Have you ever been driving down the street and seen a really weird (I mean like completely not normal) car pass you by going the other way? You know what I mean. I mean, the kind of car that makes you quickly crane your neck around trying to get a better glimpse of the monstrosity before it disappears from view. It’s what used to happen to people the first time they saw a DeLorean. Or the first time they saw a Porsche 918 Spyder on the road (I saw one myself right after they came out in 2010 - it was unsettling at best). Perhaps it’s even happened to you with a Lambo in a color you didn’t expect (Soylent Green, anyone?) or a rehabbed old Chrysler complete with the infamous “shark eye” headlights and tail fins.
Here’s what all of these cars, from the oldsters to this year’s models, have in common - they were all concept cars at some point. That’s right - these weren’t your classic Henry Ford "line ‘em up and knock ‘em out" mass-production vehicles that most of us buy to this day - unless you’re a Tesla owner, but that’s a whole ‘nother story - but cars that were supposed to be imaginative, cutting-edge, creative, and “next generation.” These are cars that the automaker spent a lot of time, energy, and money researching before unleashing them at auto shows and hoping for a big splash that would maybe contribute to actual production a few years down the road. These are cars where dreaming big and design flights of fancy were encouraged.
So…what happens then when a concept car is a total disaster? Because it does happen - a lot, in fact. The road to every big auto show of the past 50 years is littered with the rusted-out corpses of concept cars that simply didn’t work. Some of them were big-name spectacular flameouts that live in infamy. Some of them were boutique-maker fails. Some of them were too far ahead of their time, and some of them never should've even been thought up. Here they are - the 20 worst concept cars of all time.
20 Any Tang Hua Vehicle
These Chinese bizarro-world concept cars were trotted out at the 2008 Detroit auto show and then faded back into the oblivion they so rightly deserved to be in. We’ll start with the fact that they were all yellow fiberglass - like every single part. I’m not even sure if all of that fiberglass could support the engine properly, which is probably why the engine was smaller than your lawnmower’s. But really, the best part of the Tang Hua stable of “cars” was the names the company gave them. Cars aren’t usually christened with odd names like “Detroit Fish,” “Strip of Cloud,” or “Book of Songs.” No, I’m not pulling your leg. Those are the actual names of actual Tang Hua models. OK, fine, but the best part was that the company somehow thought that they could get President Bush to buy one for his ranch if they came to the Detroit show. Huh?
19 Volkswagen Concept T
Detroit has seen an awful lot of odd, unusual, ugly, and just plain-frightening cars come through its doors over the years. This crazy-ass concept from Volkswagen, unveiled at the 2004 auto show, was all of those things and more. The Concept T was supposed to be a cool fantasy on dune buggies. But it was really just a mess. The car quite literally looks like something Hot Wheels would put out in their “Flaming Ring of Death” set (I know, I made that up, but you get my point). It does not look like a real car - especially when you look more closely at the fantastical wheel treatment and the reverse gull-wing doors. Because having just plain old gull wings would've been too boring, I guess. Seriously, this car would fit right in on the Hot Wheels animated series as it's driven by some guy named "Hot Rod Hammerhead" or something.
18 Acura Advanced Sedan
The advanced Sedan was unveiled at the 2006 Los Angeles show. This seems like the appropriate place to reveal such a strange-looking car since Hollywood is right down the road, and this car looks like it belongs there - not being driven by the actual movers and shakers of Hollywood. Oh no... it belongs on the set of a live-action remake of The Incredibles, where it would be driven by bad guy Syndrome. Concept cars are just that, but when they look fake, they probably are. The Advanced is anything but, as its weird bird-beak grille is infamous in industry circles for destroying Acura’s vision for almost 10 years. That’s right - one little concept-car design flaw somehow made its way into pretty much all of Acura's designs. Please go back to the drawing board, Acura, and take this thing with you.
