The Encyclopedia of Obscure Concept and Show Cars: Part Three – Honda to Mercury

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber
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 here. Part 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?
Try and see if you can recall the Infiniti Triant from 2003.
Chrysler recycled the Jeepster name for this 1998 concept, which you may actually remember.
Quite a number of die cast model companies and brands, including Maisto, Hot Wheels, Matchbox, and Tonka have produced toys and models of the Jeepster. If you’re a member of Generation Y, you may just remember the Jeepster.
Along 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.
I 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.
The 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.
I 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.
When 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”.
Then 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?
Now 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.
The 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.
When 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.
The 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.
Less memorable was the Mercury Mystique, another suppository shaped minivan.
Before there was Ford One, there was the Mercury One, a joint project of Mazda and Mercury.
Somehow 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
Ronnie Schreiber
Ronnie Schreiber

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, the original 3D car site.

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  • Lie2me Lie2me on Apr 18, 2013

    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

  • Corntrollio Corntrollio on May 17, 2013

    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.

  • Michael Gallagher I agree to a certain extent but I go back to the car SUV transition. People began to buy SUVs because they were supposedly safer because of their larger size when pitted against a regular car. As more SUVs crowded the road that safety advantage began to dwindle as it became more likely to hit an equally sized SUV. Now there is no safety advantage at all.
  • Probert The new EV9 is even bigger - a true monument of a personal transportation device. Not my thing, but credit where credit is due - impressive. The interior is bigger than my house and much nicer with 2 rows of lounge seats and 3rd for the plebes. 0-60 in 4.5 seconds, around 300miles of range, and an e-mpg of 80 (90 for the 2wd). What a world.
  • Ajla "Like showroom" is a lame description but he seems negotiable on the price and at least from what the two pictures show I've dealt with worse. But, I'm not interested in something with the Devil's configuration.
  • Tassos Jong-iL I really like the C-Class, it reminds me of some trips to Russia to visit Dear Friend VladdyPoo.
  • ToolGuy New Hampshire