Wednesday, April 12, 2017


Concept car heaven has got to be the Geneva Salon. Every year carmakers pull out all the stops to reveal their design themes for future production cars.

Twenty years ago, both carmakers and carrozzeria might spend a million bucks on a concept that actually had no hope of making it to production – they just wanted to show that their design staffs had the required dose of talent.

The concept might be something to test consumer attitudes; or it could be a design house hoping to interest a manufacturer in 'buying' its latest ideas. However, these days, nobody, but nobody, spends a million bucks ‘on spec’.

I’ve gathered here a collection of Geneva concepts dating back to 2002 - some good, but many of the selection almost predictably, went nowhere. 
First, let’s start with a Catalan design house called A.D. Tramontana, based in Barcelona, Spain. The AD stands for advanced design, and this little number appeared at the 2002 Geneva Salon, powered by a twin-turbo V12 of no known origin, and boasted the fact that it would be on the roads in 2005, production run would be 250. So far, we’re still awaiting its release.

A special event took place in 2005, when my gorgeous Alfa Romeo 159 production car made its debut. The beautiful design was courtesy of ‘The Master’ himself – Giorgetto Giugiaro, based on an overweight, over-engineered GM chassis, intended as a Premium Platform for Saab and Opel. Both companies rejected the platform, but FIAT SpA had just initiated a series of joint ventures with GM, and needed access to a readily-available platform for the successor to the 156, so that’s where this idea ended up.

Speaking of GM, as a totally US-centric corporation, GM’s participation at Geneva was usually a function of its European operation, Opel. When it failed to come up with anything special, GM would trot out something old, something blue, etc.etc….

In 2002, it showed the Daewoo Lacetti, just after GM had re-purchased Daewoo from the bankrupt Daewoo Motor.

In 2003, failing to come up with a concept car, it airfreighted the 1951 Buick Le Sabre to Switzerland to wow the crowds. It didn’t work.

In 2005 Cadillac flew in the BLS (comically referred to as the ‘Bob Lutz Special’), which was intended to spearhead Cadillac’s triumphant return to Europe. That didn’t work either.

Oh well, there’s always the Detroit Auto Show, and we’ve got nearly a year to get ready!

In 2003 we were enduring Chris Bangle’s ‘Clamshell and Flame-Surfaced’ design themes. To celebrate, the BMW stand design team went all out highlighting the M5 sedan. Highlight may be too less of a description, the car was enveloped in a garish, crimson-lit tube, which cast its glow across the entire floor.

Before we move on to more Masterpieces in Metal, let’s talk about the weather.

The press days for the Geneva Salon are ALWAYS held on the first Tuesday and Wednesday in March.

The weather is always bitterly cold, and often it’s snowing, so I have two vivid memories of standing in the snowfall – first, waiting in the taxi line after the closing of the Salon each evening; then later standing in line to get a table at the CafĂ© de Paris, to join all the designers for a well-lubricated dinner.

In 2005 I took a group of American journalists to Geneva, with a stopover in Crewe, to visit the Bentley factory. We stayed, as per usual, at the unofficial Bentley headquarters at the historic Rookery Hall, in Nantwich (right), just 4km from the factory gates.

These photos show the weather on arrival for check-in; and the next morning – however, the weather cleared by 10am to reveal the beautiful grounds.

When visiting Crewe, Rookery Hall was my home away from home and in eight years of staying there the Room Service menu never changed! That's tradition for you.

In 2001 Bentley’s parent, VW Group, showed a ‘Ferdinand Piech Special’, the Nardo W12. The VWAG Chairman had dictated the construction of a car using the W12 intended for the Bentley Continental GT, which would showcase VW’s technological capability at building an exotic challenger to Ferrrari and Lamborghini.

The car’s design was by Giugiaro, and its technology credentials were exemplary. It completed a non-stop 24 hour run around the Nardo circuit in southern Italy, smashing a whole host of speed records. However, the VW marketing suits pointed out to Piech that despite its achievements, a 12 cylinder GT car wearing a VW badge was never going to be attractive enough to exoticar buyers. Needless to say the five cars built are gathering dust in a Wolfsburg basement.

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