Ford is one of this country’s best-known success stories: the company that put the world on wheels, thanks to the success of the Model T. No Blue Oval-wearing car has been as earth-shatteringly important as the Tin Lizzie, but that’s not to say that the company hasn’t initiated industry-wide paradigm shifts: think about how the Mustang introduced the idea of factory-tailored personal transport, or how the Explorer turned the SUV into the de-facto family hauler. Any automaker with a history as long and as illustrious as Ford is going to find a few duds, however. Sometimes they never survived the long and arduous journey from sketch to assembly line. To some, a vehicle that survives that process, but in radically altered fashion, is just as much of a mechanical cul de sac: it’s tantamount to admitting that the concept was never going to be palatable to consumers in the first place.
I find that point of view to be a little too harsh: as I mentioned, putting a car into mass production is a hideously complicated undertaking that involves months of market research, hundreds of millions of dollars, and thousands of man-hours worth of development and testing. The fact that even a business as well funded the auto industry is able to do it in a repeatable fashion with even marginally successful results is a miracle. Still, I, like many others I’m sure, was disappointed to see the following 15 concepts be reduced to such a dramatically watered down form.
30 Concept: Ford Explorer
According to Ford, the Explorer concept was meant to hint at the future of full-size family SUVs. Well, looking back on the ten years since its debut, it’s fair to say that this was basically the four-wheeled equivalent of the Oracle of Delphi.
Switching from a rugged but uncivilized ladder frame chassis (used by previous Explorer models) to a more car-like unibody construction was a big deal back in 2008 when the crossover craze was in its infancy. Other headline-grabbing details included the Explorer America’s lack of dedicated off-road hardware and minivan-like sliding doors.
29 Reality: Ford Explorer
The fifth-generation Explorer, introduced in 2011, proved to be quite similar in layout to the 2008 concept, with a unibody structure and road-biased underpinnings.
However, it lacked many of the cool features that made the Explorer concept such a breath of fresh air; while I wouldn’t call the production car’s exterior "fussy," it couldn’t match the pared-back simplicity of its podium-bound predecessor.
It also lacked the minimalist interior, dash-mounted 3D compass and sliding rear-doors, which would have made the Explorer even better suited for its intended purpose of ferrying children and loading cargo.
28 Concept: Ford Fairlane
In their journey to find a suitable name for their retro-chic people-carrier concept, revealed at the 2005 Chicago Auto Show, Ford had to dive deep into the dusty old tomes of their corporate history. They surfaced with the Fairlane badge, which last saw action in 1970.
That might seem like an odd choice, considering the original Fairlane was a mid-size sedan, but philosophically speaking, maybe they had the right idea: in the 1960s and 1970s, the three-box four-door was the king of family haulers. In the mid-2000s, that mantle belonged to the proto-crossover.
27 Reality: Ford Flex
The Ford Flex entered production for the 2007 model year. Judged purely in terms of aesthetics, there’s little to separate it from the Fairlane concept. Much like a Hieronymus Bosch painting however, the devil’s in the details.
For starters, the Fairlane’s rear doors opened backward, like on a vintage Lincoln or a Rolls Royce Phantom.
Further high-end fripperies can be found behind the tri-hinged tailgate (which allows it to open normally or from the left or right side), as the cargo bay contains a refrigerator and a cutting board. These ‘conveniences’ were removed in favor of an extra row of seats in the production car.
26 Concept: Ford Focus RS Cosworth
If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool fan of fast Fords, then the word Cosworth should be more than enough to get you salivating: the British engineering firm has had a hand in building a few of the best sports compact cars of the 20th century, including the legendary Ford Escort RS Cosworth and Sierra RS Cosworth (although both were never sold on our side of the Atlantic).
Unveiled at the 1999 Geneva Auto Show, the Focus RS Cosworth concept was meant to do justice to that proud lineage with a 200 HP turbocharged inline-four, a viscous limited-slip differential, and 235-width Goodyear Eagle GS tires, housed within a truly massive set of fender flares.
25 Reality: Ford Focus RS
I’m not going to downplay the importance of the Mk1 Focus RS, whose headline-grabbing power figure of 212 hp seems paltry today but was almost obscene by the class standards of 2002: it almost singlehandedly started the hot-hatch power wars that have resulted in near-400 hp Audi RS3s.
Unfortunately, the first-generation RS was unable to cope with its power output, in no small part thanks to a seemingly ineffectual Torsen mechanical differential that auto journalist Jeremy Clarkson criticized in trademark fashion: “You got a ton of torque steer when you set off, then the steering system would jam and then you’d hit a tree, fly through the windscreen...”
