Gallery: Concept cars of Geneva 2019 shine LEDs and glowing tires at the future (and past)
Each March, it's a toss-up as to whether the most impressive part of the Geneva Motor Show is the barrage of crazy, record-smashing hypercars or the deluge of equally crazy, thought-provoking concept cars. This year, we give the edge to the hypercars, but the concept cars aren't far behind. The Geneva 2019 concept car army includes plenty of plug-in electric drive power, some versatile off-road hardware and a restoration of one of the coolest retrofuturistic cars of all time.
Golden Sahara II brings the future of the past back to the present
The most impressive new concept car in Geneva isn't really new at all, and it's not even a traditional concept car as such. But the Golden Sahara II on display at Goodyear's booth is newly rediscovered and packs enough wild tech and styling to make it feel plenty comfortable among the many contemporary concept cars of the show, even 65 years after its initial debut.
Based on a 1953 Lincoln Capri Hardtop, the Golden Sahara is an ultra-flashy, high-tech custom car born from a happy accident. After the base car was involved in a roof-scalping crash, the heavily customized Golden Sahara debuted in 1954 at the Petersen Motorama. The shimmering two-tone car immediately captured the public's imagination and spent the next few years touring US auto shows and dealerships as a promo vehicle, grabbing attention with its bubble canopy, dashboard-integrated TV, refrigerated cocktail lounge, and pearlescent paint with actual fish scales blended in.
Later in the 50s, the Golden Sahara made a leap from cool, flashy custom car to full-blown sci-fi wonder. The v2.0 update included the addition of some time-leaping electronic tech, including push-button steering, an aircraft-inspired steering, acceleration and braking lever complete with remote control operation, voice control features, and an automated braking system with bumper-integrated antenna sensors. It was also fitted with a set of backlit orange glow-in-the-dark Neothane tires developed by Goodyear. The legend of the Golden Sahara II grew as large as its bulging US$75,000 (over $650,000 today) development cost, and it even became a movie star, appearing in the film Cinderfella with Jerry Lewis.
As quickly as it had risen to fame, the Golden Sahara II disappeared from the public eye, customizer and owner Jim Street suddenly and completely withdrawing it from public appearances sometime in the late 60s, hiding it away in a garage for a full half-century. The famous car didn't resurface until Street passed away in late 2017, and it made its way to auction. Chicago auto museum Klairmont Kollections purchased it last May from Mecum Auctions and collaborated on its restoration with Goodyear and Speakeasy Customs and Classics before the big Geneva reveal.
Even 65 years later, with much of its headlining tech now realized or surpassed in production and development, the Golden Sahara II absolutely commands attention, drawing in crowds like a glowing four-wheeled Elvis suit. In fact, we had to come back several times before we were effectively able to cut through the masses and snap a few photos. It remains a must-see vehicle.
Alfa Romeo explores electric power with the Tonale concept
It's not an easy task to follow up a one-of-a-kind restoration like the Golden Sahara II, but if there's one vehicle that might be up to it, it's the Alfa Romeo Tonale. Alfa already has one of the sexiest SUVs out there in the Stelvio, and now it blends effortless, organic Italian style with its first plug-in hybrid powertrain in the Tonale. Alfa remains rather tightlipped on specifics, saying merely that the small utility vehicle utilizes its dual-motor electric-ICE powertrain toward sportier driving as well as increased efficiency. The driver can manage those two goals through a series of drive modes that includes full-output "dual motor" mode, hybridized "natural" mode, and full-electric "advance e" mode.
While it has a fully modern appearance complete with super-taut front and rear lighting signatures, the Tonale is loaded with heritage cues, starting at ground-level with the 21-in rotary dial wheels inspired by the 33 Stradale. Other historically-rooted design elements include a forward-pouncing stance derived from the GT Junior, flank volumes inspired by the Duetto and Disco Volante Spider, and a modern reinterpretation of the "3 plus 3" headlights of the SZ and Brera. The Tonale definitely has us looking forward to the era of electrification at Alfa Romeo.
IED outfits the urban farmer with the Honda Tomo
One of the most fun aspects of the Geneva show is the influx of concept cars from design teams outside major auto brands, from established design houses to up-and-coming student designers. Often some of the most memorable vehicle forms come from the students, and this year one of those is the cute, little Honda Tomo from the Istituto Europeo di Design (IED).
Specifically, 13 Masters in Transportation Design students worked with Honda Design to bring the Tomo to life, in a follow-up to last year's very different but equally compelling Hyundai Kite buggy/jet ski. The Tomo even comes complete with a manga backstory about Coner, an IED student from the year 2025 who splits his time among living in the city, unleashing his creativity at his design studio, and working a fruit and vegetable garden in the country.
Tomo means "friend" in Japanese, and the concept car is designed to be exactly that to Coner. The 13-foot (4-m) electric car is optimized for maneuvering deftly through tight European city centers but also includes a small pickup bed hidden in its mini-car hatchback profile, giving Coner the ability to haul crates of fruits and vegetables from country to city. It's not hard to imagine a quirky, compact electric mini-pickup racking up some seriously useful miles, whether hauling fruit from country to city center or carrying adventure gear from freeway to forest. We kind of want one.
Jump straight to the gallery for a fuller look at the many clever, innovative and visionary concept cars of Geneva 2019.