On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff
CONCEPT CARS are the icing on the auto show cake. These cars embody the latest trends of auto styling. They often hint at products coming soon from automakers. They can make magazine covers. And, last, they may even be drivable.
That is, not every concept car has an engine. Within their heavily tinted greenhouse, some have no interiors. Even the drivable ones don’t necessarily operate very well; their mechanicals are far from optimized, maybe just capable of getting the car off its transporter and onto location in the exhibition hall.
There are, of course, exceptions. During my years at R&T, I drove several show cars. Whatever the extent of the drive, these cars remain memorable.
Not long after joining the magazine in 1979, I drove the Dome P-2, a Japanese concept car, for its action photos around Orange County International Raceway, where I did the magazine’s track testing back then. I got in some highway miles as well.
This Dome was the second prototype of a proposed exotic that never made production. However, it was most definitely drivable, indeed, enthusiastically so. Mid-engine power came from a 2.7-liter inline-six sourced from Nissan, essentially the same engine as the Datsun 280ZX’s.
Alas, Japanese homologation was never forthcoming (the Dome possibly perceived as “too sporty”); plans for export sales fell through too. Minoru Hayashi, its developer, took a pair of Ford-Cosworth Domes to Le Mans in 1979, where both DNF’d. A year later at Le Mans, a sole Dome finished last of 25 cars; 31 others failed in a race of high attrition. Enthusiastic to the core, Hayashi continued with cars of his own design for six more years at Le Mans; car enthusiast/Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason was one of the drivers in 1983.
Another drivable concept car of memory was the 1984 Saab 900 Turbo 16 EV-1, as in Experimental Vehicle, first iteration. The magazine got a World Exclusive of this Saab show car prior to its international debut at the Los Angeles Auto Expo. I traveled to a wintry Sweden with R&T Contributing Photographer Jeff Zwart. Jeff was known back then for having spent his childhood on the rear shelf of a Porsche; he’s renowned today for his Porsche mastery of Pikes Peak.
The EV-1 photo shoot was one I’ll never forget: “The Saab Viggen fighter began as barely a dot. We—and another Saab of an entirely different sort—were at the other end of the runway and, for reasons not entirely rational, we had carefully aligned ourselves directly in the path of the approaching jet. The dot grew better defined, larger and louder as it lifted off.
But instead of pulling upward, its pilot retracted the gear, lit the afterburner and bore past us at 250 mph at an altitude of 35 ft. Hell’s own fury followed, redolent of kerosene and a flash of heat in the sub-zero temperature.”
Photographer Jeff lay sprawled out on the tarmac; I was comfortable within the EV-1’s heated leather-lined cabin. Swedish Air Force Captain P.G. Hogbäck understood Jeff’s predilection for multiple takes, and I believe he flew lower on each one.
The April 1992 cover shoot of the Monte Carlo GTB was another World Exclusive. Yet, given the month, in retrospect it could have been R&T’s April Fools test. Contributing Editor Phil Hill and R&T shooter John Lamm made the trip to Monaco for this one; I was merely on the editorial receiving end in Newport Beach, California.
Phil had hopes of blasting across the Grande Corniche in this mid-engine V-12 exotic, accompanied by pal and famed Italian engineer Carlo Chiti. However, as Phil wrote, “Chiti attached his lap-top computer to the engine-management system by umbilical cord, the V-12 roared into life, and we can report that his V-12 makes a wonderful and powerful noise…. Chiti punched a few more characters into his lap-top; the engine stopped. Ecco! Was that not magnificent?”
Terrible weather in Italy had forced Italian Formula One teams to Barcelona for pre-season testing. And the engineer responsible for the Monte Carlo GTB’s engine management went with them. Thus, the engine wouldn’t run without that umbilical cord linked to Chiti’s lap-top.
Fortunately, Monaco is hilly and John Lamm was able to get his action photography. However, Phil reported, “So what can you learn from driving a car that’s rolling down a hill?” ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2016