Exemples of "Concept car" versus "Show car&qu

I’m writing a master tesis for a course i’m doing part time in addition to my work.
I have a specific example where I would like to oppose “Show cars” to “Concept cars”.

To me Show cars were explorations of form. And Concept cars exploration of a different idea.

As this can seem rather close I’m asking for some help to pick the best examples. What do you think ?

I was thinking GM Experimental Firebirds I, II and III as “Show cars” as they were optimistic “Cars of tomorrow” stylisticaly influenced by the novelty of jets and future space travel.

But what about the best example of a “Concept cars” ?


Probably this.

I think your definitions are a bit off… at least from my vernacular…

a “Concept Car” is any car sketched, modeled, prototyped, even produced in a very small number that never makes it to large scale production for the public. these are the crazy, interesting, wild cars “of tomorrow”. These help brands look forward, see into the future, take ideas and concepts from these cars and refine them into their line. Thinking outside the box so they can evolve with the industry.

a “Show Car” is a car at a car show.
for example; a completely stock 1987 production model Firebird owned by your neighbor Jerry who smokes cigars is a “show car”. a totally custom 1942 totally hot-rodded Ford truck modified by Shelby himself is also a “show car”. Show cars are just that. Cars at a show. Anything, everything, except if it is a concept car. any designs, concepts, or modifications done to a show car are not made with potential plans to add them to a product line of vehicles, they are for the owner satisfaction.

(the BMW pictured above is a Concept Car. 99.999% chance it will never hit production. this car can go to car shows, but its still a concept car. maybe they really liked the headlights on this concept, so they will add them to the next new line of BMWs for example.)

terminology will vary depends on who you ask. To me coming from a hobby customizing cars, a show car is made for the show circuit. It’s something to look at on a pedestal. A concept car to me is a what-if scenerio of what could or potentially be manufactured, and if it does get the green light it would most likely look nothing like it.

Concept cars (to me) are usually design practice for the companies to flex their designing capabilities muscles and get a feel of what the public thinks (as a whole or to show case 1 specific part like the engine or some new technology equipment). Concepts are mainly made by the major companies (Ford, etc) to test the waters of future possibilities. A show car is a one-off, made for show like a piece of art; usually made by hand-made car garages like Chip Foose, Boyd, etc… and by back yard hobbyist like myself.

Taylor is dead on.

As an example, the cars at the SEMA show are mostly show cars. Production, or pre production vehicles with some extra bits, mods and tricks.

While that BMW is probably one of the PERFECT examples of the concept car… so conceptual, BMW didn’t even show it to the general public for something like 5 years. It did what concept cars are supposed to do, change their design direction. The first Oldsombile Aura started life that way. It was a concept car that sat in the hallway at GM headquarters for years. The public never saw it until the decided to put it into production… too little too late for Oldsmobile, but you can see its influence on the MErc CLS and all the other “4 door coupes” now coming to market a decade later.

Thanks for the feed back. I have some language limits here.
Wasn’t thinking of a “show car” just as a “car-at-a-show” at all. Ok then.

I was trying to underline the evolution from Art department or Style department at automakers to Design department. Or rather trying to separate the “fantasies” from the “thinking”. The “gorgeous” from the “clever”

For example : I’ve seen a thousand concept cars with no roof and surfboards “made to go to the beach”. When you have no idea for the next show put a surfboard on your car.
Same with mountain bikes more recently.

Or they has been so many “a car with the open air attitude of a motorbike”. Yeah.
A bike is slim, so you can zoom between cars. An open “moto-car”, as wide as any other, can’t. So you’re just stuck under the rain.
Round section tires look cool on motorbikes but aren’t very clever when you can’t roll the machine.
A motorbike is s3xy because of the incredible weight-to-power ratio. A car, even stripped down, is heavier than a motorbike. Etc, etc…

So not many show cars qualifies for me as truly “new concepts”. I’ve some ideas of vehicles who brung a novel approach :
The Smart two seater
The BMW C1 “no helmet” city motorbike
The family oriented 1998 Fiat Multipla 3seats + 3seats (ugly…)
The Piaggio mp3, the first three wheeler with the ability to roll as a motorbike
Of course the Toyota hybrids

Sorry those are mainly european examples. But they are rather production cars. I’m oriented to pick the 1933 Buckminster Fuller Dimaxion car for the moment.
With this precisions what kind of concept car would you pick ?

what about this then?

