2002: Ford Mighty F-350 Tonka Concept

Usually, the term 'toy-like' is not exactly the adjective you use to convey ruggedness and toughness, but in the case of the Mighty F-350 Tonka concept, it's a badge of honor. Painted the trademark bright yellow and featuring bold, angular styling with prominently flared wheel arches, the Mighty F-350 Tonka concept showcased Ford's new 6.0-liter Powerstroke V-8 diesel engine mated to a five-speed automatic transmission.

The Mighty F-350 Tonka concept definitely showed a family resemblance to the production F-350, but the interior design, which featured modular snap-on gauges reminiscent of the 2000 Equator truck concept and oversized toggle switches, was totally unique to the concept.

One innovative feature of this concept that has yet to find its way onto production Super Duty models is the Hydraulic Launch Assist 'hydraulic hybrid' system which builds hydraulic pressure during deceleration and re-releases it under acceleration to save fuel.


Glacier Park Red Bus Restoration

Although not technically concepts or new, Ford's restoration of Glacier National Park's fleet of 33 'Red Buses' was interesting enough to cover here. In service since the 1930s, the original red buses were nearing the end of their service life and concerns about safety and reliability forced the once-iconic park transports into retirement.

As part of the comprehensive restoration, the original chassis was replaced with a new E-450-based platform and the old carbureted engine was replaced with a bi-fuel 5.4-liter modular V-8 designed to run on gasoline or propane. Braking and lighting systems were also brought up to modern standards as part of the restoration.


2003: Ford Freestyle FX

The Freestyle FX concept was a good indication of what was to come with the production 2004 model Ford Freestyle, albeit with a couple of key differences. The Freestyle FX concept's configurability mimicked that of the GMC Envoy XUV, which came out for the 2004 model year, with a mid-gate and re-configurable rear cargo and passenger area.

But while GM committed to putting its design into full series production, the freeform versatility of the Freestyle FX didn't make it past the concept stage. The production Freestyle went into production with a conventional two-box design and fully enclosed rear compartment.


Ford Faction

Designed to appeal to trendy urbanites, the Ford Faction concept was a two-door compact SUV designed by Ford's Ingeni design center in London. Following the urban, European theme, the Faction featured a stylish, minimalistic interior, with most functions controlled through a centrally-mounted 'multi-switch.'

The Faction had a 'City Eye' system that let the driver choose between a panorama or close-up rear view, a view of the other passengers, display information from a PDA, or the ability to watch videos, presumably while the vehicle is parked.


Ford Model U Concept

Reportedly inspired by the original Model T, the Ford Model U concept was the futuristic vision of Bill Ford Jr. The biggest design feature was its extreme configurability. The vehicle was fitted with slots in the floor, door panels, and instrument panels that allowed the mounting, moving, or changing of different components to the driver's liking.

The Model U featured a power-retractable roof, rear window, tailgate, and trunk, allowing it to go from fully enclosed to open. Previewing some of the features of Sync, the Model U featured a conversational speech interface.

The most unique feature of the Model U was its engine, a four-cylinder supercharged hydrogen internal combustion engine combined with a hybrid transmission. The concept was capable of a hypothetical 45 mpg.


2004: Ford Bronco Concept

The Bronco Concept gave an idea of what a modern-day revival of Ford's iconic 4x4 would look like. The Bronco concept's 94.9 inch wheelbase was within a few inches of the original and, rather than the original's small-block V-8, this Bronco featured a 128-hp, 244-lb-ft, 2.0-liter turbodiesel I-4. With an added boost from the nitrous oxide system, peak power went up to 178 hp.

Although that power output may sound modest, the Bronco concept's light target weight of 3100 lb promised an entertaining off-road ride. The concept also featured a preview of Ford's dual-clutch PowerShift transmission, which ultimately made its debut in the 2011 Fiesta and 2012 Focus.


2004: Ford Ranger Lightning Bolt

The most power in the smallest possible package has long been a favorite formula of ours, and it was also one of Ford's in the form of the Ranger Lightning Bolt concept. SVT stuffed the F-150 Lightning's 380 hp, 450 lb-ft supercharged 5.4 liter V-8 under the Ranger's short hood. The framerails were boxed and cross-bracing was added to cope with the massive increase in power. The resulting vehicle, as you might imagine, was quite the performer, laying down a sub 14-second quarter-mile even at a nearly mile-high altitude during our 2004 test, and the steamroller-width 345 rear tires were still easy to smoke at will.

