Show and Tell (Part Four)

A last look back into the archive takes us into the late Nineties.

All images (c) of the author.

Geneva 1996

Peugeot’s 406 Toscana concept (above) swiftly faded into oblivion after the show, likely because it was not clear even to Peugeot itself what it was supposed to be or demonstrate.

The Opel Calibra 4×4 based Bertone Slalom “fits in between the modern coupé, the station wagon and the people-carrier” according to Bertone’s press kit. If nothing else, it took the concept of stretched headlights to a new level.

(c) The author

Paris 1996

Citroën had brought three Berlingo concept cars to Paris: the very rotund Bulle (a five door hatchback), the pickup-like Coupé de Plage and the Grand Large. Only the last would lead to a production vehicle- the Berlingo Multispace.

The svelte Alfa Romeo Nuvola, named in honour of racing legend Tazio Nuvolari, sadly never went past the concept stage. It had an early application of LED lighting technology with its tail-lights. The iridescent blue colour (nuvola blue) would become available on the 147, 156 and 166 as an option.

The face of the W220 S Class was previewed with the F200 Imagination concept, which was controlled by so-called side sticks that could be moved from driver to front passenger. The electro-transparent glass roof would make an appearance later in the ill-fated Maybach series.

Geneva 1997

Mini’s Sprititual (two-door) and Spiritual Too (four-door) concepts had a very different mechanical layout compared to the original Mini for which they were proposed conceptual replacements. The engine – an 800cc three cylinder – was rear mounted and both Spirituals were rear wheel drive. As BMW would take the Mini brand into a different direction soon after we will never know if these Spirituals would have been a success.

Inspired in part by the 1940 dual-cowl Newport Parade car, the Chrysler Phaeton concept certainly made an impression with its 132 inch wheelbase and 22 inch wheels. Power came from a 5.4 Litre V12.

Almost twenty years before the Stelvio would see the light of day, Bertone presented an Alfa Romeo SUV concept with the SportUt. It was based on the 145 platform, so markedly more compact than the current offering.

Tokyo 1997

With its 1600cc twin-turbo V8 developing 250 Bhp and no doubt very light weight, the Suzuki C2 concept would most probably have been a highly entertaining drive; unfortunately it was never heard from again after the show closed its doors. Ditto for the Subaru Elten which was a cute retro reincarnation of the old 360. Considering how successful Fiat would be ten years later with its new 500 perhaps Subaru missed a chance here.

The amount of girls posing with the cars (whether you liked it or not) was simply staggering – here is a new group apparently receiving their marching orders. Japan is of course also the land of the endearing and often clever Kei-cars. The Daihatsu Midget has always been one of my favourites….

Geneva 1998

Plenty of hoopla, complete with a real-life Spirit of Ecstasy, surrounded the launch of the Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph. I appreciate the car more now than I did at the time; a sign of maturing taste perhaps?

This MGF Supersports -codenamed EX254- was a track day special version of the MGF with more power and a race specification suspension developed from the MGF Cup UK race series.

Paris 1998

Ferdinand Piëch himself was present in Paris to demonstrate that the amazing 6300cc W18 engine of the EB118 concept was not just a show prop. A sound difficult to put in words- very present and deep, yet civilized.

Giorgetto Giugiaro was contracted to style the first VW-owned Bugatti; the classic horseshoe-shaped grille and the centre crease on roof and bootlid referred to classic Bugattis. Apparently the EB118 was entirely production ready but it was decided to change course towards a more supercar-oriented direction in future.

Geneva 1999

Beauty is of course in the eye of the beholder but I could not find myself agreeing with that year’s Bertone Alfa Romeo concept, even if it was named Bella, revolving on its stand turntable.

The world would still have to wait quite some time before the long awaited new large Citroën eventually arrived in the showrooms. Nevertheless, the C6 Lignage concept showed enough promise to satisfy the appetite of those in waiting.

Frankfurt 1999

Herr Piëch was again to be seen and heard, now introducing the Concept D -more or less a five-door hatchback Phaeton prototype styled under the direction of Hartmut Warkuss – complete with a classical orchestra playing live music especially composed for the occasion. The engine was a V10 TDI Diesel, powering all four wheels through a 4Motion transmission with a six speed Tiptronic gearbox.

There were faint echoes of the Concept D’s rear end styling to be recognised in the later Bugatti 16C Galibier Concept.

Here ends the tour. I do have more photos, but twenty years seems like a fitting minimal timespan to justify the term nostalgia, and with at least a semblance of normal life beginning to reappear at our (local) horizons, it might also be a good time to resume normal service in other respects.

Author: brrrruno

Car brochure collector, Thai food lover, not a morning person before my first cup of coffee

29 thoughts on “Show and Tell (Part Four)”

  1. Good morning Bruno. That’s certainly an eclectic selection for your final motor show trawl in this very enjoyable series. The 406 Toscana was very strange. Was it intended to be amphibious? Otherwise, those high sills are inexplicable.

