Concept vehicles are often a virtual minefield for automakers. The vehicles can run the gamut from far-fetched, futuristic rigs that have little chance of making it to showrooms, to near-production previews of models just around the corner. The other danger is translating critically-acclaimed show models into production, where inevitably, some of the cooler, edgier features of the show cars are toned down or replaced by more practical, production-ready parts.
Today, we're going to look at the whole range of these vehicles from Ford, long a leader in the truck and SUV segments. As you will see with some of these concepts, many were a not-so-thinly-veiled preview of upcoming production models, whereas others were simply one-off specials that never made it past the show circuit, but had some features or design cues that found their way to production models.
1995: Ford Triton Concept
The Triton is summed up succinctly by Gary Hass, design director at Ford's Light Truck Vehicle Center in 1995, who is quoted in the concept's original press release as saying, "There are many styling cues and functional options on the Triton that you're likely to see in Ford's pickup trucks of the future."
Namely, those were a much more aerodynamic body and modular, overhead-cam V-8 power. Aside from a slightly different grille and front-end treatment, the Triton basically was the 1997 Ford F-150. Given the staid, traditional styling of its predecessor, the Triton and the 1997 F-150 it presaged were a radical change.
1997: Ford E-350 Econoline Chicane Concept
Envisioned as a support vehicle for superbike racing teams, the Chicane was based on an E-350 powered by Ford's then-new 265-hp, 410-lb-ft, 6.8-liter V-10. Those specific output figures are laughably tame compared to Ford's current engine offerings, but aside from the optional Powerstroke diesel, it was the big kahuna of the day.
The interior of the Chicane was highlighted by four captain's chairs, a rear-seat VCR(!) player, Siemens TetraStar navigation system, and a solar-powered hot air purge system for when the vehicle was stationary for long periods. The rear cargo area was separated from the main cabin by a bulkhead and featured a fold-out workbench, tool chest, storage compartments and bike tie-downs.
Chevy may have had its TrailBlazer SS in 2005, but Ford had the idea for a high-performance SUV almost a decade earlier in the form of the Tremor concept. Based on the Explorer, the Tremor packed a high-performance 380-hp, 4.6-liter five-valve V-8 with custom heads designed by Yamaha. However, the impressive output of the specially-tuned V-8 was mated to a rather conventional four-speed automatic transmission from a Lincoln Mark VIII.
The Tremor concept previewed many of the features that would be coming on the 2002 Explorer including an independent rear suspension and optional modular V-8 power.
Also previewing a future model, the Ford Powerforce concept was an early look at the 1999 Super Duty, which definitively split the F-Series into distinctive light-duty and heavy-duty versions. In addition to its imposing size, the Powerforce showcased some advanced features that are still considered modern fifteen years later. These include HID headlights and sequential LED taillights.
Some other cool features on the concept that didn't make the production cut were a power lift tailgate that lowered to the ground to aid in lifting large and heavy items into the wood-lined bed.
1998: Ford Alpe Limited Concept
If you squint and look closely, you can see a sneak preview of the Ford Escape in the Alpe Limited concept.
The Alpe featured a translucent plexiglass roof to give the interior an airier feeling and rode on aggressive-for-the-time 17-inch wheels and tires. The contrasting interior featured a maroon-colored dashboard and leather/cloth seats with fabric inserts made from recycled soda bottles.
Based on the Escort and powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, the compact Alpe was an early look at the coming tsunami of compact SUVs that would take the U.S. and world markets by storm.
While Ford typically reserved most of its concept debuts for the Detroit show, the Himalaya Expedition was showcased at the 1998 SEMA show in Las Vegas.
The Himalaya is one model we're somewhat sad never went into production. Following the discontinuation of the Bronco in 1996, the conventional four-door Expedition replaced Ford's legendary two-door back-trail machine. The Himalaya Expedition bridged the gap between the departed Bronco and mommy-mobile Expedition by removing the roof and rear window section aft of the C-pillar, giving it a semi-open driving experience.
The interior featured Recaro sport seats and five-point harnesses. Further reinforcing its adventurous intentions, the Himalaya featured a Rancho suspension with adjustable shocks, BFGoodrich Baja TA tires, front and rear Warn winches, grille and taillight guards, a full-size spare tire, gas can, and side-hinged tailgate.
2000: Ford Equator Concept (Pickup)
If Ford had decided to field a competitor to the Hummer H2 SUT, it probably would have looked like the Equator concept. Not to be confused with the 2005 concept SUV unveiled in Japan, the first Equator concept channeled the chunky proportions of the Hummer by combining the wheelbase length of an F-150 with the width of a Super Duty.
Like the Hummer H1, the Equator featured a four-wheel independent suspension and, like the H2 SUT, featured a collapsible bulkhead and folding rear seats that created a six foot-long cargo area. Another cool feature was configurable 'clamp-on' gauges that allowed the driver to position the gauges where they wanted them.
The Equator concept was ultimately auctioned off in November 2005 to benefit the American Red Cross and victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Ford joined forces with tier-one supplier Visteon, itself a spinoff from Ford, to create a family of blocky, Lego-like concepts called the 24.7. Consisting of coupe, wagon, and pickup variants, the vehicles were meant as showcases of Visteon's future and emerging technologies such as voice-activation, advanced lighting, handsfree phone calling, and configurable projected gauges.
Although packed with high-tech features, the interior of the 24.7 had a minimalist appearance, with bench-type seating and a flat, low-profile dashboard.
Despite its high-tech appearance, the 24.7 featured the conventional 2.0-liter Zetec four-cylinder engine from the Focus.
Ford Desert Excursion Concept
Back when 'bigger is better' was the prevailing mantra in SUV design, Ford rolled out its Desert Excursion concept. Incorporating some of the same design elements of the Himalaya Expedition, the Desert Excursion likewise chopped the roof off from the C-pillars rearward, but that wasn't the full extent of the sheetmetal surgery. The overall length was shortened considerably, resulting in greater off-road agility.
The interior featured seating for six passengers, oversized gauges, an integrated navigation system, mesh door pockets and heavy-duty rubber floor mats.
The Desert Excursion was once again powered by the 6.8-liter V-10, this time producing 310 hp and 425 lb-ft of torque.
2001: Ford F-150 Lightning Rod Concept
The F-150 Lightning Rod Concept was a full custom interpretation of the company's high-performance production truck. Featuring the same supercharged 380-hp, 450-lb-ft, 5.4-liter V-8 as the production model, the Lightning Rod may have been similar to its production counterpart under the skin, but had completely unique styling.
The Ford EX Concept looks a lot like what a modern-day interpretation of the classic Meyers Manx buggy would look like. The one important difference is that the EX concept had a front-mounted engine, a relative rarity in today's purpose-built buggy market.
The EX featured a 375-hp and 410-lb-ft supercharged version of the 4.0-liter overhead-cam Cologne V-6 and the transfer case and other mechanicals were shifted rearward for optimal weight distribution. The interior featured five-point harnesses for both occupants while full frontal and directional lighting and dual airbags kept it (hypothetically) street-legal.