17 Lexus LF-SA
Lexus is known for sleek, stylish sedans that look like the smoothest rides on the road. In their 28 years of existence, the maker has become one of the gold standards in luxury automobiles. So, it’s really quite interesting - and more than a little disheartening - that the company decided to celebrate their 25th anniversary with this unveiling at the 2015 Geneva auto show. It’s not that the car is ugly; I don’t think Lexus could make an ugly car if they tried to. But it’s so damn small! It’s like a designer at Lexus suddenly decided that the Smart Car was the brand's favorite car of all time. Very weird. Anyway, the company claimed this tiny thing was going to be good for “narrow “European roads. Since it was only about 5’ wide, it might've done better on those narrow European bike paths…
16 Chrysler “Atlantic” Concept
The Atlantic concept came about because two Chrysler execs were chatting on the golf course at Pebble Beach and decided to try to bring back the classic and much-loved Bugatti Atlantique. Must be nice to be able to put your dreams into action, huh? Anyway, that car from the ‘50s was an all-time stunner of a vehicle, a beautiful piece of design that gearheads to this day can rattle on about endlessly. This one, which made its appearance in 1995, was a total disaster. How could it not be? If you took one look at the car, you'd say to yourself, “There’s no way in hell I’m going to drive around in a car that looks like a shark.” It also looks like it could fit about one 10-year-old kid in the driver’s seat. Not sure how that was gonna fly - or drive - as the case may be.
15 Peugeot Moovie
First of all, Peugeot, what’s with the crazy name for this vehicle? The car doesn’t have anything to do with any movies that I know of, and the play on words doesn’t make any sense whatsoever since it also doesn’t appear to have anything to do with cows. Weird. But here’s another problem with the Moovie. It looks like a hamster’s exercise wheel. Maybe the designers were trying to make some kind of metaphorical point about the futility of modern life and how we're all stuck in the rat race, but I kind of doubt it. Instead, they just made a weird-looking pet toy. Here’s another thing about the Moovie that’s a little bit frightening: it doesn’t look safe - not at all, not for one red-hot minute. You'd never catch me driving one of these.
14 Mercedes-Benz Vision (Tokyo Concept)
Here’s one of the major problems with the whole idea of a concept car: if you employ a whole bunch of futuristic nonsense in the car’s design, and ten years later, it still looks too futuristic, then you've failed. Massively. That’s exactly what happened with this fantastical offering from Mercedes-Benz. The “Vision” wasn’t so much visionary as it was ridiculous. It didn’t have normal doors. Instead, you could only get in the car from the left side. It didn’t have normal seats. Instead, you had to sit on a weird sectional-style couch. It didn’t even have normal wheels but instead had ones that lit up as they spun. The whole thing looked like something out of a 1950s sci-fi movie - or maybe Buck Rodgers. It sure didn’t look, act, or seem like a car.
13 Suzuki Mobile Terrace
Well, I have to admit it - I’m a little bit stumped. I don’t even know what to say about this freakish offering from Suzuki, a total fail of a car that was unleashed at the 2003 Tokyo motor show and was intended to be a “party” vehicle, whatever that is. I mean, just look at it! If a picture's worth a thousand words, then this one must be worth ten thousand - all of them bad. Fortunately for all of us, I don’t need to write ten thousand or even one thousand words on this disaster. And anyway, my editor would kill me if I did. Instead, I'll use just three words on this cross between a Deadhead’s acid-fueled Microbus fantasy and Austin Power’s swank make-out pad. Those three words are for you, Suzuki Mobile Terrace, and they're Get. Out. Now.
12 Suzuki Q Concept
OK, if you thought the last offering from Suzuki was a little bit - shall we say - “unsettling,” then you're going to love the Q concept. There’s your obligatory dose of sarcasm right there. If you actually do, for some twisted reason you probably shouldn’t share publicly, really love this car, leave now; you and I are no longer friends. The Q Concept is about as strange a car as you’ll ever see. Since it’s a Suzuki, it was never gonna blow you away with its performance, but this 2011 offering totally underwhelms in the visual appeal department as well. I mean, c’mon... it looks like an aquarium. It looks like something your kid would put his goldfish in then forget about the poor creature’s existence. It also had a whopping range of six miles. Yup, you could go further on your kid’s tricycle than this thing.
