Every year, cars get faster, stronger, and more high-tech, and we owe this constant improvement wholly to the automakers’ tradition of concept cars. Concept cars are vehicles designed and produced in limited quantity that explore the limits of the automobile craft. Inspired by science fiction and modern fashion, designers and engineers build models intended to dazzle, with sensuous lines, unfamiliar mechanics, and unprecedented technology. These are the epitome of dream cars, and they inspire carmakers and buyers alike.
Since the beginning, Chrysler has been one of America’s leaders in innovative concept cars. In fact, many of its concepts influenced the trajectory of the auto industry. Still, not every concept can come to fruition, and here are five concept cars that never made it past the convention showroom.
1. LeBaron Newport
In 1941, the vice president of Chrysler commissioned two concept cars from LeBaron, a small custom coach company that frequently designed cars for various automakers. With 90 days’ notice, the engineers at LeBaron were able to produce five exceptional models of the LeBaron Newport, a dual-cowl phaeton with flowing, classic lines.
The Newport’s fenders continued uninterrupted all the way around the car — the first American model to do so — and its hood, doors, and deck mimicked this seamless style with beautiful simplicity. The open top of the phaeton style made the car sporty and exotic. The teardrop shape of the rear fenders made the vehicle especially aerodynamic for its time, and this detail would later be copied on more expensive Buick models that actually roved the streets.
2. La Comtesse
In 1954, Chrysler’s show took on a fun gimmick with twinned “his and hers” cars, Le Comte and La Comtesse. Though the cars were nearly identical, La Comtesse was slightly flashier, with an attractive two-tone paint job and clear plastic roof to allow passengers to see the sky. The designers were angling for feminine eyes, as each car came equipped with accessories like a matching umbrella and handbag as well as a lipstick and compact for the girl on the go. Indeed, it would have been difficult for anyone to avoid this car’s wiles; with an exterior of pink and pigeon-gray, an interior of cream and dusty rose leather, and chrome detailing inside and out, La Comtesse is and was a looker.
3. DeSoto Cella
Though the DeSoto Cella never even came close to becoming a true car — designers never produced a model larger than 3/8ths scale — it was one of the most innovative autos of its time. The pet project of DeSoto’s chief engineer, the Cella was truly a future automobile, as it gained power not from a gasoline motor but from hydrogen fuel cells that drove electric motors located at each wheel.
Of course, this car of the future didn’t stop there: The standard Cella also boasted a built-in refrigerator, television, and stereo and uncommon safety features like a padded dashboard and seatbelts. If Chrysler had put time and energy into making the DeSoto Cella real after it was shown in 1959, we might have had safer, more entertaining, and more fuel-efficient cars for decades.
4. Cordoba de Oro
The Chrysler Cordoba was a fast-selling affordable luxury coupe that Americans loved, but Chrysler’s concept Cordoba de Oro was the Cordoba’s younger, hotter brother. Painted striking gold with interior gold trim to match, the Cordoba de Oro looked absolutely swanky in its 1970 Chicago showroom. The de Oro’s designers used the car to experiment with many technologies drivers can recognize as standard in today’s Chrysler cars, including shoulder seatbelts, airbags, and cameras and monitors to replace the rearview mirror.
5. Neon Aviat
Many may not remember Chrysler’s small, spunky compact Neon line, and even fewer will be able to recall the concept car based on the Neon’s style. However, 1994’s Neon Aviat remains one of Chrysler’s most fascinating departures from traditional automobile style and claims unconventional features that cause both confusion and elation. The Avait’s most ostentatious design elements were the gigantic side air scoops that funneled air inside the bodywork of the rear wheels. As a result, the back of the car looked like rocket engines prepared to propel the car into the space age.