Although the present-day EcoBoost V-6 produces close to the same power figures in a much lighter, more efficient powertrain, there's still something so awesomely visceral about a forced-induction V-8 in a compact truck that will ensure the Lightning Bolt's permanent place in the pantheon of Ford truck concepts.


2005: Ford Fairlane Concept

If you take away the rear 'suicide' doors, you're basically looking at what would become the 2008 Ford Flex, right down to the horizontal indentations in the door panels. Envisioned to appeal to families as well as empty-nester boomers, the Fairlane utilized premium materials such as wood, leather and brushed aluminum to give the interior an upscale appearance.

The concept was powered by Ford's 3.0-liter Duratec V-6 mated to a six-speed automatic, whereas the production Flex came to market with a 3.5-liter version of the Duratec V-6.


Ford Equator Concept (SUV)

Shown at the Toyko Auto Show, the Equator SUV concept was basically a highly-stylized version of the Escape. Styling was done by Ford's Lio Ho Design Technology Center in Taiwan and was designed to appeal to customers in the Asia-Pacific market.

Like the Fairlane, the Equator concept featured Ford's Duratec 3.0-liter V-6 plus an intelligent 4WD system. Unfortunately, the Equator's handsome, aggressive styling didn't make it to the production Escape -- the mid-cycle refresh in 2008 adopted a more traditional truck-like appearance.


Ford 4-Trac Concept

Unveiled at the 2005 Bangkok Motor Expo, the 4-Trac concept was a fairly reliable indicator of what the forthcoming T6 Ranger, which made its debut for the 2011 model year in overseas markets, would look like.

The 4-Trac Concept featured a unique 'tailgate within a tailgate' with separately-opening inner and outer sections to facilitate optimized cargo utility. The outer section folded to the ground, acting as a ramp, and the inner section folded down to allow easy access to cargo.


2006: Ford Super Chief Concept

Another variation on Ford's Super Duty line, the Super Chief employed a unique tri-fuel supercharged V-10 capable of running on hydrogen, gasoline, or E85. Although the name might bring to mind native American tribal elders, the name was actually inspired by the Super Chief trains operated by Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway from the 1930s to 1970s.

The Super Chief's interior captured the upscale elegance of the vintage trains by utilizing American walnut wood trim, brushed aluminum and leather. The glass roof of the truck was also inspired by the namesake trains' viewing cars.


2007: Ford Airstream Concept

After several concepts with hydrogen-fueled internal-combustion engines, the Ford Airstream concept featured a hydrogen fuel cell powerplant with a target fuel efficiency of 41 mpg equivalent. As the name implies, the concept was inspired by the iconic travel trailer of the same name.

Looking simultaneously futuristic and retro, the Airstream's interior featured a swiveling passenger seat with a 70s sci-fi look. Just as unique as the interior were the side and rear doors. The passenger-side door was a huge, nearly full-length top-and-bottom-hinged two-piece that created a 'tailgate' seating surface when opened. The rear door was a three-piece rear hatch with a top-hinged upper window and a Dutch door two-piece lower portion.


2008: Ford Explorer America Concept

Just as the Fairlane previewed the Flex, the Explorer America concept previewed the 2011 Explorer, though not quite as literally. The biggest indication of the direction of the future Explorer were the four-cylinder and V-6 EcoBoost powerplants in the concept and the unibody platform on which it was built.

Some of the stylistic flights of fancy that didn't make the transition to production were the three-dimensional dome-shaped compass and sliding rear doors.


Ford Ranger Max Concept

If the 4-Trac concept gave a hint of what the new T6 Ranger would look like, the Ranger Max concept basically blew whatever pretense of cover was left. Looking at the Max concept side-by-side with the production 2012 model, aside from minor styling details, the trucks are virtual twins.

The cog-like detailing on the fender flares and contrasting orange and black finishes were meant to evoke a power tool-inspired design theme, emphasizing the concept's ruggedness.