By on April 17, 2013

Continuing with our look at long forgotten (and some not so long forgotten, but forgotten just the same) concept and show cars from the major automobile manufacturers. Part One, Acura to Chevrolet, is herePart two, Chrysler to Ford, is here.

Sure, once you see it, the Honda SSM (Sports Study Model), first shown at the Tokyo show in 1995 and styled by Pininfarina, was obviously the concept for what became the S2000 roadster. The question is do S2000 fans even remember the SSM?

InfinitiTriantConcept@2003Web22Try and see if you can recall the Infiniti Triant from 2003.

JeepJeepsterConcept@1998Web22Chrysler recycled the Jeepster name for this 1998 concept, which you may actually remember.

JeepsterToysQuite a number of die cast model companies and brands, including MaistoHot WheelsMatchbox,  and Tonka have produced toys and models of the Jeepster. If you’re a member of Generation Y, you may just remember the Jeepster.

JeepVarsityConcept@2000Web33Along with the Jeepster, the Varsity concept from 2000 made Hooniverse’s list of Jeep’s top 25 concept vehicles (not included on the list were the very cool Mighty FC cabover “forward control” truck and the JC-12 pickup concepts from last year). Jeep does indeed have a history of cool concepts, but I wouldn’t call the Varsity as memorable as the twin Hemi powered Hurricane that could turn on its own axis.

41914-500-0I don’t know if the 1969 Jeep XJ-001 concept is what convinced American Motors to buy Jeep from Kaiser the following year, or not. Jeep had been buying AMC engines for a while and when they decided to build their own version of a muscle car, with a custom fiberglass body on a CJ-5 chassis, they dropped in an AMC 360 cubic inch V8.

jeep_concepts_1969_wallpapers_1The XJ-001 is actually notable in Jeep history as it introduced one of the earliest full-time four wheel drive systems, which they called “Quadritrac”. That would morph into Quadra Trac when the system was first offered for sale in 1973.

KaiserSafari@1951CASI can’t imagine where ever Kaiser got the idea to name this 1951 concept the “Safari”. Seriously though, I’m pretty sure they got the idea to use fur and zebra skins from the Cadillac Debutante the year before. The car companies were lucky there was no PETA then.

Lincoln_MacheteWhen I saw this photo of this Lincoln concept from 1988, I said, “what a cool car”. Lincoln has a history of making concept cars that, years later, enthusiasts say, “now that’s a car that Lincoln should have made”.

LincolnMachete@1988Web22Then I saw what they named it. In what alternate universe is the brand Lincoln associated with the word machete? If it had gone into production, would they have gotten Danny Trejo to do their ads?

MercedesBenz_F300LifeJet@1998Web22Now that Morgan has brought back the Three Wheeler, with the blessings of Baruth, and Polaris is about to introduce the Slingshot reverse trike, perhaps Mercedes-Benz should put the F300 Life Jet leanable trike concept from 1998 into production. I wonder if they paid any royalties to Fritz Fend‘s family.

Concept Cars - Mercury MC4The Mercury brand had some exciting show cars. Perhaps if some of them had gone into production, the brand might still be here with us today. The MC4 concept was based on a 1996 Thunderbird (Sajeev take note). The car’s designer, the late John Hartnell, gave it both suicide doors and de Tomaso Mangusta style rear center-opening hatches (with integral taillights). That combination alone should have made it a memorable concept car but memory can be fickle.

srill_sw_s16_1130353456_97mercury_mc4_2When Ford sold off some of their corporate collection of concept cars in 2002 to raise money for charity and celebrate FoMoCo’s centennial, the pre-sale estimate on the MC4 was $60,000-$120,000 with no reserve. It was hammered off at $645,500, the second highest sale price at that auction You may not remember it, but someone sure did. I bet his wife remembers the auction too.

MercuryMessenger@2003Web33The Mercury Messenger wowed the critics in 2003, so it’s not really that obscure, but does anyone think that Mercury dealers would have known what to do with a sporty two seater? It was supposed to be Mercury’s new brand look, which lasted until the Messenger was retired from the show circuit.

A great looking car but is there anything about it that says “Mercury”? Part of the problem is the name. Who calls a two seat sports coupe with a V8 engine the Messenger? For gosh sakes, this was a company that made cars called the Eliminator and the Marauder. Lincoln shows a Machete and Mercury shows a Messenger? Boy, Ford really got its brands messed up before Mulally turned things around. Besides, the Messenger was based on the Mustang, they should have called it the Cougar.

