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A Look Back at Dune Buggy Concepts from Automakers

Volkswagen has recently dropped a teaser for a new concept that will be fully unveiled at the Geneva Auto Show this March. But this teaser is no car. Rather, it appears to be an electric dune buggy akin to VW Beetle-based dune buggies of the past. Like a lot of VW concepts these days, it looks like it will have a nice blend of retro and modern styling.

Volkswagen Dune Buggy Concept

Volkswagen Dune Buggy Concept

However, I would be surprised if anything like this ever made it to production. That’s because this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a dune buggy concept from a major car company. There are several dune buggy concepts in the past that, sadly, never made it to production. I see this VW concept as a good opportunity to take a look back at the weird and wild dune buggy concepts from automakers that never came to be.

Pontiac Stinger

Pontiac Stinger

Long before the Kia Stinger hit showrooms, the 1989 Pontiac Stinger dropped as one of the raddest concepts to ever come out of General Motors — which is saying a lot. It was a bright green dune buggy with a face disturbingly similar to the Pontiac Aztek and was packed with so many quirks and features, I think it would make Doug DeMuro’s head explode.

Where to begin? It was an open-air … car? Dune buggy? Could this thing be considered an SUV? Whatever it is, it had four seats and 4-wheel drive and it was powered by the ubiquitous Iron Duke 4-cylinder engine, which powered everything from Pontiac Fieros to mail trucks. Another mechanical quirk was active air suspension that could lift the Stinger four inches for when the sand on the beach got really soft.

A few of the features of the Pontiac Stinger include a few things that you can find in real production cars like drink coolers, a first aid kit and a flashlight — plus other things that are much more unconventional, like multiple dust busters, seats that could turn into beach chairs, a garden hose and a picnic table. It’s unlikely that the Stinger was ever intended for mass production, but it sure is cool.

Ford Splash

Ford Splash

When you think “Ford Splash,” you might think of the Ford Ranger Splash, which was a 1990s Ranger variant with a flareside bed and showy exterior graphics. However, the name first appeared in the form of the 1988 Ford Splash, another American dune buggy concept from the ’80s with a strong aquatic theme.

Much like the Pontiac Stinger, the Ford Splash was a 4-seat, 4WD car that’s intended for driving on the beach and going surfing or scuba diving — or whatever aquatic activity you enjoy doing — with up to three of your friends. One big difference between the Splash and the Stinger is that it was possible to make the Splash fully enclosed to keep you out of the elements. The Splash also had an adjustable ride height based on what activity you were using it for.

The Ford Splash was designed by a group of four industrial design students commissioned by Ford to “design and build a vehicle they would like to use year-round, as well as on a summer weekend,” according to HowStuffWorks. This concept didn’t have an engine, but it had enough character to make up for it.

Fiat Bugster

Fiat Bugster

No, not every dune buggy concept is from the ’80s. The Fiat FCC II, nicknamed the “Bugster,” is an electric concept that made its debut at the São Paulo auto show in 2008. The sustainability theme extends not only to the electric powertrain, but to the body — which was made from natural fibers. It also has renewable materials throughout, kind of like the BMW i3.

The Fiat Bugster was designed by Fiat’s Brazil subsidiary, and it was mainly intended to be shown off in South America — but it sure would be a fun thing for Fiat to produce and bring to the U.S. Granted, the Fiat brand is struggling in the States, and a dune buggy might not make much business sense — but it would certainly make Fiat stand out. And if it’s in the FCA family, you know what that means. Bugster SRT Hellcat, anyone?

It’s not hard to see why none of these wild buggy concepts ever came close to production, but I like the ambition that all of them have. Concept cars seem to be getting more conservative and more production-like in the modern automotive era and I wish we saw more weird stuff like this at auto shows.

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  1. I doubt there would be a business case but if Fiat was going to do something like this they would have to sell it as a Jeep.  Something Renegade sized that actually has removal doors and such.  Then it would really be a baby Wrangler.

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Eric Brandt
Eric Brandt
Eric Brandt is an author specializing in Oversteer content, new car reviews, and finding the best car, truck, and SUV deals each month. Born and raised in Wisconsin, Eric can often be found exploring the north woods on his 1983 Honda Gold Wing when the weather allows it. Father of four, husband of one, and unapologetic minivan enthusiast. Eric mastered driving stick by having a 3-cylinder Chevy... Read More about Eric Brandt

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