Imagine you’re one of 12 people who’ve already laid down £1.5 million-plus to own one of Bentley’s magnificent ‘continuation series’ 1929-style 4.5-litre Blowers. You’ve already bought your car, but it’s just four months into a two-year gestation and very little of it yet exists. But later this year Bentley Motors’ bespoke car operation, Mulliner, will ask you to decide some vital details of your car’s specification – and one in particular will entail a bizarre but crucial choice.
Your car is going to be a perfect, reverse-engineered replica of one of the four special racing Blowers built by Sir Henry ‘Tim’ Birkin, greatest of the pre-war Bentley Boys, chosen to make a racing team from a homologation batch of 50. Bentley has already begun dismantling ‘Team Blower’ No2 to provide data for this exotic exercise. Pretty soon they’ll be assembling hardware.
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© Autocar Every part of the original Blower is being digitised Then the key question: do you want your car’s floorboards to show wear marks from the racing boots of Birkin and Co who drove these cars in period? Or do you want them flat and pristine? Either option is available: so microscopically accurate is the digital measuring process used to create the 12 new customer cars that you can have an authentic, Birkin-heel-sized depression in the wood beside the base of the accelerator, created 90 years ago by exuberant use of the pedal. It’s one of a number of tiny choices you’ll make as your car’s build proceeds, but perhaps the one that puts you closest to history. © Provided by Autocar
Although generally agreed to be the most famous Bentley of all, the 4.5-litre Blower was a model the company’s famous founder couldn’t abide. WO Bentley’s theory was that to make the car go faster you gave it a bigger engine – a theory proved by the fact that the 6.5-litre Speed Six did much better in competition than the Blower. But Birkin, who moved in the same circle as the supercharger designer Amherst Villiers, was keener on the Blower concept (which boosted power from 175bhp to 240bhp). He won the approval of the ailing company’s chairman and backer, Woolf Barnato, against WO’s opinion. The company built 50 Blowers, plus four for Birkin to modify and race, one of which was the No2 Team car in our pictures, still owned by Bentley Motors.
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Super suave GT goes on sale here with a V8 under its bonnet. Question is, could it be even better on UK roads than the W12 flagship?No need to have worried this time. I drove it up a Welsh mountain because I could, and both the primary and secondary ride were as good as anyone could reasonably expect a car like this. Nothing similar in my experience even comes close. It does feel a little more exposed in its handling though.
© Autocar Original Blowers were idiosyncratic, with many forged using differing steel grades
The Blower never won a race in its heyday and only entered 12 events (hence the continuation batch’s size), but Bentley folklore credits the Blower with a key role in a Speed Six’s win at Le Mans in 1930. The tale was that Birkin’s Blower ran so hard from the start that it “exhausted” Rudolf Caracciola’s solitary 7.0-litre Mercedes SSK, the biggest threat to a Bentley victory. Barnato’s Speed Six then took the win. But it’s likely that Birkin so badly wanted to beat Caracciola that he drove his Blower past the limit of reliability. Bentley benefited in any case, taking its fourth successive Le Mans victory.
© Autocar The devil is in the detail: nut, bolt and grommet recreation requires a part-by-part dismantling of ‘No2’ to get everything just right The Blower continuation project has been based since September at Envisage, the high-tech car creation consultancy on the outskirts of Coventry. The project’s leader is a hugely experienced Mulliner engineer, Glyn Davies, who is using a mystical combination of 2020s digital measuring equipment and his own experienced eye for old cars to decide exactly what the continuation models will be like. Once all digital information has been garnered from No2, operations will return to Mulliner HQ at Crewe, where the 12 new Blowers will be built.
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Gallery: The greatest Geneva motor show concept cars
The first Geneva motor show took place in 1905.
This year's extravaganza opens to the press - Coronavirus permitting - on Tuesday March 3rd and to the public two days later. It will be the 90th running of an event that's undoubtedly one of the highlights of the international motoring diary.
Over the past 115 years hundreds of concept cars have made their debut in Switzerland, some brilliant, some not so much. Here we take a look at 50 of the best, starting in 1960 when the concept car really started to gather momentum:
Alfa Romeo Superflow IV (1960)
Alfa Romeo entered a 6C 3000 in the 1953 Mille Miglia, driven by Juan Manuel Fangio and when that car had served its purpose as a racer it was given to Pininfarina to be turned into a show car.