MercuryMystiqueConcept@91Web22Less memorable was the Mercury Mystique, another suppository shaped minivan.

MercuryOneConcept done with mazda@1989Web223Before there was Ford One, there was the Mercury One, a joint project of Mazda and Mercury.

MercuryPalomarRear@62Web22Somehow the name Mercury Palomar isn’t quite right. I know there’s an observatory on Mount Palomar and Mercury is indeed an astronomical body, but the car brand is named after the god, not the planet, so you end up with a car that’s actually named after a god and a mountain, not a planet and and observatory as the marketers guessed. The inspiration for the Palomar’s name was obviously the retractable roof, just like an observatory has. The inspiration for the roof itself was possibly from South Bend, not outer space. Well, sort of. In 1959, Brooks Stevens, who would later design the similarly featured Wagonaire and other Studebakers, designed three concepts cars called the Scimitar for the Olin Matheson Chemical Corp. to demonstrate the functional and decorative use of aluminum. One of the Scimitars was a station wagon with a retractable roof that let you carry tall items. The retractable roofed wagon is one of those ideas that pops up from time to time on concept and production vehicles most recently with the 2004 GMC Envoy XUV.

Continued in part 4 tomorrow, Mitsubishi to Plymouth.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks – RJS

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17 Comments on “The Encyclopedia of Obscure Concept and Show Cars: Part Three – Honda to Mercury...”


  • avatar
    grzydj

    That Mercury One is a perfect vehicle for those of us who prefer to drive with out top hats on whilst driving. Oh Jeeves, henceforth bring me my monocle thus quickly I say old chap.

    • 0 avatar
      Skink

      Not so much a lot of headroom but rather a very low beltline. It has the same proportions as the mid-eighties Civic sedan.

      • 0 avatar
        grzydj

        Judging where the top of the steering wheel is from the top of the roofline, it appears to have about the same amount of headroom as a cross between the Toyota Echo and the Scion xB.

        Wheel arches to the top of the top of the window openings and hoodline are about inline with cars of that era. I think it’s a really high roofline and normal beltline. Jalopnik favorite “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar” favorite, “Maximum GM Bob Lutz” would have hated this car.

        It made my monocle pop out upon seeing it.

  • avatar

    This S2000 fan does indeed remember the SSM. I actually prefer the S2000 to the SSM, even.

  • avatar
    dolorean

    Wished I never saw that gorgeous Messenger. Mercury could’ve named it the Turdlinger, or worse the Juke, and I’d still rapturously defend her honor. Bitter that I’m in lust with a vehicle that really should’ve been.

  • avatar
    amca

    Heavens that little Honda is pretty. Shame the production car came out less so. (But I’m noticing they’ve become highly prized cult cars of late.)

    The Mercury Palomar turns out to have had a highly raised third row of seats. Just the thing to launch unrestrained children straight out the windshield!

  • avatar
    mr_muttonchops

    The Jeep Varsity may have seemed cool, but then you have that “oh shit” moment when you recognize the design from the first generation Compass.

  • avatar
    Slow_Joe_Crow

    While it is a weak sauce name The Mercury Messenger does have some internal logic since Mercury was the messenger of the gods.
    The MC4 should have made production, the sheer awesome of suicide doors and gullwings on the same car could have saved Mercury.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    Did they keep developing the 1969 Jeep XJ-001 concept? I had a 1/24th scale model of it, but with an updated front end and less chrome. I clearly remember the entire back treatment with the mystery roll bar that wouldn’t even save the seats, let alone the occupants of the vehicle.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I bet Mercedes-Benz wishes it had built that F300 Life Jet before they wound up depending on a demographic of people that are in their sixties and above. I remember it from one of those concept-car books I got as a kid, and it looked like it’d be a lot of fun…

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    this concept car series has really been a hoot. The Jeep XJ-001 really got my attention considering the recent flak over the new Cherokee… Except for the introduction of the “Quadritrac” this “Jeep” would have put the purists into a tailspin from which they’d never recover

  • avatar
    corntrollio

    Anyone else see a hint of Sable in that Lincoln Machete?

    Speaking of which, that Mercury Messenger is interesting. It almost looks like a Z from the front and an R8 from the back. Too bad they never built that one — it could have even been the Lincoln Mark IX if done right.

    I thought Dodge Caliber/Jeep Compass for that Jeep concept.


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