Mazda London Taxi, but as for this specific car, I'm glad it stayed as a concept.
18 Weird: Chrysler CCV
Chrysler has made some ugly cars (looking at you, PT Cruiser) and the Chrysler CCV is no exception, so I felt it needed to be on this list.
The name CCV is actually an acronym, meaning "China Concept Vehicle," which originates from its design intent: emerging markets in heavily populated cities.
But this was the initial meaning, as it was later changed to Composite Concept Vehicle, to reference its polyethylene construction which is essentially the same material that drink bottles are made from. This design aspect streamlined the manufacturing process and made the end product extremely affordable, but honestly, I'm glad this abomination stayed in the 90s.
17 Weird: Toyota HV-M4
Okay, so maybe I just really hate minivans, but looking at the Toyota HV-M4 it should be easy to understand the origin of my distaste. While it never made to production, the HV-M4 is basically the same design as many of Toyota's other vehicles, like the Prius and the Sienna. The one good part about the HV-M4 though is its drivetrain: this minivan comes equipped with four-wheel drive, which is extremely unusual for a car of this type. But even so, having our wheel drive can't save the Toyota HV-M4 from being a rather underwhelming concept from the 90s.
16 Weird: Alfa Romeo Proteo
Alfa Romeo has a long history of producing high class performance cars and in 1991, the design concept for the Alfa Romeo Proteo was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show. The specs of the car are excellent: a 3 L V6 outputting about 250 horsepower, which at the time, made this car pretty fast.
However, they styling choices on this car ruin it, as the body design looks laughable.
The front end, with possibly the worst headlight styling I've ever seen, is unappealing and makes the car look cheap. It's a shame too, because this car is probably a hoot to drive, considering the power and coupe style, but honestly, I'm not bothered that this concept got left in the 90s.
15 Weird: Ford Synergy
In 1996, Ford unveiled the Synergy concept at the Detroit Auto Show, giving a peek into the future car designs and technology that they hoped to achieve with their newer models. I'd say they somewhat missed the mark, as the Synergy body design is absolutely ridiculous and considering we haven't seen a Ford release resembling anything like this, I think Ford realized the Synergy wasn't the best concept. I guess the original intent for the Synergy was to create a car with advanced communication systems that was light weight and favored fuel efficiency above all else. Nevertheless, the Ford Synergy never came to market and I'm honestly glad that this concept never left design.
14 Weird: Mercedes Benz F100
In 1991, Mercedes Benz debuted their new concept, the F100, at the North American International Auto Show. Mercedes' goal was to showcase different innovations in design, control and comfort for their passenger focused cars.
However, this van isn't winning any beauty competitions, as it is a terribly designed, minivan inspired wreck that really has no place in the Mercedes line up.
I will add though, the F100 did feature some cool technology, like Autonomous Cruise Control and Blind Spot Assist. Maybe I'm being too harsh, but everything about the F100, from the boxy body design to the tacky hubcaps, is distasteful, securing a place on this list.
13 Weird: Honda Fuya-Jo
While I'm not exactly surprised this car never made it to production, I must admit, this is probably the most unique niche concept car on this list. The Honda Fuya-Jo is an entertainment-focused, four passenger compact car that has a raised roof to allow passengers to both stand and sit in the cabin. I think the overall goal was to create a miniature, mobile, party bus that would be beneficial in densely populated cities. Really, it's a unique idea that just doesn't translate well to reality and that's the true reason that we're glad this concept stayed in the 90s.
12 Weird: Chrysler Java
The Chrysler Java, which was revealed at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1999, is a concept that is sort of like a minivan crossed with a sedan. I think it actually resembles the current day, Nissan Versa, as its a compact styled 5 door sedan.
This style of sedan is probably my least favorite, as I love hot hatches like the Ford Focus RS, but when it's made even smaller and economical like the Java, it loses the appeal. So I'm glad to say that the Chrysler Java stayed a concept, although similarly designed cars are still around to day, with moderate popularity.
11 Weird: Chrysler Voyager III
This monstrosity is the Chrysler Voyager III (aka Plymouth Voyager III), which was revealed in 1990 at the Chicago Auto Show. The design is interesting: a car with a detachable van cab.
However, what's really interesting is that the detachable cab has it's own engine, meaning both separate units have an independent 4-cylinder engine.
But honestly, while the concept is interesting, the execution is poor and it doesn't surprise me that this concept never saw production. It could be mainly because of the impracticality of the vehicle, but maybe it's because it's uglier than any other van on the planet.
10 Want: Ford GT90
Ford has tried their hand at nearly every type of automobile, even supercars, which brings us to the Ford GT90 concept. Unveiled in 1995 at the Detroit Auto Show, the GT90 was advertised as an absolute powerhouse, packing a V12 engine that can output about 720 horsepower. Now here’s the craziest thing about the engine: its quad-turbocharged and creates exhaust so hot that the body panels of the car had to be made from ceramic, heat absorbing tiles. These are the same tiles that are used to cover space shuttles that protect it from heat as it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere.
