Top 10 American Concept Vehicles of the 1980s
Here's a look at what American automakers were conceptualizing their next vehicles to be back in the 1980s.
Wild, aggressive, bold, unique, self-defining, fast, large, obnoxious. These are all the qualities of what the vehicles in the article will represent. The 1980s were an innovative time with many progressions and technological advancements such as the mobile phone. Among many things came outlandish concept vehicles from American automakers like General Motors, the Chrysler Corporation, and the Ford Motor Company. Here we take a look at the top ten concepts of the decade.
#10 The Oldsmobile Aerotech
The Aerotech took Indycar engineering and very advanced aerodynamic studies and wrapped them around GMs 2.0-litre Quad-4 powerplant. The idea was small engine, big style and speed. There were short- and long-tail versions of the car. Taking advantage of some very serious turbocharging boost, A.J. Foyt set a world closed-course speed record of 267.399 mph in the long tail. There also were other Aerotech concepts as GM applied the Aerotech design to coupe and sedan architecture. (Source: Classic Car Journal).
#9 The Buick Wildcat
The Buick Wildcat was designed exactly the same as the Aerotech in all ways except for the styling.
#8 The Chevrolet Express
Hard to believe this name is claimed for a cargo van in the present day. In the mid-‘80s, GM was talking with the federal government about building high-speed commuter roads open to very specialized vehicles, vehicles such as the Chevy Express concept with its jet-like styling and its 150-mph aircraft turbine engine. (Source: Classic Car Journal).
#7 The Pontiac Stinger
This neon green beach buggy of the future looks like it could be the beginnings of the Aztek: a quirky "lifestyle" vehicle made to look like it had off-road capability. The difference here is that the Stinger actually would have been a decent off-roader if it had made production. It also came with a lot of the goofy accessories that trickled their way down to the Aztek, like a detachable cooler and camping gear. (Source: Hot Cars).
#6 The Ford Maya
You'd be forgiven for thinking this was some kind of BMW M1 tribute car or a copyright-free rendering of an "'80s supercar" for a video game, but this was a real design concept that Ford commissioned from Italdesign to gauge US market interest in a Targa top sports car from Ford. Powering it was a version of the 3.0l Yamaha-developed V6 that would eventually make its way into the production Taurus SHO. (Source: Hot Cars).
#5 The Plymouth Slingshot
It has the appeal that it sort of looks like a closed-off Prowler but certainly an odd yet intriguing concept for sure. Wedge-shaped bodies and lifestyle-oriented vehicles aimed at the youth market became quite a thing in the 1980s. The Plymouth Slingshot had a carbon-fibre chassis. Aircraft-style front opening canopies and digital displays are still cool, but the design of an exposed engine bay at the rear, adjustable four-wheel suspension and dual tires on the wheels suggest this was aimed at being the beach buggy of the future. (Source: Car Buzz).
#4 The Pontiac Trans Sport
Pontiac Trans Sport
The Chrysler minivans were the hot ticket in the mid-1980s, and competing automakers were scrambling to bring their own "garageable vans" to market. Pontiac showed a preview of its family hauler with the Trans Sport concept, which featured a composite body, gull-wing rear doors, a glass roof, and a built-in Nintendo Entertainment System. Power came from an experimental 2.9-litre turbocharged V-6, and the two-tone paint and grooved side-cladding echoed the styling of contemporary Pontiacs. Sadly, when the production version appeared in 1990—one of GM's hapless "Dustbuster" vans—it wasn't nearly as cool or exciting. (Source: Automobile Magazine).
#3 The Ford Probe III
Ford Probe III
Before the questionable Probe name was used on a production car, it adorned a series of concepts. At a time when most Ford cars were still boxy boxes, the Probe III gave the world a preview of the aero styling that would come to define Ford design in the late 1980s. The Probe III was really a preview of the European-market 1982 Sierra—a car that would eventually come to the States in hot-rod form as the Merkur XR4ti—but it also showed cues that would be used on the revolutionary 1986 Taurus, not to mention the louvered taillights that would appear on the 1988 Ford Mustang GT. (Source: Automobile Magazine).
#2 The Chrysler/Lamborghini Portofino
Chuffed with its 1987 purchase of Lamborghini, Chrysler repurposed a Kevin Verduyn design called the Navajo and applied it to a stretched Lamborghini Jalpa platform, which it called the Portofino (not to be confused with the Ferrari Portofino), a mid-engine, rear-drive sedan with four scissors-style doors, the idea being to show the possibilities of a Lamborghini sedan (an idea Porsche would bring to fruition two decades later). There never was a four-door Lambo (at least not under Chrysler ownership), but the styling of the Portofino would have a heavy influence on Chrysler's most daring and successful designs—the cars we know as the Dodge Intrepid, Chrysler Concorde and Eagle Vision. (Source: Automobile Magazine).
#1 The Dodge Viper RT/10
Dodge Viper RT/10
The concept was intended as a modern-day Shelby 427 Cobra powered by a crazy-big ten-cylinder engine that was to be shared with future Ram pickups. The concept did indeed have a V-10, though it was reportedly cobbled together from two V-8s and unrelated to the production mill. Reaction to the Viper concept at the 1989 Detroit auto show was overwhelmingly positive, and Chrysler gave it the green light. When the production Viper appeared for the 1992 model year, it looked almost exactly like the concept car. (Source: Automobile Magazine).
Thankfully this vehicle was put into production in 1992 and was available for purchase until the end of the 2017 model year production. This is one concept many automotive enthusiasts were glad to see put into production.