The coachbuilder created a concept car called the Superflow which was shown at the 1956 Turin motor show. It was rebodied as the Superflow II for the 1956 Paris motor show, morphed into the Spider Super Sport for the 1959 Geneva show, then for the 1960 Geneva event it appeared as the Superflow IV – in which form it still exists.
Bentley duo claims epic Southern Cross Safari win
For the latest classic car news, features, buyer’s guides and classifieds, sign up to the C&SC newsletter here A last-gasp effort secured victory for British crew Keith and Norah Ashworth in their 1927 Bentley 4½ Litre Le Mans, on the inaugural Southern Cross Safari. Organised by Rally the Globe and visiting Kenya and Tanzania, the action kicked off on 15 February, the 23 crews with 19 days and 2000 miles of competition ahead of them. But it wasn’t until yesterday (5 March) in Kenya, on the rally’s final day, that the Ashworths stormed up from eighth place to grab both the lead and overall victory.
Chevrolet Testudo (1963)
In 1959 General Motors launched its rear-engined Corvair compact family saloon, and in a bid to make the car as relevant as possible for European buyers it commissioned Bertone to come up with its own interpretation. Bertone's Testudo was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro and featured a shortened wheelbase and just two seats, which were accessed by a lift-up canopy.
The Testudo survives and in 2018, 55 years after it was first shown there, the concept was displayed once again at the Geneva motor show (pictured).
Vauxhall XVR (1966)
You'd never see any Vauxhall-badged car at the Geneva show nowadays; it's always Opel that takes a stand instead. But in 1966 it was a two-seater Vauxhall XVR that was the star of the show with its incredibly swoopy lines which clothed nothing more than a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine. Three prototypes were built, one of which was a runner; just one non-runner now survives.
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Lamborghini Marzal (1967)
Designed by Marcello Gandini during his time with Bertone, the Marzal is a truly seminal concept with its ample glazing, gull-wing doors, a cabin finished in silver trim – but powered by just half of a Lamborghini V12.
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Without the space to accommodate a 4.0-litre V12, the Marzal instead featured a 2.0-litre straight-six, but the car was a runner rather than merely a static showpiece. Sold at auction in 2011, the Marzal returned to the Geneva Salon in 2018, fully restored.
Pininfarina Sigma (1969)
Supercar concepts are ten a penny, but few Formula One dream cars have been shown over the years. With deaths in Formula One a common occurrence in the 1960s, Swiss magazine Automobil Revue teamed up with Pininfarina, Ferrari, Mercedes, and Fiat to come up with a much safer F1 car design.
The result was the Sigma, which featured a driver's safety cell, a fire extinguisher system, protected fuel tanks and a safety belt. Sadly though the F1 deaths continued…
Mercedes C111-II (1970)
Mercedes produced no fewer than 16 C111s across four distinct interations. The first was shown at the 1969 Frankurt motor show, the second appeared six months later at the 1970 Geneva show. Both cars featured Wankel rotary engines, supercar styling and lightweight construction; a glassfibre bodyshell was riveted and bonded to a steel frame.
This second edition of the C111 featured a four-rotor engine rated at 350bhp, which was enough to take the car all the way to a verified 186mph, so it was no static show car.
Pininfarina Modulo (1970)
When it comes to iconic concept cars, the Ferrari Modulo by Pininfarina is somewhere near the top of the pile. With its incredible lines (it was just 940mm high), the Modulo was pure dream car with barely a nod to usability. Based on a Ferrari 512S racer, in the middle of the Modulo was a 550bhp 5.0-litre V12 that was claimed to provide a 220mph top speed – not that the car was a runner as such.
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But it is now, thanks to the efforts of current owner James Glickenhaus who bought the concept in 2014.
Volvo VESC (1972)
Throughout the 1970s car makers rolled out one experimental safety car after another and (predictably) at the vanguard of this movement was Volvo. The Swedish company revealed its Volvo Experimental Safety Car (VESC) at the 1972 Geneva show, which looked ungainly but it packed a raft of features that are almost certainly standard equipment in the car you drive today.
These included hefty crumple zones, a collapsible steering column, integral head restraints, anti-lock brakes, self-tightening seat belts, airbags front and rear, a rear-view camera and a protected fuel tank. We have much to thank the VESC for.
