Detroit Auto Show Showcases Latest Car Models
Ford Motor Company  /  Getty Images
Ford Motor Company unveiled the Shelby GR-1 Concept at the North American International Auto Show back in January.
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updated 4/22/2005 1:03:41 PM ET 2005-04-22T17:03:41

Concept cars are why we go to auto shows.

Unfortunately, the past 12 months have not exactly been a banner year for these vehicles. Concept cars are prototypes that may or may not reach production. Automakers build them with varying degrees of seriousness. Some are thinly-veiled previews of cars coming down the pipeline. Others, such as Peugeot's Quark prototype, a concept from last fall's Paris Motor Show that looks like a dune buggy and runs on hydrogen, are just for fun.

We were not thrilled with the concept cars at the recent New York International Auto Show. The fact that Nissan Motor's Sport, a compact-car prototype, stands out in our minds as the most handsome vehicle at the show either demonstrates that compact cars have come a long way, or that there were slim pickings at the auto show. We're leaning toward the latter.

On the other hand, there have been some real lulus on the concept-car scene in the last 12 months. Ford Motor's Shelby GR-1, a preview of how the company's GT supercar might evolve, looks gorgeous and has a 605-horsepower V-10 engine. If Ford puts a version of this car into production, the model will be one of the rarest of automotive commodities: a hardtop coupe with a ten-cylinder power plant. Right now, the only such car on the roads is the Lamborghini Gallardo, although a coupe version of DaimlerChrysler's V-10-powered Dodge Viper SRT-10 convertible is due out this fall.

Let's say Ford decides to build the GR-1. Having previewed it first in concept form would still have been a smart move for Ford; in fact, many if not most automobiles begin their lives as concept cars.

The reason for that is because concept cars give automakers a chance to gauge public opinion on the ideas on which they are working. In fact, the way crowds at auto shows react to concept cars often determines whether the prototypes will ever become vehicles for public consumption.

However, even if a concept car becomes a production model, the show car will more often than not feature glitzy technology that doesn't go into the mass-produced version. This makes sense. Auto shows are times to bask in the glories of modern technology and to take a look at where automotive engineering is headed (and that look is sometimes lighthearted).

The tradition of showcasing technology on prototypes is as old as concept cars themselves. The first concept car was General Motors' 1938 Buick Y-Job, which had some technology that was 25 to 30 years ahead of its time. The car featured such milestones as an early use of retractable headlights.

The slide show contains a list of the ten coolest concept cars from the past 12 months. We included cars from this year's New York auto show, but not last year's — hence the exclusion of GM's dynamite Buick Velite prototype from the 2004 show. While we do hope that next year's feature includes a slightly more exciting crop of vehicles, there are plenty of hot numbers from recent auto shows to make for an exciting list. Please follow the link below to see what we mean.

© 2012 Forbes.com

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