24 Concept: Ford Evos
Meant to preview Ford’s new “Kinetic 2.0” design language, the Evos was a show stopping fastback sedan with two-piece gullwing doors and a minimalist interior. It wasn’t just a pretty face however, as the concept also demonstrated the Blue Oval’s commitment to Cloud-based computing services: in practical terms, that meant it would be able to interpret your lifestyle, adjusting chassis and powertrain setup depending on weather conditions, time of day, and both the skill and mood of its pilot.
The Evos is a plug-in hybrid, though aside from letting us know the makeup of its battery chemistry (lithium-ion in case you’re wondering), Ford was stingy with any figures concerning output or range.
23 Reality: Ford Fusion
The second-generation Fusion, revealed in 2012, bears little in common with the concept aside from the shape of its grille and head and taillights.
That’s par for the course when discussing pie-in-the-sky show cars like the Evos, so maybe we should be happy that the Fusion managed to look as good as it does, especially by the usually aesthetically lackluster standards of the mid-sized sedan segment.
The production car also did a fairly good job of adapting the Evos’ plug-in powertrain for real-world use, as Fusion Energi model features a lithium-ion battery mated to a 2.0-liter inline-four, good for a total range of 610 miles.
22 Concept: Ford 427
The menacing 427 concept paid homage to the aesthetically uncompromising heyday of the muscle car with lashings of chrome, slab-sided flanks, and a blunt, squared-off profile.
With an all-aluminum 427 ci (7.0 liters for those of you who worship at the church of metric) V10 under the flat hood, the choice of name certainly isn’t imaginative, but naming conventions are irrelevant when you have 590 hp to play with.
Even better, you’d be corralling those stallions through the rear-axle with a six-speed manual transmission, featuring an achingly cool billet aluminum shift knob.
21 Reality: Ford Fusion
The first-generation Ford Fusion was about as far as you can get from the 427 concept while remaining within the confines of a traditional three-box sedan profile. Where the latter employed an RWD layout with a longitudinally-mounted engine, the Fusion was initially only FWD (though a front-biased AWD system was made available for the 2007 model year) with either a 2.3 liter inline-four or 3.0 liter V6 sitting transversely between the front wheels.
The production car also abandoned the 427’s premium aspirations, replacing its milled aluminum and stitched leather interior with swathes of faux cowhide and plastic.
20 Concept: Ford Start
The Ford Start made its debut at the 2010 Beijing Auto Show, an appropriate place to show off a chic, luxurious car that also happens to be efficient in terms of both environmental impact and overall size.
Think of it as the Blue Oval’s response to the success of stylish superminis like the Fiat 500.
The choice of engine was appropriately offbeat: underneath the aerodynamically-optimized bodywork (made from recycled composites, no less), you’d find a 1.0 liter EcoBoost inline-three. The interior featured upholstery made from recycled fibers and a very Apple-like touchscreen interface.
19 Reality: Ford Ka
Whereas the Fiesta is the smallest car that Ford offers on our shores, the rest of the world is blessed with the cutesy Ka supermini. The fourth-generation car hit dealerships across South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia in 2014.
I’ll be blunt: the sleek Start concept has the Ka beat in on curbside appeal, although the latter gives up nothing in terms of mechanical underpinnings, as base model Kas were made available with the very same 1.0 liter inline-three engine.
18 Concept: Ford F-350 TONKA Concept
What better way to show just how tough your trucks are than by collaborating with Tonka? I mean, their corporate reputation can be summarised in three words: big, tough, and yellow.
Well, the F-350 TONKA Concept, revealed at the 2002 NA International Auto Show certainly wasn’t wanting for bigness, toughness, or yellowness. There were utility-enhancing features aplenty, including a driver’s seat based on the fully-suspended units in long-haul big rigs, adjustable air suspension, lane departure warning, and a 6.0 liter Power Stroke diesel V8 equipped with something called Hydraulic Launch Assist, which was basically an energy recovery system that cut urban fuel consumption figures somewhere between 25 and 35 percent.
17 Reality: Ford F-150 (Generation 11)
There’s a clear stylistic link between the Tonka Concept and the 11th-generation of one of America’s longest-running nameplates, especially around the enormous front grille and slab-sided flanks.
Introduced in 2004, the truck was one of the first vehicles’ to be built on Ford’s P2 platform, which went on to underpin the following 12th-generation F-150.
