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75 years of concept cars
For charity, concept cars from the 1930s to today are brought together.
June 27, 2003: 2:23 PM EDT
By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNN/Money Staff Writer

New York (CNN/Money) - More than 125 concept cars and trucks, with examples from all three U.S. automakers, were brought together on Sunday for the 16th annual Eyes on Design Automotive Exhibit at the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Mich.

The cars featured included 1938 with the Buick Y-Job, often cited as the first real concept car. Also included were the 1959 Cadillac Cyclone and the 1963 Chrysler Turbine car.

The exhibition was part of an annual "Eyes on Design" weekend with events organized to raise money for the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology. Many of the cars on display were privately owned models that had not been seen in public for years.

An estimated 14,000 people attended the show, according to GM, which sponsored the events this year. Classic production cars were also on display.

Dreams and concepts

The term "concept car" didn't enter common usage until the mid-1960s, said Mitchel Frumkin, co-author with Phil Hall of the book "American Dream Cars." Before then, they were called "dream cars."

Car designer Harley Earl, head of the General Motors Design Center from 1927 to 1958, is generally credited with the notion making one-off cars to test public reaction to new styling and engineering ideas. Earl even used the Buick Y-Job and the later Le Sabre dream cars as his own everyday vehicles.

The 1950s became a sort of golden age of dream cars, Frumkin said. Car companies competed to catch the eyes of ever-more selective buyers. Shoppers wanted to know that the cars they were buying had the latest technological thinking behind them, even if many of the ideas would never find their way into dealer showrooms.

Often they did, though, according to Frumkin. The Chevrolet Corvette debuted as a concept car in 1953. Following an overwhelmingly positive public response the car was manufactured and on sale within a matter of months.

With the demands of government safety regulations and uncertainties in international oil markets, auto companies became more conservative in their concept vehicles during the 1970s and early 1980s. During that time, concept cars were often little more than slightly modified production vehicles, Frumkin said.

More recently, though, Detroit has been becoming creative again. "We're kind of seeing a new renaissance, I think," said Frumkin.

The cars shown in the accompany photo gallery were included in the show.  Top of page




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