The 30 greatest concept cars ever

When you give car designers free reign to theorise about the future, you end up with automobiles that are completely mad and insanely pretty

Before we cared about trees and not causing the earth to become a fiery, uninhabitable mass, the automotive world was fixated on creating concepts that pushed the limits of what's possible on four wheels. Some companies still throw caution to the wind, such as Bugatti, Ferrari and Lamborghini, but most of the time you have to look back to see some of the most iconic machines ever designed.

We've rounded up 30 of our favourite experimental cars, from the very first concept car ever to 21st century automotive pin-ups – and just about everything in between. So – in no particular order – let's get on with the show.

ford probe

Built to achieve better aerodynamics than a jet fighter, named to sound like an uncomfortable medical procedure. Seriously, though, the Probe was a four-seater with a lower drag coefficient than any production car today. It also looked like it was hovering, from a certain angle.  

alfa romeo caimano

A sportier version of the small Alfasud saloon, the Caimano offered great views of the sky and trees if you were inside it, and if you were outside it you got a great view of some people feeling uncomfortably hot inside their airless fishbowl of a car. It did look rather cool, but best driven at night. 

ferrari 512 s modulo

In 1970, after a decade of increasingly bizarre concept designs, Ferrari decided to make a car that was almost completely flat - and as a result, almost completely impossible to drive. It is beauitfully aerodynamic, but very few people would actually be able to get inside the Modulo, let alone pilot it. Still, it'd look nice in the drive, until you accidentally parked on top of it.   

italdesign aztec

Sculpted from carbon fibre, Kevlar, aluminium and pure, distilled madness, the Aztec is the height of '80s automotive lunacy. The driver and passenger sit in separate cockpits, so if you want to have a conversation you need to use an intercom. Under the hood is a more conventional 250bhp Audi five-cyliner engine. 

ItalDesign never intended to build the Aztec, but a Japanese multi-millionaire decided it was his kind of crazy and ordered 50 (they stopped after 18).  

Ford GT90

Ford GT90

Leaving aside that dated background, it's hard to tell the space-age Ford GT90 was first revealed to the world more than 17 years ago. Pumping out 720bhp from a quad-turbocharged V12, it could accelerate to 96kph in 3.1 seconds and up to 160kph in 6.2 seconds, before going onto a lightning top speed of 378kph. We're talking Bugatti Veyron performance, but way before it even existed.

Because of the heat spewed out from the V12, the spiritual successor to the GT40 was said to use Space Shuttle ceramic tiles to keep the exhaust from melting body panels.