Unfortunately, it was missing many of the F-350’s cooler technological features: production trucks didn’t get air suspension, fancy, self-leveling driver perches, or the Hydraulic Launch Assist system.
16 Concept: Ford Iosis X
Attendees of the 2006 Paris Motor Show were privileged to bear witness to the Ford Iosis X, a radically-styled four-dour crossover that pushed Ford’s then-new Kinetic design language to its absolute breaking point.
It wasn’t the first or last concept vehicle to wear the Iosis badge, as the original Iosis, unveiled at the 2005 Frankfurt Auto Show, was a rakish four-door that previewed the third-generation Euro-market Ford Mondeo.
According to the press release, parts of the Iosis X’s interior were “inspired by modern helicopter cockpit design”
15 Reality: Ford Kuga
The second-generation Ford Kuga (essentially a Euro-market equivalent of the Ford Escape), revealed ten years ago, diluted the Iosis X’s design to a tantrum-worthy degree. Instead of the kicked-up rear haunches of the concept, the Kuga looked like a garden-variety crossover inside and out.
Instead of the orange, white, and silver upholstery used in the cockpit of the concept, buyers were stuck with the standard fare of beige, grey or black cloth or cowhide.
14 Concept: Ford Allegro II
The first Allegro concept was revealed in 1962 alongside several other sporty concepts, a group referred to as the “X-Cars” designed by the members of Ford’s “Fairlane Committee,” who sought to get baby boomers behind the wheel of one of their products. The end result of that project was, of course, the Mustang.
While Ford could have left the Allegro concept to rot, they instead chopped its roof off, turning it from a four-seat fastback to a low-slung roadster, painted it metallic yellow, and called it the Allegro II, revealing it to the public in 1967.
13 Reality: Ford Maverick
The Maverick was introduced in 1970, designed and built to do battle with the new have of economical, well-built (by the standards of the day, anyway) Japanese compacts.
It used a shortened version of the same Ford Falcon-sourced platform used by both the first-generation Mustang and Allegro concept, which meant RWD and a selection of longitudinally-mounted engines, ranging from a 2.8-liter Thriftpower Six inline-six to a 302 ci two-barrel V8 for Maverick Grabber models, good for a stout 210 hp.
12 Concept: Ford Iosis
The Iosis was the first concept to show off Ford’s new “Kinetic” design language, expressed in the form of a sleek, muscular, pillar-less four-door that was revealed to attendees of the 2005 Frankfurt Motor Show.
Like its effective successor, the Evos, the Iosis featured two-piece gullwing doors, with the back pair being hinged at the rear and opening up and outwards.
Those apertures allowed access into a garish interior, trimmed in bright orange and black upholstery with plenty of matte-finish metal accents. Unfortunately, Ford did not see fit to give the Iosis an actual powertrain.
11 Reality: Ford Mondeo
The CD345-chassis Mondeo is the third generation of Ford’s Euro-market midsize sedan. It belied its deeply unsexy target market with sheet metal sharp enough to earn it a spot in a James Bond film: it briefly served as 007’s ride in Casino Royale, no coincidence considering Ford’s then-ownership of Aston Martin. The car was praised by auto reviewers across the Continent for its sophisticated yet sharp driving manners and a broad selection of gutsy engines, especially Platinum-trim models equipped with the turbocharged 2.5 liter inline-five, which Evo’s Richard Porter hailed as being “simply brilliant to drive”.
10 Concept: Ford Mustang Giugiaro
This stunning ‘Stang was designed by Italian coachbuilder and engineering firm Italdesign Guigiaro, a company with a long yet nearly completely unblemished corporate portfolio that includes icons such as the BMW M1 and Delorean DMC-12.
The Italdesign Mustang was powered by a supercharged version of Ford’s 4.6 litre Modular V8, which sent its 500 horses to the rear axles via a five-speed Tremec manual gearbox.
Added show car flair came in the form of an interior trimmed in an eye-catching mix of brown and orange leather, a UV ray-filtering glass roof, and scissor doors.
9 Reality: Ford Mustang S197 II
The S197-chassis Mustang underwent a comprehensive redesign for the 2010 model year in order to bring it more in line with the styling cues exhibited by the Giugiaro concept. While I’d never be so bold as to claim that the Mustang was an ugly car, there’s no denying the fact that Italians are without peer when it comes to putting together a really pretty car. It’s also worth mentioning that buyers never had the opportunity to buy a Mustang with a factory-supercharged version of the 4.6 litre Modular V8 or the custom Ford Racing handling package used by the concept.