Pininfarina A112 Giovani (1973)
Fun cars were becoming all the rage in the late sixties and throughout the seventies, largely on the back of the popularity of the beach buggy. The result was a slew of concept fun cars such as this one produced by Pininfarina and based on the Abarth A112, so it was powered by a 58bhp 982cc four-cylinder engine.
Taking its name Giovani from the Italian word for youth, the concept had a removable hard top with all of the bodywork made from plastic.
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Dome Zero (1978)
One of the most radical concepts ever shown at Geneva, but sadly now largely forgotten, the Dome Zero was an ill-fated attempt by Japanese race car constructor Dome to enter the sports car market.
More of a prototype than a concept, the Dome Zero looked more radical than many dream cars but it was fitted with a 2.8-litre straight-six Nissan engine rated at just 143bhp.
When Dome failed to secure certification to put the Zero into production it came up with the equally radical P2 aimed at the American market – but that car also failed to gain the necessary type approval.
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Ford Megastar II (1978)
The original Ford Megastar concept made its debut at the 1977 Chicago auto show; the following year its successor broke cover at the Geneva Salon. Based on Ford Europe's Taunus Sport platform, the Megastar II featured striking wedge styling and just two doors, but it was a five-seater hatch for the family of the future.
While the Megastar II's silhouette wasn't especially radical, its glasshouse was, with its teardrop-shaped profile.
Ghia Granada Altair (1980)
The (European) Ford Granada-based Altair ushered in a new decade for Ghia. Ford had merged its European operations with Ghia in 1973, almost 60 years since the Italian design house and coachbuilder had been set up.
Two inches longer than the Granada, but three inches lower and four inches wider, the Altair was fitted with just one windscreen wiper, impact-absorbent bumpers, the headlights were hidden behind a Plexiglass panel and there was also a smoked Plexiglass insert that ran below the windows in all four doors, to improve visibility to the side.
Wolfrace Sonic (1980)
Designed purely as a publicity machine for alloy wheel manufacturer Wolfrace, the Sonic was as outlandish as they come. With six wheels and two Rover V8s mounted alongside each other (driving the rear wheels via two separate gearboxes), there was drive-by-wire technology to synchronise everything.
The car caused a sensation and was everywhere for a while – including Autocar's own cover in 1981 – but then disappeared from view. But it was sold in 2015 and will hopefully surface as a runner once more.
Ghia Cockpit (1981)
Three wheelers can be either terrible or brilliant, generally depending on whether the single wheel is at the back or the front. Ford’s Ghia got it right with the Cockpit, with its twin front wheels for better stability.
Inside that aerodynamic bodyshell was seating for two in tandem, with a 200cc Vespa engine in the rear to give optimum economy in city driving. The single rear wheel was driven via a four-speed sequential automatic transmission, with reverse gear provided by running the starter motor backwards.
Audi Quartz (1981)
A year after the Audi UR Quattro was sensationally unveiled at the Geneva motor show, Pininfarina took the wraps off its own interpretation of the 200bhp four-wheel drive supercar. While the mechanicals were left intact, the bodywork was replaced by something much more modern in terms of design and construction, with lightweight Kevlar and carbonfibre used throughout.
The small headlights were the result of Carello's input and one neat feature was the use of Audi's four-ringed logo down the flanks – with the fourth ring on the driver's side hiding the fuel filler flap.
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Sbarro Super Twelve (1982)
You'll still see Franco Sbarro displaying at the Geneva motor show, his stand bearing the latest show cars created by the students of his design school. They're often wacky but few can match the bonkers designs that Sbarro himself used to come up with, the Super Twelve being typical.
While the design isn't all that ridiculous, underneath that plastic bodyshell is a pair of six-cylinder Kawasaki motorcycle engines to give 240bhp from 2.6 litres and 12 cylinders. Inside there were just two seats, along with \a full set of instruments for each powerplant.
Bertone Delfino (1983)
The Bertone Delfino (or Dolphin) may look very dated now, but it was cutting-edge when it was unveiled in 1983. Based on an Alfa Romeo Six saloon, the Delfino's key feature was its heavily tinted flush glazing.
The interior was similarly radical, with a bank of switchgear stretching from the driver's door through to the centre console.
