What a Concept!

  • Photo by Shooterz.biz/RM Auctions
    In 2011, the 1960 Plymouth XNR received the Gran Turismo award at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. It was also nominated for the Restoration of the Year award, as part of the International Historic Motoring Awards. Photo by Shooterz.biz/RM Auctions
  • Photo by Shooterz.biz/RM Auctions
    The 1960 Plymouth XNR was designed by Virgil Exner and sports a handbuilt steel body crafted by Italian coachbuilder Carrozzeria Ghia. It sold for $935,000 through RM Auctions in 2012. Photo by Shooterz.biz/RM Auctions
  • Photo by Shooterz.biz/RM Auctions
    The 1960 Plymouth XNR was designed by Virgil Exner and sports a handbuilt steel body crafted by Italian coachbuilder Carrozzeria Ghia. It sold for $935,000 through RM Auctions in 2012. Photo by Shooterz.biz/RM Auctions
  • Photo by Shooterz.biz/RM Auctions
    The 1960 Plymouth XNR was designed by Virgil Exner and sports a handbuilt steel body crafted by Italian coachbuilder Carrozzeria Ghia. It sold for $935,000 through RM Auctions in 2012. Photo by Shooterz.biz/RM Auctions
  • Many concept cars were never built for use, but such is not the case for the 1954 Dodge Firearrow. This particular example—the third of four models built—recorded a closed-course speed record at the Chelsea Proving Grounds in 1954. It sold for $852,500 through RM Auctions in 2011.
  • Many concept cars were never built for use, but such is not the case for the 1954 Dodge Firearrow. This particular example—the third of four models built—recorded a closed-course speed record at the Chelsea Proving Grounds in 1954. It sold for $852,500 through RM Auctions in 2011.
  • Many concept cars were never built for use, but such is not the case for the 1954 Dodge Firearrow. This particular example—the third of four models built—recorded a closed-course speed record at the Chelsea Proving Grounds in 1954. It sold for $852,500 through RM Auctions in 2011.
  • Photo by Richard Truesdell/RM Auctions
    The 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt is one of the few original concept cars built before World War II. The car, which sold for $935,000 through RM Auctions in 2011, was the first convertible designed with a fully retractable hard top. Photo by Richard Truesdell/RM Auctions
  • Photo by Richard Truesdell/RM Auctions
    The 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt is one of the few original concept cars built before World War II. The car, which sold for $935,000 through RM Auctions in 2011, was the first convertible designed with a fully retractable hard top. Photo by Richard Truesdell/RM Auctions
  • Barrett-Jackson was the first auction house to sell a concept car when, in 2005, it brokered the sale of a 1954 Oldsmobile F-88, which sold for $3.2 million.
  • A year later, the company auctioned off a 1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special for $3 million.
  • In January, Barrett-Jackson again made headlines, selling a 1954 Plymouth Belmont convertible for $1.3 million.
  • The 1954 Packard Panther-Daytona roadster, which sold for $700,000 through RM Auctions in 2009, is representative of Packard’s attempts to stay relevant and competitive with America’s conglomerated auto manufacturers during the 1950s.
  • The 1954 Packard Panther-Daytona roadster, which sold for $700,000 through RM Auctions in 2009, is representative of Packard’s attempts to stay relevant and competitive with America’s conglomerated auto manufacturers during the 1950s.
  • The 1954 Packard Panther-Daytona roadster, which sold for $700,000 through RM Auctions in 2009, is representative of Packard’s attempts to stay relevant and competitive with America’s conglomerated auto manufacturers during the 1950s.
  • Photo by Shooterz.biz/RM Auctions
    The 1964 Dodge Hemi Charger concept, once owned by Joe Bortz, was restored with one of Chrysler’s 15 original Hemi racing engines. It sold for $715,000 through RM Auctions in 2011. Photo by Shooterz.biz/RM Auctions
  • Photo by Shooterz.biz/RM Auctions
    The 1964 Dodge Hemi Charger concept, once owned by Joe Bortz, was restored with one of Chrysler’s 15 original Hemi racing engines. It sold for $715,000 through RM Auctions in 2011. Photo by Shooterz.biz/RM Auctions
  • Photo by Michael Furman/RM Auctions
    The 1955 Lincoln Indianapolis Exclusive Study wowed spectators and judges alike at the 2013 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. It received the Lincoln Trophy, for being the most dramatic Lincoln at the show. Photo by Michael Furman/RM Auctions
  • Photo by Michael Furman/RM Auctions
    The 1955 Lincoln Indianapolis Exclusive Study wowed spectators and judges alike at the 2013 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. It received the Lincoln Trophy, for being the most dramatic Lincoln at the show. Photo by Michael Furman/RM Auctions
  • Photo by Michael Furman/RM Auctions
    The 1955 Lincoln Indianapolis Exclusive Study wowed spectators and judges alike at the 2013 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. It received the Lincoln Trophy, for being the most dramatic Lincoln at the show. Photo by Michael Furman/RM Auctions
  • Photo by Shooterz.biz/RM Auctions
  • Photo by Shooterz.biz/RM Auctions
  • Photo by Shooterz.biz/RM Auctions
  • Photo by Shooterz.biz/RM Auctions
  • Photo by Richard Truesdell/RM Auctions
  • Photo by Richard Truesdell/RM Auctions
  • Photo by Shooterz.biz/RM Auctions
  • Photo by Shooterz.biz/RM Auctions
  • Photo by Michael Furman/RM Auctions
  • Photo by Michael Furman/RM Auctions
  • Photo by Michael Furman/RM Auctions
  • Shaun Tolson

In the wake of world war II, with American troops returning home to victory parades, a renewed optimism blanketed the United States. It was around this time that jet-powered airplanes began taking to the skies, and with a revitalized sense of adventure and discovery all around them, American designers began incorporating those themes into their work. No industry displayed this better than the automakers. “It was an era in time when America was the leader of the world in all sorts of design,” says Craig Jackson, the chairman and CEO of Barrett-Jackson Auction Co. “You’re never going to have another point in history like that.”

Prior to the war, American car manufacturers often competed with each other over who could build the flashiest automobile. Those rivalries were renewed during the late 1940s and early 1950s; however, effusive amounts of chrome took a backseat to more wild and innovative designs. Suddenly, it wasn’t enough to show the public an elaborate, sparkling piece of automotive showmanship; the new platform was delivering the car of tomorrow—or at least a glimpse of what that car might someday look like. Leveraging America’s excitement about the future, car companies commissioned their top designers to build futuristic automobiles and staged elaborate auto shows to display them, as well as their newest production models. No one did this better than General Motors. “Hearing from firsthand experiences of people I know who came home from the war, they’d go to the auto show and see all these wild designs and concepts, and it was really inspiring for the future,” says Ian Kelleher, a specialist with RM Auctions. “It was a pretty dynamic time in American manufacturing. They tried to give people a glimpse into what auto manufacturers envisioned in the future and what could be possible.”

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