What is a “concept car”? Concept cars are rolling experiments that automakers use to try new ideas, new materials, or new looks. They are generally displayed to the public at major auto shows, and the reactions of the public, industry analysts, and the motoring press is carefully studied. Some may never make it to the show stage, killed off in committee before seeing the light of day, although to some extent computer 3-D modeling has taken the place of expensive full-scale designs.
Harley Earl, the legendary GM stylist, is credited with the idea of creating “dream cars”, or concept cars, and travelling them so the public could see them in GM’s Motorama shows of the late 1940s – early 1960s. The Buick Y-Job of 1939 is considered the first such concept car. Some concept cars, such as the Chevy Mako Shark, had considerable influence of the 3rd generation Corvette, while others, like the Ford Nucleon, tried to push new drivetrain development a bit too far – nobody really wanted a tiny nuclear reactor in the car with them!
The six cars seen here represent some of Nissan USA’s designs from 1991 to 2006, and elements as diverse as powertrain, exterior style, interior style, materials, and “infotainment” options were explored, often all at once. Some of the style elements, such as the beltline of the 2002 Quest Concept, are familiar from their use on production vehicles. Other ideas, such as the woven leather “carpet” of the Quest Concept, were not practical and were never intended for production, but instead were to gauge public reaction to new materials and ideas. Many concepts are scrapped after the show season ends, although some manufacturers keep them around for many years. Ford, Jaguar, and GM have all had famous public sales of some of their dream cars in recent years, with many models falling into the hands of private collectors and museums – a good idea, since they are not street legal, and are often not even fully functional! We are fortunate to have these six cars from Nissan, so we can see “what might have been…”
It should be noted that, for the most part, these Concept Cars were not fully functional – in fact, several of them barely even roll under their own power! They were not meant for public release, and underneath the skin we find power inverters, extension cords, VCRs, rough carpentry, double-sided tape, and non-functional switches, latches, and doors. They were a fantasy, intended to present new ideas and only expected to last through a few weekends of auto shows. The fact that these six cars still present as well as they do is a testament to Nissan’s preservation of them, and it is our pleasure to display them.