Sbarro Challenge (1985)
If the Super Twelve had seemed outlandish, it was nothing compared with the Challenge that made its debut three years later. Sbarro would follow up the Challenge with two sequels, one in 1986 and the other in 1987. This Challenge is arguably the most outlandish of the lot, with its accentuated monobox wedge profile, scissor doors and twin rear wings to aid high-speed stability.
In the middle was a 5.0-litre Mercedes-sourced V8 and with a drag co-efficient of just 0.26, the Challenge was claimed to be capable of 180mph.
Citroën Eole (1986)
Based on Citroën XM mechanicals complete with hydropneumatic suspension, the Eole was a study in aerodynamics first and foremost. As such there was flush glazing and lighting, and the wheels were hidden behind spats that turned when necessary, but remained flush if the front wheels weren't on much lock.
The front section of the roof was glazed and inside there were treats galore to keep passengers amused; these included a TV, video games console, hi-fi and computer.
Italdesign Kensington (1990)
In 1990 the Jaguar XJ had been in production for more than 20 years, albeit with two facelifts along the way; the Kensington was Italdesign's attempt to modernise Jaguar's flagship model.
Based on a Series 3 XJ12 platform, so powered by a 5.3-litre V12 engine, the Kensington looked great if not quite as timeless as the Series 3. Jaguar opted out and Italdesign instead borrowed parts of the design for the Daewoo Leganza.
Pininfarina Chronos (1991)
The Lotus Opel Omega (Vauxhall Carlton in the UK) was nothing less than an engineering tour de force with its 377bhp twin-turbo 3.6-litre straight-six, which drove the rear wheels via six-speed manual gearbox.
So it was the perfect donor for a fully fledged supercar, which is exactly what the Pininfarina-design Chronos was. The two-seater featured kevlar bodywork to slash 200kg from the Omega's kerb weight – which meant a top speed of 190mph was on the cards.
Opel Twin (1992)
Concept cars can often be rather derivative, but the Opel Twin certainly wasn't. This neatly styled monobox city car featured a centrally positioned driver's seat, with space for two passengers behind, set either side. The Twin's piece de resistance though was its modular powertrain arrangement, with a removable hub fitted at the back.
This could be fitted with either an 800cc three-cylinder petrol engine or a pair of electric motors; the hubs were interchangeable so Twin owners could switch between petrol or electric power within a few minutes.
Aston Martin Lagonda Vignale (1993)
Ford acquired a stake in Aston Martin in 1987, which is why this concept was based on the platform of a 1990 Lincoln Town Car. As a result it was fitted with a 4.6-litre V8 that drove the rear wheels via a four-speed automatic gearbox.
Designed by Moray Callum - brother of former Jaguar design chief Ian Callum - and featuring a composite bodyshell, three examples of the Lagonda Vignale were produced, including one with a 5.9-litre V12 engine, as seen in the DB9. That car was sold to the Sultan of Brunei in 1995 – and hasn't been seen since.
Bugatti EB112 (1993)
Bugatti's plan was to put a saloon car into production to complement its EB110 supercar. Giorgetto Giugiaro's Italdesign was commissioned to come up with something and the rather droopy EB112 was the result, with a front-mounted 6.0-litre V12.
Within two years of the EB112's unveiling Bugatti had gone bust and the assets were sold on. These included three EB112s, two of which were turned into running examples.
Renault Racoon (1993)
Take a helicopter, remove the rotor blades, then fit a set of wheels attached via the most complex suspension system imaginable – and you have the three-seater Renault Racoon, which answered a question that nobody had ever asked.
Amphibious and capable of being lifted by that ultra-complex suspension, the Racoon was powered by a twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 that drove all four wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox.
Bentley Java (1994)
Bentley is one of those car makers that until recently wasn't in the habit of building concept cars, although over the years it has produced its fair share of prototypes. So when the Java was unveiled at the 1994 Geneva show it caused quite a stir, not least of all because it was pretty small for a Bentley.
It was based on a BMW 5 Series platform and looked elegant without being ostentatious. But Bentley – then owned by Rolls-Royce – didn't have the funds to develop the Java as well as its new Azure four-seater convertible.