11 Scion Hako
Remember those hamsters running around in all of those Kia Soul commercials? The hamsters, like those cars themselves, were kind of cute, kind of annoying, and mostly not worth your time. Neither is the Scion Hako, a concept car that was revealed at the New York auto show in 2008. I find that information interesting since the Kia Soul itself was also unveiled in 2008. At the Paris motor show. So who stole from whom, guys? I’m gonna have to say it must have been Scion because while the Kia Soul has become a very popular car, the Hako… well, not so much. Perhaps that’s because the thing looks like a slightly burnt cardboard box. In fact, it’s way too boxy, and the color schemes don’t help. Sorry, Scion, but your Hako was really a “Hell No” with consumers.
10 Mercedes-Benz SLS E-Cell
If you were paying attention to the name of this model from Mercedes-Benz, then you probably figured out what this car is all about. Yup, you guessed it - it’s a fully electric version of the famous SLS. Now, don’t get me wrong - I love me a good Benz. And the SLS is a very cool car with awesome gullwing doors. I’m also not opposed to electric cars, as long as they’re done well. Doing things well is pretty much a hallmark of how Mercedes-Benz operates. So, what’s my problem with this car then, you ask? Well, I’m for saving the environment and being eco-friendly just as much as the next guy, but I’m not going to do it in a bright dayglow green/yellow puke-mobile. It’s just not gonna happen. C’mon, Mercedes... you couldn’t have put this beautiful little number in black or silver or even blue???
9 Trabant NT
We start our trip with a concept car that really has no concept. Interesting concept, wouldn’t you say? What I mean by this is that whoever had the bright idea to remake the Trabant and offer it as a concept car was completely out of his or her mind. The original Trabant was a cheap piece of plastic and cardboard (basically) that was sold by the East Germans all over the old Soviet satellite countries. When I was in Eastern Europe, the damn things were still everywhere, held together with chicken wire, putty, bubble gum, and God knows what else. They were brutally awful cars, the kind of cars only a brutally awful place like East Germany could possibly dream up. Why anybody would want to remake such a POS part of a history better forgotten is beyond me. But there you have it. Welcome to the strange world of concept cars.
8 Chrysler Imperial
We move from weird, cheap plastic remakes to a giant, “classy,” metallic monster. The Chrysler Imperial was shown at the 2006 Detroit auto show and immediately made headlines for not being a Rolls-Royce. I mean, take a look at this thing - it was clearly aiming for the Rolls market. The problem is that the car might have actually been too ambitious for its own good. Chrysler did a good job pretending they could make a Bentley when they rolled out the 300, so they obviously thought if they just made the car bigger, they would have a Rolls. The car was over a foot longer than the 300 (which means it approached 20’ long) and half a foot taller. It had the biggest wheels you could put on an imperial sedan-style vehicle without turning it into a tank. And, oh yeah, it also had a massive boxy rear end. This thing didn’t look like a Rolls - it looked like some 1950s Soviet engineers stole a Rolls-Royce and started copying it for Politburo members.
7 Buick Signia
“Ladies and gentlemen, for your very viewing pleasure, I present to you the car of the 21st century - the Buick Signia!” Maybe that’s how Buick introduced this ugly duckling back at the ’98 Detroit show. Maybe not. What I do know is that they probably should've left this one on the drawing board - or even better yet, crumpled the draft for this one and put it in the trash can underneath the drawing board. I get it; I get it - crossovers were just becoming a thing then and Buick wanted in on that market. But taking a Park Avenue, a LeSabre, and a Skyhawk and smooshing them all together wasn’t really a concept car design - it was a move of desperation. I’m not sure which is worse in this car - the crazy-tall rear hatch that looked like an oversized terrarium or the fenders that seemed to stick out on either side like weird metallic hips. Ugh, Buick... just ugh.
6 Ford Synus
OK, first of all, why the hell did Ford call this behemoth the “Synus”? Was the manufacturer saying, “You’ll get a sinus headache just from looking at it”? What an odd name. Second of all, what exactly was Ford going for here? Unleashed on an unsuspecting 2005 Detroit auto show, the Synus had all of the attraction of driving a bank vault around - except there was no money in that vault. Seriously, look at the four-spoke rear-hatch lock... what was Ford thinking??? This beast also had steel shutters on the tiny side windows. Oh, wait... let’s go back to that rear hatch. Yup, that’s what I thought - no rear window at all! Look, if I wanted to drive a Brinks van around, I would've gotten a job as a security guard. This car wasn’t a car - it was a mobile fortress.