    I followed the link to Eóin’s piece on it and was shocked to read him describing the M People song that accompanied the UK TV advert for the regular 406 as “turgid”. That was/is one of my all-time favourite car advertisements, hugely cheesy, but I knew exactly what they were trying to achieve, appealing to our more noble instincts:

    It’s probably just as well VW pulled the plug on the Bugatti EB118. I mean, just look at it:

    That grille on the front wing is laughably crude and the overall shape is just a formless blob.

    By comparison, the VW Concept D is rather interesting in an uber-Passat/Panamera way:

    1. I always liked the fastback look of the original Concept D – it felt right and distinctive as a VW. I remember Car reviewing the resultant Phaeton in a group test with intended rivals and concluding that while it was a good effort on VW’s part, there was no single area that it distinguished itself from an S-Class/7/XJ/LS/A8. I think if they had been more confident with the original concept shape, it may have stood out better and attracted an audience; admittedly probably smaller than from the broader luxury large sedan niche it ultimately played in, but there it seems it ended up attracting almost no-one.

    2. I agree, Martin. At least as a hatchback it would have offered something different, like the Panamera would later do, rather than be just another luxury saloon, albeit without the appropriate badge. Moreover, I’ve always thought the Phaeton’s rear door frame and C-pillar looked unsatisfactory, with that sharp downward change in direction in an otherwise smooth arc forming the DLO:

      It would have worked better with a third light in the C/D pillar, but that would have been too similar to the A8.

    3. Daniel: agreed. The DLO is unsatisfactory and like the Rover 75´s headlamps, looked liked a last minute change. The bigger question is why they wanted a VW like this when VAG had the A8.

    4. Because of Ferdinand Piech.

      Or, more precisely and allegedly, because Mercedes had broken some kind of gentleman’s agreement by launching the A-class, to which VW reciprocated courtesy of the Phaeton. To be honest, I never quite bought this theory, and rather believe it was just Piech being Piech, but someone, somewhere should know.

    5. Why would Volkswagen would want to sell the Phaeton?

      Firstly, why not? Why should a brand be excluded from a segment, just based on a badge? Admittedly, it results in a heck of a brand stretch, across the range. That approach assumes ones seeS each brand within VWG as competing with each other, to some extent.

      Secondly, as a low volume, high tech car, it’s a useful test bed for future technology.

      Some have also said it was Volkswagen’s revenge on some other premium German marques having moved downmarket.

    6. Daniel – the problem is it just becomes an Audi with those changes. I recall that the C-pillar was reworked right up until the last moment – prototypes were snapped where the only camouflaged piece was that area of the car. The result delivered distinctive within the VAG portfolio, but a compromise to the overall design.

      The DLO of the Concept D however is lovely – a little bit of Hofmeister kinkiness going, but overall a lovely graceful well resolved shape and a backseat washed with daylight.

    7. “backseat washed with daylight” … What a nice thought! Totally unthinkable today, in the era of ever slimmer windows, C-pillar madness and ‘privacy glass’.

    8. Hi Martin, I certainly agree that my six-light Phaeton is too Audi-ish for comfort, so that’s why I attempted the four-light one. The Concept D, with a bit of Porschefication, would have made a rather better Panamera than the, er, Panamera (well, the Mk1 at least).

  2. You could say the Slalom´s tail-lights were inspiration for the Ford Focus. And the way the roof and DLO meet at a point might inspired the Renault Koleos concept car.
    Peugeot´s Toscana is useless: they only had remove the roof and make it a straight convertible. If they´d made they would have sold 15,000 a year pretty much indefinitely. There´s always room in Europe for a steady supply of mid-price convertibles.

  3. AR missed a good chance with their compact CUV. Here was a classic case of relevance versus continuity. It could very well have saved the brand. But the continuity group won the day, imagining that the CUV would perhaps damage the brand. Ah, hindsight.
    We´ve discussed the Spiritual a lot. Somewhere, retired, in a nice garden in the Midalnds or Bavaria is an old chap who put the seal on the decision to shelve the concept and go with a FWD car as we know it.

  4. This is a great series, thanks brrrruno. So may cars that I liked at the time but forgot about – the Subaru Elten being one of them.

    Stand-outs for me are the Spiritual twins – I am surprised looking back that BMW sanctioned Rover showing them as, for me, they made the eventual production car look conservative and predictable.

    Also nice to see the C6 Lignage – it is, of course, a nicer thing than the eventual production C6 (as was the C3 concept shown at the same time), but Citroen did a decent job of turning it into the production car, especially given the limitations of sharing platforms and components with cheaper PSA models.

    1. Mention of the Spiritual concepts is always a good excuse to revisit this gem from Sniffpetrol’s ‘This bit’s actually true’ section:

      “During the design showdown for the new Mini, Rover’s Gaydon studio presented two full size models, the cars we now know as the Spiritual concepts. Examining the five door version, BMW management brightly noted that, if the three door was the ‘Mini’, then this one could be the ‘Maxi’. Embarrassed Rover management had to clear their throats and explain, in the nicest possible way, why this was a chuffing stupid idea.”