Opel Maxx (1995)
Even now the Opel Maxx looks fresh, especially in two-door form. With its extruded alloy exoskeleton, the Maxx was a proper premium city car that came in two- and four-seater forms, each powered by a 1.2-litre Corsa engine, but for 1996 Opel unveiled the Maxx 2, which came with a more modern 973cc three-cylinder Ecotec powerplant. But sadly the Maxx project went nowhere.
Lamborghini Cala (1995)
It may have carried Lamborghini badges but the Cala was actually the fruit of Italdesign's labours. The Italian styling house created the Cala in the hope that Lamborghini might adopt the design and put the V10-powered junior supercar into production.
Sadly Lamborghini didn't have the funds to do so, but Audi would acquire the brand in 1998 and five years later it introduced its own V10 supercar – the Gallardo.
Renault Fiftie (1996)
In 1946 the Renault 4CV went on sale and would become one of the biggest-selling cars in France. Half a century later Renault unveiled the Fiftie, a tribute to the 4CV which is why it featured distinctly retro styling and an engine behind the cabin.
However, while the original car had been rear-engined, the Fiftie's 1.2-litre four-cylinder engine was mounted in the middle. The interior was filled with natural fibres such as cotton and rattan, while the roll-back roof opened up the interior.
Volkswagen W12 Roadster (1998)
The Volkswagen Group was rolling out one supercar concept after another in the late 1990s, as you'll see, with the first one unveiled at the 1997 Tokyo motor show.
That was the Italdesign-styled W12 coupé and just a few months later VW showed a Roadster edition. Both concepts were fitted with a 414bhp 5.6-litre W12 engine mounted in the middle, but whereas the coupé featured Syncro four-wheel drive, the Roadster got rear-wheel drive only. VW considered putting the W12 into production, but chose to leave such cars for the more sporting brands in its portfolio, like Bugatti.
Bentley Hunaudieres (1999)
Unveiled 80 years after Bentley's inception, this was the marque's first ever mid-engined car. Power came from a 623bhp naturally aspirated 8.0-litre W16 engine to give a 220mph top speed.
ut with Volkswagen already developing the Bugatti Veyron it made no sense to proceed with the Bentley, so we're still waiting for a Bentley production model with its powerplant mounted behind the cabin.
Bugatti EB218 (1999)
Just three years after Bugatti had gone bust, Volkswagen acquired the brand and the first thing to materialise from this was the EB118 two-door coupé at the 1998 Paris motor show.
Six months later, at the 1999 Geneva Salon, a four-door version of that car was shown, called the EB218. Just like the EB112 and EB118, the EB218 was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, with the latter two cars both featuring motive power courtesy of a 555bhp 6.3-litre W18 engine (three banks of six cylinders) that drove all four wheels.
Seat Formula (1999)
Here’s one we should have had; the Elise-like Formula, revealed in 1999. In the middle of the Formula was a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that drove the rear wheels via a six-speed sequential auto transmission.
Seat was attempting to brand itself as the sporty arm of the Volkswagen Group – a German/Spanish Alfa Romeo effectively. So a sporty little number like this would have been just the job – but sadly it wasn’t to be.
Maserati Buran (2000)
Maserati has built plenty of saloons over the years, lots of sports cars and GTs, and now it sells an SUV too. But it's never offered an MPV, which is pretty much what the Italdesign-styled Buran was – with elements of saloon and family hatch thrown in for good measure.
Fitted with a 370bhp twin-turbo 3.2-litre V8 from the 3200GT, this was the perfect way to get the kids to school in a hurry.
Citroën Osee (2000)
Pininfarina has come up with some incredible designs since it set up shop in 1930, but it's fair to say the Citroën Osée divided opinion. It was intriguing nonetheless, with its cab-forward stance and mid-mounted 3.0-litre V6 which drove the rear wheels only.
Inside there was space for three, with the driver sitting McLaren F1-style in the middle, flanked by passengers behind and to either side – although Pininfarina claimed that the inspiration for this layout actually came from another French car, the 1973 Matra-Simca Bagheera.
Kaz Eliica (2001)
Why have just four wheels when you can have eight? This utterly bizarre confection was the KAZ (Keio Advanced Zero-emission vehicle) Eliica (Electric Lithium-Ion Car) which could seat eight and despatch the 0-62mph sprint in four seconds and manage 230mph – as verified at the Nardo test circuit in 2004.
Those eight wheels were each fitted with an electric motor and a disc brake, while the front two pairs steered too.