9 Want: Bugatti EB118
Originally based on the design of the Bugatti Type 50, the Bugatti EB118 was a concept car unveiled at the Paris Motor Show in 1998 by the Italian manufacturer. It’s 6.3 L, W-18 engine can output about 555 horsepower and the powertrain is a permanent four wheel drive system that was used in the Lamborghini Diablo VT. Unfortunately, the car was never sent to production because Bugatti wanted to focus their efforts on another supercar they were working on, which was based on the Chiron concept. With Bugatti, you’d expect elegance, performance and luxury and with the EB118, you truly get all three.
8 Want: Alfa Romeo Nuvola
Making its debut in 1996 at the Mondial de l’Automobile, the Alfa Romeo Nuvola is an exceptionally designed concept that was sadly never brought to market.
Its twin-turbo, 2.5L V6 engine outputs about 296 horsepower and produced a zero to sixty time of 6 seconds.
The Nuvola was intended to showcase the future designs and technology that Alfa Romeo had planned for their new models, but also featured a rolling chassis that Alfa Romeo was going to use for other models, as well as sale to independent coachbuilders. Interesting enough, the only Nuvola prototype ever made is on display at the Alfa Romeo Historical Museum in Arese, Italy.
7 Want: Volkswagen W12
Also known as the Volkswagen Nardò, in reference to the Nardò Ring test track, the W12 is an amazing concept car that was made in 1997 and while it never truly made it to market, the design was used in a series of other W12 models, like the Synchro and the Roadster.
The engine is a 12-cylinder prototype that is a descendant of the 16-cylinder engine used in the Bugatti Veyron.
I think the most interesting tidbit about the W12 is its representation in entertainment media: the car is portrayed in video games like Gran Turismo, Asphalt 8, Project Gotham Racing 3, GTI Racing and Test Drive.
6 Want: BMW Z9 Coupe
The BMW Z9 Coupe made its debut at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 1999 and while it never made it to production, it's an awesome concept. One specific intent with the Z9 Coupe was to show off BMW’s “Intuitive Interaction Concept”, which featured advanced dashboard display technology that was controlled via a large knob between the front seats. The idea behind this system is to reduce the distraction caused by traditional dashboard instruments and streamline processes so the driver can focus better on driving. The “Intuitive Interaction Concept” was later relabeled as iDrive with the BMW 7 Series and other styling from the Z9 was used in later models, but unfortunately, the car, in entirety, never came to fruition.
5 Want: Porsche 989
The Porsche 989, origin concept of the Panamera, was under development between 1989 and 1991 until it was canceled in January 1992. Designed by Porsche engineer Dr. Ulrich Bez, the goal was to create a performance-oriented touring sedan, that was both practical and exciting to drive.
The front-engine, rear-wheel drive build includes a V8 engine that can output 300 horsepower.
The 989's cancellation came after Ulrich Bez left Porsche in 1991, but momentum on the project had already slowed significantly and a decline in 928 sales led executives to question the viability of the 989 in global markets, leading to its demise.
4 Want: Honda J-VX
I'll be the first to admit, this Honda concept isn't the prettiest car, but I included it on this list because I think it's a really cool concept that reminds me of cars you'd see in a futuristic metropolis. It was the first hybrid sports car concept to utilize Honda's Integrated Motor Assist, an electric hybrid system that was the main feature during the J-VX's debut in 1997 at the Tokyo Motor Show. While the J-VX never saw production, it evolved into the Honda VV and eventually the Honda Insight, so the spirit of the J-VX lives on today. I think what's most interesting about this concept is that it paved the way for other electric hybrid engine technology that Honda is now capitalizing on.
3 Want: Lincoln Sentinel
The Lincoln Sentinel is a somewhat forgotten concept that was produced in 1996, as an attempt to showcase futuristic styling that Lincoln was experimenting with in the 90s. Have you ever seen the movie Men in Black? Skipping over much of the plot, two agents drive a sweet blacked out car and fight extra-terrestrial threats and it was the first thing I thought of when I saw this car. I love the concept: a sleek, low profile cruiser that is worthy of any FBI agent or high profile individual. I think in many ways, the Lincoln Sentinel was ahead of its time, as the design is exceptionally modern considering it was designed in the 90s.
2 Want: Chrysler Chronos
First shown in 1998, the Chrysler Chronos was a concept car that aimed to expand on the design of the 1953 Chrysler D'Elegance. The car was built with a 6 L V10 engine that outputs about 350 horsepower and an extremely wide wheelbase, classifying it as a sort of extra large roadster.
While the Chronos never made it to production, it did inspire the Chrysler 300C, which was released in 2005, but honestly, it's hard to see the resemblance.
It really is too bad that the Chronos never came to market, as its a cool roadster concept that is both unique and stylish.
1 Want: Jaguar XK 180
As a way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the XK and to showcase the expert styling ability of Jaguar's design team, the XK 180 concept was unveiled at the Paris Motor Show in 1999. It was built with a 4 L supercharged V8 engine, putting out 450 brake horsepower, but the engine wasn't exactly the selling point so to speak. The boasted feature on the concept is Jaguar's Computer Active Technology Suspension system, which produced exceptional handling. Additionally, the suspension was fine-tuned during the design process and made the car an incredibly smooth ride that had power to spare.
Sources: Auto News Europe, Car and Driver, Petrol Blog, Classic Car Journal, America Loves Horsepower, Business Insider, All Car Index, Jalopnik, Old Concept Cars