  5. Thank you Brrrruno, a very interesting article.
    I did not know the lizardesque “Bella”, it has something but the grille in that position is really horrible.
    I have some doubts about the “Nuvola” and its supposed connection to Nuvolari. I see this is also presented in Wikipedia as ground for the name, however my impression is that the name only refers to the beautiful light blue hue of the car.
    The fact is that the nickname of Nuvolari was “Nivola”, and not “Nuvola”.
    He had a further newspaper nickname, “il mantovano volante”, the flying Mantuan.
    When you say “Nuvola” nobody in Italy, not even a car aficionado, thinks about Nuvolari, but about clouds.
    On the contrary when you say “Nivola” in his presence he knows at once who are you speaking of.

    1. Hello Anastasio,
      Thank you for your correction. I have to admit that Wikipedia is indeed the source from where I got the Nuvolari connection…. I gladly defer to you, being an Italian national, to know what’s what! It should serve as a reminder not to trust everything you read on Wikipedia, laudable project though it is.

  6. The Lignage never worked for me. The production car fixed the most egregious fault, the huge “ball” highlight on the rear. It also rectified the wierd progressive tilting of lines from rear to front which might have been an interesting trope on a drawing. In 3D it looked excesssive. These things are what concept cars are supposed to do, to test ideas. The Slalom still looks good though.

    1. The differences between Lignage and C6 are subtle, but substantial. The concept car was significantly informed by Lalique-like details and hence possessed an Art Nouveau flair. The production car’s alterations (implemented under Ploué, after he’d taken over from Art Blakeslee) replaced Art Nouveau with Art Deco, resulting in a more substantial, technical and heavier appearance.
      I don’t know what drove those changes, but as Ploué had previously penned the exterior of the Renault Argos, one could argue that Art Deco visuals were simply closer to the incoming chief designer’s heart.

  7. Hi Bruno,

    Thanks for this piece. I didn’t mind the Toscana, it was just a concept so I guess it wasn’t meant to be produced. I think the concept was just a style exercise meant to be salon’s eye candy on the cheap. The name Toscana was very good but not for this kind of concept I thought then. I forgot that the back was rather heavy-handed and bulky with all that metal.

    I forgot about the Slalom concept car but I think it’s full of interesting details and it’s not bad looking after all these years. The front seems to have inspired the Opel Signum much later. It’s true that the tail lights resemble those of the Focus as Richard has pointed out.

    The Citroen Bulle was endearing. There was an inofensive quality to its design that was charming. It even looked sad viewed from profile. That ‘sadness’ and humility is very Citroen-like I thought, perhaps a legacy of the 2CV’s exterior design ? I loved the Citroen coupé de plage even more. Again, it just looked endearing in my opinion.

    For how long did that woman had to take the pose of the Spirit of Ecstasy lady on stage ? That must’ve been uncomfortable after a while. The things you would do for a check huh ?

    1. One can see where the Xsara Picasso came from when you see the Bulle. Bulle is pleasing due to the relation of the proportions and details. When the style was smeared over the Picasso package it was harmed. The painted pillars were especially annoying while on the Bulle they looked cute.

    2. I really like the Bulle – especially the way the front and rear doors form one, integrated shape. The Bulle has an almost Japanese air about it, especially from the rear. I think it’s due to the small lights / retro look.

      I’ve really enjoyed this series – I had either forgotten, or not been aware of some of the concepts. Amazing how many still look good – probably a sign of good designs.

      Thank you, Bruno.

    1. Yes, it does. It’s a pity they didn’t bring that on the market. It’s the perfect 2CV successor.

  8. Really, really enjoyed this series, Bruno. Thank you. I’ve a whole new interest in shows now.

    But… I’m wondering where do concept cars end up after the shows? Surely not the crusher? And were they always driveable?
    (Love to know what happened to the Kayak!)

    1. Most concept cars stay with their respective maker.

      Every manufacturer maintains a depot for prototypes and concept cars. However, Citroen (in)famously sold off most of its concept cars a few years ago, whereas Bertone’s remaining show cars were saved by ASI right before they were supposed to be auctioned off (the Kayak being among them – it can be seen at Volandia near Milan). Pininfarina usually keeps its concept cars, unless presented with an offer too good to refuse – which is how the legendary Modulo ended up in the hands of James Glickenhaus and why the (not quite legendary) XJ12 PF was last seen in Spain, to name but two examples.

    2. Wow, thanks Christopher. I must put Milan on my travels list. And I’m very glad to hear that most are preserved for posterity.

  9. As I remember it Piech justified the Phaeton by saying that by having that at the top end of VW then the perception of VW would change and the Golf etc would move upmarket and higher prices could be charged. Quite how he could forget about Audi doing this already is beyond me, given how long he’d been there.

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