Nissan Chappo (2001)
When Nissan unveiled the Chappo it claimed that too many cars are designed from the outside in, compromising interior packaging. The Chappo turned that on its head with its airy, spacious cabin that was intended to be a social space as much as anything – a true living room on wheels.
With its high roof and boxy lines the Chappo maximised cabin room while the seat layout could be adjusted in a multitude of ways – or they could be removed altogether.
Rinspeed Advantige R-One (2001)
Designed to be a race-bred single-seater for the road, you couldn’t accuse the R-One of being a looker. When it was unveiled in 2001 the R-One was claimed to be the world’s lowest driveable sports car; its other claim to fame was that it could run on biofuel created from kitchen waste.
Its rear-mounted 1.8-litre four-pot engine was rated at 120bhp.
Rinspeed Presto (2002)
Rinspeed has built one madcap concept after another. Always packing some a completely new technology or design feature, the Presto’s USP was an adjustable wheelbase.
The Presto was intended to offer the best of all worlds; a compact car for the city and a more spacious one for longer runs. The reality of course was that such technology was a complete non-starter because of its cost and complexity.
Rover TCV (2002)
Rover made cars for just over a century (1904 until 2005), and in that time it produced only two concept cars in the true sense: the CCV of 1986 and the TCV (Tourer Concept Vehicle) of 2002.
Designed by Peter Stevens, the TCV was a lifestyle estate that was also claimed to be seriously practical. Based on a Rover 75 platform the TCV would probably have shared that car's drivetrains, but we never got the chance to find out as the company ran out of road in 2005.
Alfa Romeo Kamal (2003)
Late in 2020 Alfa Romeo is set to launch its first compact SUV, the Tonale – a full 17 years after the Kamal concept was unveiled. In that time the compact SUV segment has exploded and Alfa Romeo has missed a massive opportunity as a result; the Kamal could have proved a smash hit.
Based on the 159 platform, the beautifully styled Kamal was fitted with a 250bhp 3.2-litre V6 petrol engine and a six-speed sequential gearbox – not that the concept was a runner. Then it all went quiet…
Bertone Birusa (2003)
Bertone was formed in 1912, four years before BMW. It took until 1962 for the two companies to work together; that's when BMW's 3200CS coupé was introduced and just over half a century later Bertone revisited the formula with the Z8-based Birusa.
That meant this classically proportioned coupé featured a 400bhp 4.9-litre V8 that drove the rear wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox. With gull-wing doors, a glass roof, voice control for the major features and a built-in Segway, the Birusa was every inch the concept car.
Peugeot Hoggar (2003)
This is how all good concepts should be – completely bonkers with no real chance of production. Built just for the sake of it, the Hoggar was a buggy-style off-roader with a 2.2-litre diesel engine in the nose – and another one in the rear for good measure.
As such there was four-wheel drive and because the single-piece carbonfibre bodyshell was light the Hoggar was also pretty swift. Peugeot did put a Hoggar into production in 2010 – but not this one. Instead it was a 206-based pick-up built for the South American market.
Rinspeed sQuba (2008)
Of Rinspeed's various crazy concepts, the sQuba is perhaps the most bizarre of all. Over the years there have been quite a few amphibious cars, none of which have been truly commercially successful, but Rinspeed went even further by producing a concept that could be driven under the water's surface.
Based on a Lotus Elise and fitted with a pure electric powertrain, the Elise's occupants had to rely on scuba gear to breathe as the concept's cabin was kept open to the elements.
Infiniti Essence (2009)
Surely one of the most beautiful concept cars ever devised, the Infiniti Essence was unveiled little more than a couple of years after Infiniti set up shop in Europe. With cars that looked this good, how could Infiniti fail? But sadly the Nissan subsidiary didn't put the Essence into production, with its sensuous bodywork and hybrid powertrain, centred on a twin-turbo 3.7-litre V6 petrol engine.
With 592bhp on tap the Essence would have been suitably swift, but sadly it wasn't to be.
Bertone Pandion (2010)
Stylistically, improving on the Alfa Romeo 8C is quite a tall order, but Bertone arguably managed just that with this rakish two-seater that was created to mark Alfa Romeo's centenary.