Thanks yo.
I didn’t knew Gina was kept secret for so long. That’s very interesting. Not showing this exploratory exercice gives it a truly different flavor. It’s feels so much like something precious that needs to be treasured and kept hidden, as a patent for example.

Quite unusual I think ? 99.9% of the concept cars are showed or I am wrong ? Is there somebody from the car industry (or close to) who could give me some feedback about this particular point ?

(I’m not talking about rejected production cars projects, of course)

I’ve been watching this thread for a while and have bit a bit confused by the OP, but I think I now get the gist of it. Perhaps a better way to explain what I think you are to do is to look at concept cars in two different streams-

  1. Those that are focused on a styling exercise (as most of those 60’s concepts, Lambos, Betones, Pinafarina, etc.).

  2. Those that are focused on a platform, engineering, or construction/material idea (like the Gina, original Smart, the C1, etc.)

Is that what you are going for? I think the terms show car and concept car are not relevant if I read the post over again…both of the above are in fact concept cars, but have a different root goal (styling vs. engineering), though both are certainly designed (I’m only using the term engineering as an identifier).


I’m sorry, I had to post this here, WTF. Halfway through, I thought to myself, is this an SNL spoof? The features, they never end… Concept car, Pontiac, RIP.

Agree with above post, an automobile is a genre in it’s own, too many types of style design/categories in general so putting them in major sub categories maybe a good start to ask the right questions or to get a more specific thesis statement to start off with or at least narrow down what specific type of concept cars you’re considering instead of all types of concepts cars.

Electric/hybrid/“green” cars, exotic/speed/performance, economy, technology, retros, SUV/offroad/crossovers/trucks, etc etc. What maybe important factors in one styling may not be important at all in another; so comparison to all types at once may not give the best overall answer to the question.

But Wait, there’s more… LOL. The Stinger was awesome back in the day. Pontiac might have had a different fate if they were making stuff like this in the early 90’s… of course, the quality wasn’t there at the time, so maybe it would have had no effect.

Oh my!

Never seen that Stinger before. Funny thing is, with all the included options it actually seems very Pontiac. Kinda foreshadows the Aztec even that had a built in tent, cooler, extra chairs, wash down interior, flashlight, etc… It really is sooooo GM/American in the line of thinking that more is better. I’d have loved to see the Design Brief for that from marketing… I can only wonder what options marketing wanted that weren’t included?

  • built in table-saw
  • escalator
  • removable engine cover to turn it into a BBQ
  • Aqua boat conversion, natch
  • lawnmower attachment
  • door panels double as surfboards
  • steering wheel can be used a frisbee


The best also is how much the interior actually still looks like a new Pontiac. All roundy and plasticky…

hmmm… funny we couldn’t see GM going down the tubes…


  • Thanks to all, and to rkuchinsky, you summed up what I wanted to say, and my choice of word was misleading. My tesis is not at all about cars this is just a couple of phrases in it, but I wanted it right. Thanks god I’m not writing it in english !

  • And by the way… I loved the Stinger as a teenager ! :blush: Had seen superb photos of it in Road and Track (or rather another magazine, a quarterly I think, with always very good pictures like Colani record cars at dusk). Couldn’t remember the name but I would have liked to pinpoint in my post this one as a rather good Beach Car concept… It had neoprene snorkeling suit material for the seats like 10 years before Marc Newson Embryo chair !
    Of course the still pictures weren’t as ridiculous as this endless commercial-like list of features.

  • One last thing, somebody certainly knows, do you remember the very fast all streamlined swiss-made bike ? Was made by a small company in very small numbers in the 80’s. Had retractable little wheels so not to fall on the side when stopping as the legs were inside the “fuselage”. Can’t remember the name.

  • I’m still interested if someone knows more about Gina-like “secret concept cars”