5 Aston Martin Lagonda
Detroit’s auto show gets the highest volume of crazy concept cars being unloaded on an unsuspecting public, and that makes sense. We’re talking about the Motor City, after all. But Geneva sure gets its fair share as well. Take this 2009 rollout from Aston Martin. The car isn’t aggressively “wrong looking,” but it is aggressive. Wait, that’s too polite. “Menacing” would be more appropriate. Nope, that’s not right either. How about flat-out evil? Yup, that’s the ticket. This car reeks of evil. If Sauron were around now in the Fourth Age (or whatever hell age we’re in), he would've been driving the Lagonda. It's definitely a Dark Lord’s fantasy car. Supposedly, the car was designed with the Russian and Chinese markets in mind. So basically, at its price (Aston Martins have never been cheap), it’s a car for Russian mafia dudes and Chinese generals. Sounds about right.
4 Dodge Super8 Hemi
So, it wasn’t a Bentley or a Rolls (and anyway, as we know, Chrysler was already trying to corner that particular market), and it wasn’t a 1950s Dodge, although it definitely has some design elements that harkened back to the ‘50s. Instead, the Super8 Hemi was this kind-of-confusing mishmash of all of the above. Here’s all you really need to know about the Hemi, actually. It had bench seats. Yes, you read that correctly. It had bench seats - and it was a car that debuted in 2001 at the Detroit auto show. How do you make a 21st-century car with freaking bench seats?!!? What's wrong with you, Dodge? On the other hand, just to make the design concept behind this car really messed up, it also had an early version of Wi-Fi called “Infotronic.” So, the car was from the past but also from the future and failed in its present. Nice.
3 Kia KCV-II
I wonder if this offering from Kia was revealed at the 2002 Paris auto show because Kia was hoping that the famous Parisian sense of fashion would embrace its weirdness. That’s the only thing I can think of that would explain the truly odd choices the carmaker made with this vehicle. The KCV-II looks like the design team at Kia decided to make a car that looked like a Christmas present wrapped with silver ribbon. Or maybe those chrome strips along the side were supposed to be the metaphorical reins of a car with plenty of horses under its hood. Oh, wait... we’re talking about Kia - never mind about the horsepower thing. In any event, this car suffered from so many style issues, it’s a wonder the Parisians even allowed it to be shown in the City of Light…
2 Honda Fuya-Jo
We all know the Japanese can get pretty weird (I mean, creative) if you give them the space to start designing stuff. It happens in their Manga, their video gaming, their cuisine, their game shows, and even their bathroom habits. So, of course, their car makers have never been immune to some good old-fashioned craziness. The Fuya-Jo is an awesomely wrongheaded example of that. It launched at the 1999 Tokyo show and was supposed to be a “youth market” vehicle. That’s why it has such odd lines - because the twentysomethings cruising around Tokyo, Osaka, and other big cities were all supposed to stand up in the car, even the driver. The doors were covered with giant speakers, and the steering wheel looked like a DJ’s turntable. But honestly, it just looks like a vacuum cleaner to me, like one of those Roombas or something. Maybe Hoover should get into the automobile business.
1 Ford Synthesis 2010
Well, we’ve finally reached the summit, the very apex of bad-concept car-dom. And what do we find waiting for us? Well, none other than perhaps the most boring concept car ever conceived. The Synthesis 2010, sprung on us in the year 1993, is simply a “redo” of the Taurus, that boring workhorse of a vehicle Ford churned out for so many years. Excuse me??? Ford, you reworked the Taurus as a concept car?!!? Give us a break. How unimaginative can a maker get? It’s like Schwinn saying they’ve radically reworked their bicycles by giving them two wheels. But enough from me. I think this car writer said it best about the Synthesis: "Contrary to other entries, the worst part is not that the manufacturer didn't follow through; the worst part is that Ford actually built it. Every time I see one of these on the road, I can't help but throw up in my mouth a little and wonder how this horrid piece of design was not only [that it was] green-lighted but that people actually bought it." Yeah, that pretty much nails it.