Featuring a bonkers door arrangement in keeping with the best concepts, power came from the 8C's 4.7-litre V8, mounted up front and driving the rear wheels; it was claimed to be capable of taking the Pandion all the way to 199mph.
Bertone B99 (2011)
Italdesign had attempted to updated Jaguar's look with its Kensington two decades earlier; now arch-rival Bertone tried to do the same thing with the B99 four-door saloon.
Bertone did a pretty good job too, as there were a few classic Jag styling cues visible if you looked, but this was still a design that was up to the minute. The B99 featured a 1.4-litre petrol engine range extender powertrain, at the heart of which was a pair of electric motors to give a rather interesting 570bhp and rear-wheel drive. But the big cat didn’t bite on this idea.
Saab PhoeniX (2011)
The writing for Saab was already on the wall when the PhoeniX was unveiled; the GM offshoot would hit the buffers just a few months later.
Despite Saab's impending demise it came up with a concept that previewed the company's new 'Aeromotional' design language, inspired by Saab's aviation roots. Power came from a turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol engine which drove the front wheels while the rear axle was driven by electric motors.
Volkswagen Bulli (2011)
Over the years Volkswagen has come up with a few sequels to its iconic Type 2 camper van and in 2011 it was the turn of the ultra-modern Bulli.
Despite its sleek lines the Bulli was based on nothing more exotic than a T5 Transporter so there was no electrification or anything too high-tech, which is why it would have been easy for VW to put the 21st century camper into production. It was going to do just that at first, but then cancelled the programme in 2005.
Aston Martin Lagonda Vision (2018)
Luxury car maker Lagonda was founded in 1906 and was bought by Aston Martin in 1947, but most people think of it as merely a model with a radical wedge design. In 2018 Aston Martin decided to revive the brand as a stand-alone maker of futuristic, high-tech luxury cars to take on Rolls-Royce and Bentley. Radically styled and powered solely by electricity, the Vision featured wireless charging and level 4 autonomous tech and was slated for production in 2021, but it’s now been delayed to 2025.
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Davies is a Mulliner ‘lifer’ who started as a sheet metal apprentice in the 1970s, working in Crewe’s experimental department where prototypes were made by hand. He later trained as a mechanical engineer and became a Mulliner project leader, usually deployed on difficult, secret and low-volume projects. Until this gig, his greatest achievement was the successful recreation of a one-off 1939 Bentley Corniche saloon concept destroyed during the war, and the rebuilt car played a large part in Bentley’s recent centenary celebrations. Retirement was supposed to follow, but then the Blower project came along.
In theory, producing 12 matching replicas of a pre-war racing car from an authentic original sounds straightforward if you have the skills. Equipped with modern software, you digitise everything using the dismantled original car to decide authentic components. You decide whether existing restoration parts can help (there’s already a lively Bentley restoration industry) and then you start building. But it’s turning out to be much tougher than that.
“I assumed the Blowers were all the same,” he says. “All built on the same standard chassis. But they’re not. The Birkin cars were built separately, and they use 5.3mm steel for chassis members, not the standard 4.2mm. And whereas original cars used hot rivets to hold their chassis together, the Birkin cars had bolts. Our lab has confirmed that even the steel grades are different. Luckily we’ve identified a modern steel with very similar tensile strength and hardness, but it’s the kind of problem we didn’t expect, and there are others.” © Provided by Autocar
Davies and his handful of helpers (“a small team is the beauty of this project”) have almost finished scanning and are now well into choosing materials while fussing over tolerances and deciding weird issues such as whether to replicate engine louvre mods made hurriedly in a race paddock 90 years ago. And then there’s which supercharger to use. “Every time we see a picture, it looks different,” Davies says.
Aside from such decisions there’s the job of sourcing non-existent materials, such as No2’s dashboard lap counter ‘liberated’ from a Paris billiard room or the cockpit’s array of Victorian light switches. There are sets of imperial bolts and nuts to be found and magnesium alloy bulkheads (each car has two) to be recreated in the correct material. Rexine, the body covering and trim material, isn’t the problem it might have been: a far-sighted Bentley enthusiast acquired rights to it when ICI stopped making it years ago.
Suddenly this programme’s two years seem no time at all. And you see why it’s so vital such a task could only fall to one of the world’s proven experts. Whisper this, but even the £1.5 million-plus price tag on these new-age Blower Bentleys looks like a bit of a bargain.