8 Concept: Ford Mach 1
The Mach 1 concept was yet another Mustang concept that didn’t quite made the jump from sodium-lit auto show stage to the assembly line completely intact. It was revealed in 1966 and featured a radically chopped fastback profile that descended sharply toward the rear to form a hatchback, something that a Mustang wouldn’t have until 1974.
More fanciful details included the competition-inspired fuel-filler cap, side window-mounted rear-view mirrors, and Corvette-like quartet of exhaust tips. While design sketches implied that the Mach 1 was to be powered by a 7.0 liter V8, the real-life vehicle was presented without the mention of any mechanical details.
7 Reality: Ford Mustang Mach 1
The Mach 1 package was introduced as an option for the Mustang’s 1969 model year. It’s intended purpose as a no-compromise performance vehicle is made plainly obvious when you take a look at the selection of available engines: base Mach 1s were powered by a 5.8 liter Windsor V8, good for about 250ish hp, while top-range cars equipped with the extra “drag-pak” option were blessed with a 428 ci Super Cobra Jet motor, good for a faintly ridiculous 335 hp.
6 Concept: Ford Shoccwave
The hilariously-named Shocccwave (that triple ‘c’ is meant to pay homage to Ford’s Concept Center California, Inc design studio) made its debut in February 1990. That sleek, smooth body (made from a mix of composites and plastics) is clearly of the era, as are the once cutting-edge fiberoptic head and taillights.
Inside the minimalist cockpit, you’d find a compact dash-integrated CRT display instead of a conventional rear-view mirror.
According to Ford’s press release, the Shoccwave was powered by a modified version of the Yamaha-designed 24-valve V-6 SHO engine that allowed it to send power to all four wheels.
5 Reality: Ford Probe
The production version of the Shoccwave managed to eclipse it in terms of ridiculous badges: “Probe” is perhaps the worst name to have ever been attached to a product from a mainstream automaker.
That name, and Ford’s original intention to replace the Mustang with it, meant that public opinion was against the Probe the moment of its unveiling.
That’s a bit of a shame, as mechanically speaking, there wasn’t too much wrong with the Probe: it was based on the Mazda MX-6, and shared that car’s smooth-revving K-Series V6 engine.
4 Concept: Ford 4-Trac
Unveiled at the Thailand International Motor Expo in Bangkok in 2004, the Ford 4-Trac was a new type of pickup, more in line with the “active lifestyle” trend that was so in vogue in the early 2000s.
To that end, Ford fitted the 4-Trac with what they call a “tailgate within a tailgate”, with the outer section acting as a loading ramp while the inner part opens 90 degrees to serve as a conventional tailgate or a seat. The cargo bed was also fitted with six portable storage containers, supposedly inspired by offshore rescue boats.
3 Reality: Ford Explorer Sport Trac
The second-generation Ford Explorer Sport Trac, introduced in 2007, was essentially a sportier re-imagining of the F-Series.
However, as the name implies, it was built on the same platform as the ladder-frame Explorer SUV.
It’s hard to deny the impact that the 4-Trac concept had on the styling of this truck, with its bulging wheel arches, the short bed-big cab proportions, and the rugged yet rounded-off body-surfacing. Mind you, the Sport Trac is still missing the nifty two-piece tailgate and array of LED lighting.
2 Concept: Ford 49
The Ford 49 concept was unveiled at the 2001 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. As the name implies, it was meant to honor the radical but lamely-named 1949 Ford (sometimes called the "Shoebox" by enthusiasts). The 1949 featured a then-revolutionary ladder frame chassis (hilariously as well as an independent front suspension.
The low-slung 49 concept wasn’t nearly as boundary-pushing as its predecessor, but there’s no denying it cut a striking figure, with its all-glass upper body, super-slim taillights, and smooth, torpedo-like fuselage. Power came from then-Ford subsidiary Jaguar in the form of a 3.9 liter V8.
1 Reality: Ford Thunderbird
Unlike the sleek and svelte 49 concept, the Thunderbird was a bloated, self-indulgent mess that did a tremendous disservice to its badge’s legacy: since it’s introduction in the late fifties, the Thunderbird name was meant to be an upmarket personal luxury coupe that exemplified the most avant-garde, futuristic design trends of a given era. When Ford revived the nameplate for 2002, it was the first time the nameplate carried a design that actively looked to the past instead of the future.