Auto Tech

Concept car flashback: Ford 021c (1999)

Way back in 1999, Ford put a furniture designer, who'd never designed a car before, in charge of developing a concept for the Tokyo Motor Show.

Ford 021c concept
Ford Motor Company

Way back in 1999, Ford put Marc Newson, a furniture designer who'd never designed a car before, in charge of developing a concept for the Tokyo Motor Show. The resulting vehicle, the 021c Concept, was hated by all. It was just too quirky, too unlike anything else on the road, and most importantly, not designed by a car guy.

Looking back on the vehicle some 10 years later, perhaps the 021c was just ahead of its time. Perhaps the candy-colored concept would be more at home on the road with today's Minis, Smarts, and Cubes.

021c concept
The concept showcased a simple, retro design that I think would be well received on modern roads. Ford Motor Company

The concept featured a boxy, retro style that would probably resonate well with today's buyers and automakers. Rear-hinged back doors create a wide opening similar to that of the Mini Clubman or the Mazda RX8. If drivers are able to accept the Nissan Cube's refrigerator-like rear hatch, then perhaps the 021c's pullout drawer style trunk could also be accepted.

The 021c's shell was made out of carbon fiber, which is both very modern and extremely lightweight, and featured little ornamentation. The door handles were reduced to simple illuminated push buttons, and the front and rear light assemblies condensed into single-lens horizontal light bars.

For the interior, swiveling chairs facilitated easy entrance and egress. Newson designed simple instrument panel graphics and sparse switches and controls. Admittedly, the dash wasn't very ergonomic, but when was the last time you saw a concept that was?

021c concept
I like to image that the 021c would make a neat little EV. Ford Motor Company

I couldn't find any information on the 021c concept's speculated powertrain, as I'm sure that wasn't the point of this design exercise. However, I like to fantasize about a peppy electric engine driving the rear wheels.

Way back in 1999, gas was cheap. Big cars and SUVs with big powerful engines were the symbols of status and power that everyone wanted. No one was ready for or interested in a tiny economy concept designed as a styling exercise. After the concept's poor reception, the 021c was mothballed by Ford and never displayed again.

Ford has since moved on, eventually settling on the current "Kinetic Design DNA" styling that debuted on the Iosis Concept in 2005 and can be seen in many of Ford's upcoming vehicles, such as the 2011 Fiesta and the 2010 Taurus.

Recently, the 021c Concept has been the subject of much chatter around the Web. The general consensus is that had the concept car been unveiled in 2009 rather than 1999, its story may have ended differently. In a world where the Fiat 500 can be 2008's European Car of the Year, I can't help but to agree.