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posted on April 29th, 2020

Automakers’ woulda, coulda, shoulda models of yesteryear

By the time a car makes its way to production, chances are it has been watered down from its original design. While prototypes of existing cars are interesting in themselves, what’s more exciting are the cars that never made it past the design exercise phase — the cars automakers could have produced, yet chose otherwise. Let’s take a look at some cars that showed lots of promise, but never made their way into dealership showrooms.

Dodge Copperhead

Image: Greg Gjerdingen

Technically not its official name, the Dodge “Copperhead” concept was conceived as a low buck alternative to the Viper. Instead of gargantuan power, the Copperhead used a 2.7-liter V6 paired to a five-speed manual transmission. However, wide tires and a low-slung stance meant the Copperhead concept was designed to be a backroads canyon carver. Since the Copperhead never got the green light for production, the retro styled Plymouth Prowler was about as close as buyers would get to a back-to-basics “sports” car from the Chrysler Corporation.

Ford GT90

Image: Mark Woodbury

The original GT40 may have been a tough act to follow, but that didn’t stop Ford from trying. During the 1990s, the SVT arm of Ford decided it was going to build a contender for the ultimate supercar crown. Taking advantage of Ford’s ownership of Jaguar, much of the GT90’s chassis and suspension components came from the famed XJ220, along with its gearbox. However, powering Ford’s prototype beast was a quad turbo 6.0-liter V12, claimed to produce around 720 horsepower and capable of a top speed of over 250 mph. The exterior was just as wild with its odd mix of curves and extreme angles, plus an oh-so-’90s blue interior. Ford teased the public that it planned to produce the GT90, but only got as far as the single prototype. It wasn’t until 2005 when Ford finally revisited the idea of a supercar with the retro-inspired GT.

BMW E31 M8

When the original 8 Series was still in production, BMW was secretly planning to build a supercar killer out of their flagship coupe. The 850CSi was a quick car in its own right, but the original M8 prototype was going to be an outright animal. Under the hood was a 6.1-liter DOHC V12 producing around 550 horsepower — naturally aspirated of course. The M8’s exterior featured aggressively flared fenders, and it didn’t even have proper headlights. After running the numbers though, BMW scrapped the project since it would be way too expensive to put on sale, and for many years people didn’t even know that the sole M8 prototype even existed.

Nissan MID4

Nissan has made a variety of interesting cars, but did you know they built a prototype mid-engined sports car? The MID4 served as Nissan’s rolling science experiment, packing all the company’s technology into a single car. Power came from the 300ZX V6, which sent power to all four wheels utilizing the ATTESA system that would make its way into production vehicles such as the R32 Skyline GT-R. Interestingly enough, Nissan followed up with a second iteration of the MID4 in the late 1980s, utilizing the upcoming 300ZX’s twin-turbo V6 engine, along with styling cues that would make their way to other 1990s Nissan and Infiniti models.

Pontiac Banshee

Lots of people have their opinions of John DeLorean, but there’s no denying his legacy within the automotive industry. While DeLorean added some serious performance to the Pontiac model lineup during the 1960s, it was his Banshee XP-833 project that would have been a gamechanger for GM. Designed to be a two-seater sports car with an optional V8 powerplant, the Banshee weighed about 500 pounds less than the Corvette, which probably meant it would have outperformed it as well. General Motors wasn’t going to allow the Banshee to dethrone the Corvette in both performance and sales, so two functioning prototypes were as far as the Banshee would ever get to hitting the streets. In an interesting twist of fate, the Banshee project eventually evolved into the C3 Corvette.

Joey is usually thinking about one thing: cars, cars, and did we mention cars? If he’s not talking about cars, chances are he’s tinkering under the hood of his old E30 BMW.