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Ten 1970s concepts that should have been built

A few weeks ago asked our readers what vintage concepts they would have liked to see built. At the time, we suggested the 1501 Coupe designed and built by French coachbuilder Heuliez would have made a great addition to the Simca lineup, though it probably wouldn’t have been enough to save the company.

Your responses inspired us to take a look at ten concept cars introduced in the 1970s that we think should have been built. What one(s) did we miss out?

1. Autobianchi A112 Giovani (1973)

Pininfarina’s Autobianchi A112 Giovani concept borrowed its chassis and the bulk of its mechanical components from the A112 city car that was introduced in 1970 to counter the Austin Mini. The Giovani – a name that translates to “young” in Italian – previewed what a fun and economical convertible aimed at young buyers could look like.

The concept could have quickly been turned into a production car but Autobianchi parent company Fiat was not interested in the project.

2. BMW Asso di Quadri (1976)

The BMW Asso di Quadri concept was penned by Giugiaro at the request of coachbuilder Karman. Based on a BMW 320 (e21), it featured a realistic silhouette that was loosely inspired by both the Volkswagen Scirocco and the 2002 Touring.  The Asso di Quadri was designed to join the BMW lineup as a regular production car but the Munich-based automaker turned down the project because it was busily trying to move up a notch on the market and fight head-to-head against Mercedes-Benz.

In retrospect, a full-production coupe inspired by the Asso di Quadri could have loosely previewed the E36 and E46 Compact models sold in the 1990s and early 2000s.

3. Fiat 126 Cavaletta (1976)

Fiat toyed around with several variants of the 126 in the 1970s including a wagon inspired by the 500 Giardiniera and a front-engined, front-wheel drive version of the standard 126. One of the most interesting one-offs was the 126 Cavaletta, an open-top beach buggy intended to be used as both a work and a leisure vehicle. 

There’s no evidence the Cavaletta was ever seriously considered for mass production. However, we guess if it had been produced most of them would have been scrapped by now and clean examples would sell for a small fortune at big-name auctions.

4. Ford Corrida (1976)

The Ghia-designed Ford Corrida that debuted at the 1976 Turin Motor Show was based on the Ford Fiesta. It showcased what the sports car of the future could look like – it was efficient thanks to its small Fiesta-sourced engine, it was light thanks to aluminum body panels and it featured pneumatically-operated articulated gullwing doors.

Nearly 40 years after its debut, it’s obvious the Corrida was ahead of its time. A small, Fiesta-powered sports car became a reality in 1997 when the Puma was introduced and aluminum body panels are becoming increasingly widespread in all types of cars.

5. Honda Hondina (1970)

Zagato’s Honda Hondina was one of the first sporty kei cars ever built. It rode on the same platform as the tiny Honda N360 and used its 360cc two-cylinder engine but it featured an open-top body with an integrated roll bar and no doors.

Still in its infancy, Honda wasn’t interested in taking the Hondina past the concept stage but it perhaps remembered the concept when it designed a topless, mid-engined kei car christened Beat in the late 1980s.


6. Mercedes-Benz C111-II D (1976)

The C111-II was the latest in a series of futuristic design studies built by Mercedes-Benz in the 1970s. While early C111s used experimental Wankel rotary engines, the C111 II D was powered by a heavily-tuned variant of the 3.0-liter five-cylinder engine that was later found in the 300D (w114 / w123) and the 300SD (w116 / w126). The engine was equipped with a beefy turbocharger that helped it generate 190 horsepower.

Fitted with a lightweight fiberglass body that looked production-ready, the C111-II D could have easily been billed as a heir to the original 300 SLR had Mercedes moved ahead with production.  However, the C111 project was canned because the coupe was deemed too expensive to build. 

7. NSU Trapeze (1973)

Bertone traveled to the 1973 edition of the Paris Motor Show to present the NSU Trapeze concept. Like many of the design house’s previous show cars, the Trapeze stood out thanks to aerodynamic and futuristic wedge-shaped silhouette that was almost reminiscent of the Lancia Stratos.  It was powered by an evolution of the Ro80’s rotary engine.

NSU had spent a small fortune on developing the Ro80 but sales were disappointing because the sedan suffered from major mechanical issues. A Wankel-powered coupe wouldn’t have been enough to save NSU because it would have suffered from the same mechanical issues as the Ro80 – at any rate, we don’t think the Trapeze was ever a serious candidate for production.

8. Peugeot 104 Peugette (1976)

Like the aforementioned Autobianchi A112 Giovani, the Peugeot 104 Peugette was designed by Pininfarina as an affordable convertible aimed primarily at young buyers. Pininfarina was desperately trying to land a production contract so it built the Peugette on a mostly stock 104 platform using mechanical components sourced from the Peugeot parts bin.

The concept was well-executed but the timing was way off. In 1976, Peugeot was in the midst of taking over Citroën in order to keep it afloat so it had absolutely no interest in building a low-volume convertible.

9. Volkswagen Karmann Cheetah (1971)

The Volkswagen Karmann Cheetah was essentially a modern-looking interpretation of the Karmann Ghia. That spot in Volkswagen’s lineup was eventually assigned to the Scirocco, but the Cheetah stood out thanks to its rear-mounted engine and its removable roof panel, two attributes that it shared with the topless variant of the Ghia.

The Cheetah rode on a 1600 platform and used a stock 50-horsepower 1.6-liter flat-four. It could have been a worthy addition to the Volkswagen lineup but we imagine it stood virtually no chance because it would have been positioned too close to the Porsche 914.

10. Volvo Electric Car (1977)

If built, the unimaginatively-named Volvo Electric Car wouldn’t have been the most exciting vehicle to ever come out of Gothenburg. However, it was highly compact, efficient and innovative, meaning it probably would have sold well in big cities and it would probably have spawned competitors from other automakers.

If Volvo had given the car the green light for production, it would have beat Daimler’s smart fortwo to the punch by about two decades and it could have a steady grip on the city car market today. 

3 thoughts on “Ten 1970s concepts that should have been built

  1. Pingback: Post-production: The week in review | Ran When Parked

  2. Are you serious about the Volvo Electric Car? Tiny electric vehicles are a hard sell today, and would have been an even worse product back then. Might even have pushed a struggling carmaker over into bankcruptcy.

  3. Pingback: Four-Links – vintage Watkins Glen photos found, Z wagon revealed, ’70s | Hemmings Daily

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