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

Finding a classic concept car, especially one in its original condition, is no easy task, but its subsequent restoration can be equally challenging. When Bortz acquired his 1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special from the Detroit Historical Society in the 1970s, the car was no different than when it first rolled into the museum more than 20 years earlier. He was not as lucky when he found his 1955 Chevrolet Biscayne. The car was designed with a wraparound windshield, but what was left of that original windshield in the Michigan salvage yard was beyond repair. Bortz and his restoration team had to build a new one, and, as he recalls, they made close to 20 variations—and spent about $50,000 doing so—before they got it right. “There are a lot of mechanical things that aren’t standard,” he says of the 1950s concept cars. “If the pieces are there, you just restore them, but if the pieces aren’t there, you have to reinvent the wheel to determine how things would work.”

Ralph Marano knows all too well the trials that come with restoring a concept car. The Packard enthusiast owns every Packard concept car made, save for one—the Predictor—which is permanently displayed in the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Ind. “Some of the stuff, I scratch my head with what they did,” he says. “They didn’t care about what was under the hood. In the ’50s, it was just about putting it on the podium and making it spin around.”

Therein lies the difference between Bortz and Marano as collectors. Bortz is content to keep most of his concept cars off the road, since many were never intended for daily use. Marano, on the other hand, isn’t satisfied until a car is fully operational. In fact, he prides himself on his ability to refine a vehicle that most often was built in a haphazard way. “We’re taking our time and rounding the corners,” Marano explains. “There is a big difference in the way I’m bringing them back. It’s often twice as nice as when they debuted, and that’s because of the time frame [that we’re following] and the technology today.”

As for where these cars rank among the pantheon of classic, collectible automobiles, the answer is subjective. According to Kelleher, there’s no reason to think that a beautifully restored 1950s concept car couldn’t someday be an overall concours winner. “The hard part is having something postwar that garners as much interest and attention [as the classics], and some of these concept cars do just that,” he says. “A lot of these concept cars represent the potential to be a best-of-show winner, especially from a postwar perspective.”

Such a scenario is unlikely to occur at Pebble Beach, at least in the foreseeable future. The 1955 Lincoln Indianapolis Exclusive Study, an American machine with an Italian coachbuilt body, garnered plenty of attention on the lawn last year and ultimately drove off with the Lincoln Trophy, an award for the most dramatic Lincoln of the show. According to Chris Bock, chief judge of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, special awards like that are the only honors that concept cars currently are eligible to receive. But, he adds, that could change. “Thirty years ago at Pebble Beach we didn’t even talk about this stuff,” he says. “But now we do, so anything’s possible.”

Fittingly, that’s the ideal that these concept cars were designed to express.

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