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Auto show concept vehicles are the rolling equivalent of cotton candy. They sure look good, but often there is more style than substance. Some car companies actually deliver by throwing a well-received concept car into production, but after their days in the spotlight most concepts are relegated to a back warehouse, never to be seen again. Sadly, this might be the fate of many of the vehicles profiled here, but these vehicles are among the best concepts at the recent North American International Auto Show in Detroit.



Cunningham GT
According to Robert A. Lutz, late of Chrysler Corporation and a founding investor in a new automotive enterprise, it's time for a new car company to fill a hole in the world's automotive landscape. And that would be the Cunningham GT, billed as an American grand touring automobile.
The Cunningham GT takes its cue, direction and inspiration from the grand touring and sports cars produced by Briggs Cunningham II, a vaunted American sportsman of the 1950s. But it definitely has a 2000 bent: The sleek V-12-powered, limited production grand tourer will be built by a "virtual" car company.
The company's president and CEO, John C. (Jack) McCormack, with a pedigree that includes American Honda Motor Company and Suzuki Motor Corporation, said, "We will tap into the extremely rich vein of independent automotive talent, from designers to chassis developers to fabricators to manufacturers, available around the United States, from metropolitan Detroit to Southern California. American hi-tech companies can develop significant systems, designed to Cunningham's specifications, which in the past had to be developed in house."
Stewart Reed has been commissioned to design the Cunningham, a 2 + 2 coupe, expected to have more than 500 horsepower from an American-sourced V-12 engine and a price tag exceeding $250,000.

Chrysler Crossfire
The Chrysler Crossfire features a sophisticated design blending traditional European proportions and handling characteristics with the power and personality of an American performance car, according to DaimlerChrysler.
The Concept is not only attractive, with sleek, athletic lines and a sculptured hood, it is also built as a one-piece carbon fiber body on an all-aluminum frame. According to Chrysler, this makes the design more architectural than traditionally automotive. Though the Crossfire is a small coupe, it rides on a long wheelbase (102.6 inches) and wide track (58.3 inches, front; 59.9 inches, rear).
It is powered by a supercharged 2.7-liter, 275-horsepower V-6 engine coupled to a five-speed manual transmission. The custom independent short-and-long-arm front and rear suspension uses coil springs placed over the shock absorbers. Nineteen-inch front wheels with P255/40R19 tires and 21-inch rear wheels with P295/35R21 tires provide the ride and handling expected from a classic rear-wheel-drive coupe. The Crossfire is estimated to achieve 60 mph in 5.8 seconds and a top speed of 148 mph.

Honda Model X
In a blatant attempt to capitalize on Generation X, Honda has unveiled the Model X concept vehicle, which was developed and designed by Honda's R&D Americas operation. Honda says the concept "reveals a tough and indestructible vehicle with a carefree attitude."
Model X was conceived at the inaugural X Games in San Diego in 1998, and it's targeted at active young college-age guys. The vehicle combines the best features of a pickup truck with the best features of an SUV and adds a dorm room-like setting.

Inspired by a lifeguard station, the Model X development team wanted to provide an "open architecture" interior feeling for the vehicle, so they eliminated the "b" pillar and specified center-opening side doors. Combined with a low, flat floor, this allows easy loading and unloading.

The rear roofline also slides forward, the rear window slides down into the tailgate and with the tailgate down, provides an open and spacious rear loading area. With the side doors opened wide, the interior provides the perfect base camp or location for "side gate" parties. The interior is designed to be resilient and "washable," an alien term to most college-age guys.







Mazda RX-8
Mazda returned to its rotary-engine roots with the unmasking of the RX-8 "design engineering model." The Hiroshima-based car company called its newest auto show offering "a giant step toward bringing to market a revolutionary high-performance, four-door sports car." The RX-8, which has Saturn-like rearward-swinging rear doors, is powered by a 250-horsepower version of the company's legendary rotary engine.
Mazda says the new RX-8 is much closer to an actual production sports car than its predecessor, the Mazda RX-EVOLV concept car that was introduced at the October 1999 Tokyo Motor Show. The company is particularly high on the "freestyle" door system with no center pillar, making getting into and out of the small rear seats less of a challenge.
Among the other highlights are the car's powerful, lightweight and compact RENESIS rotary engine, its central mid-ship engine layout and its 50:50 front/rear weight distribution. According to Mazda, the use of the compact engine allows for a sports car look while offering interior space for four adults comparable to a sports sedan.
Boston native Tom Ripley observes the international automotive scene from his home in Villeperce, France.