Home » Here Are Some Of The Strangest And Best Cars From The Now-Dead Geneva Motor Show

Here Are Some Of The Strangest And Best Cars From The Now-Dead Geneva Motor Show

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Things were better in the old days, so often goes the call. And yet sometimes, it’s true. In the case of the Geneva International Motor Show, that’s very much the case. It was once a prestigious stage upon which the finest (and often strangest) automobiles would debut, and yet, today, it lies dead. But let’s remember it for the good times, and all the brilliant cars that starred there over the years.

The Geneva show was often lauded as more of a level playing field than some other major international auto shows. It was hosted on neutral ground, with Switzerland itself lacking an automotive industry of its own. In spite of a relative lack of local content, it became a focus for the international auto industry when it came around each year. The Salon, as it was known, was first hosted in 1905, and became a major fixture on the automotive calendar for more than a century.

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Sadly, though, the magic didn’t last forever. After the 2019 event, the show went on hiatus for four years in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2024 return should have been triumphant, but instead it became the last ever. In its years away, tides shifted, new shows came to prominence, and automakers turned their focus elsewhere. In May, it was decided that the 2025 show would be abandoned. Instead, the organizers announced their plans to move on to a Qatar event in future.

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“Come to Geneva, we’ve got all the big names! From TCS to Shenzer, Totem to Kimera!”

Big Name Hits

Until 2024, big name automakers flooded Geneva each year to show off the latest hotness. A debut there was a surefire way to make a splash as the automotive media turned its gaze Swissward each year.

While only a handful of automakers attended the final show, it still had some quality content. Leading the pack was the Renault 5 e-tech, which was shown for the first time in production-ready form. Its retro throwback design made huge waves in concept form back in 2021, with the magic still very much present in the finished product.

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Aaaa

Renault 5 E Tech Electric

Renault 5 E Tech Electric

The fully electric car wore the neo-retro look well. The model is still a year away from hitting the market. It’s expected to drop with range in the ballpark of 250 miles, while Renault has been keeping motor specs and other details under its very fashionable French hat. It’s rare to see a concept reach production spec so faithfully, but Renault pulled it off. It was nice to see something so bright and cheerful at what would eventually be Geneva’s last hurrah.

Naturally, though, not every Geneva darling can reach production. Audi once showed up with the Le Mans-inspired R8 TDI, which delivered 493 horsepower and 738 pound-feet of torque from a monstrous V12 turbodiesel engine. That was too expensive and too cool to ever happen. As was the Dodge Demon, a sweet compact roadster that hit the stage in 2007. With 172 horsepower from a 2.4-liter inline-four, it was to be the company’s answer to the Mazda MX-5. With the concept landing in the dying days of the Daimler-Chrysler era, however, it was never to see production.

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Audi R8 V12 Tdi Concept
Audi robbed us of the diesel supercar we deserved.

Audi R8 V12 Tdi Concept

Audi R8 V12 Tdi Concept

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Dodge, this looked sick. I hope you know that.

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Change the oil and coolant on time and you could enjoy this thing in the sunshine ’til the heat death of the universe.

A personal favorite of mine was the Toyota Yaris Cabrio concept from 2000. It seemed to ape the lines of the popular VW Golf Cabrio, but with a pleasant charm all of its own.

Sadly, Toyota didn’t see fit to make something this fun a reality, no matter how well the drop-top body style meshed with the Yaris design.
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Going back even earlier, I’d like to tip the hat to the Jaguar Kensington. Sure, we typically focus on the multiple fumbled supercar projects from the perpetually beleaguered British automaker. But they dropped the ball on more stately cars, too! In the late 1980s, Jaguar was still limping along with product from the 1960s, and it desperately needed to get with the times. Italdesign stepped in, penning the Jaguar Kensington. It was intended as a thoroughly modern revival of the XJ, with a look absolutely ready to take on the 1990s. It debuted at Geneva in 1990 as a full-sized mockup, with a fully-functional prototype shown later that year at the British International Motor Show.

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Rocking a classic Jaguar V12 with 295 horsepower, you might have expected this to be a spritely executive sedan. Sadly, by modern standards, it was anything but. Lumbered with a laggardly 3-speed automatic transmission from GM, it would achieve the zero to 60 mph sprint in a humbling 7.9 seconds.

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Sadly, Jaguar had no real interest in putting Italdesign’s work into production. The hilarious result was that the design was reworked and used as the basis for the Daewoo Leganza. Yick.
Pictures Daewoo Leganza 1998 1

Pictures Daewoo Leganza 1999 1
Sigh. What might have been.

The Alternative Set

At many big-name auto shows, the focus is primarily on the major automakers. Meanwhile, there are those that cater to the alternative and aftermarket, like SEMA and Tokyo Auto Salon. Geneva always had a bit of both, catering to major automakers and many smaller makes as well.

Rinspeed is perhaps one of the best-known outfits in this regard. The concept car builder is based in Switzerland and makes its business working with supplier partners to put together innovative builds that look to the future of automotive transport. In any given year at Geneva, you could expect to see something new from Rinspeed—from the practical to the downright whacky.

The Rinspeed Presto from the 2002 show was a darling little thing—a two-door roadster that could literally extend its body to become a four-seater. It kind of makes one look like they’re driving a shoe, but it looks undeniably fun at the same time.

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If you had three friends, you might enjoy this car.

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Probably not one’s first choice for a daily, but you could absolutely put some carrots in the back.
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The Rinspeed Presto.

One can only imagine the whole point of the Presto was to say “Hey, presto!” when you extended the wheelbase for more room. It was a concept that has, to our knowledge, never caught on in real production cars. Still, being able to shorten the car for pointier handling and easier parking is definitely appealing. You could parallel park in the tiniest spots and still take three friends out to dinner!

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The Rinspeed Exasis.
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More horses in photoshoots please.
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It’s sheer!

The Rinspeed Exasis was a striking off-road buggy with a design reminiscent of the latest Oakley sunglasses in 2007. It was built in partnership with Bayer MaterialScience AG to show off its high-performance transparent plastics.

Perhaps most memorable, though, was the Rinspeed Splash. Debuting at the 2004 Geneva show, it was a fully-functional amphibious car. It used hydroplanes to minimize drag, giving it an impressive top speed of 80 km/h on the water. Its 750 cc engine delivered 140 horsepower running on natural gas, and would propel the vehicle up to 200 km/h on land.

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Most amphibious cars look at least a little bit weird. The Splash just went with it.

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Splash 003

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The Splash made waves, both figuratively and literally. It would go on to appear on Top Gear, with Richard Hammond putting the vehicle through its paces on land and sea. In 2006, a modified version of the Splash would go on to cross the English Channel in 3 hours and 14 minutes, claiming a Guinness World Record for the fastest hydrofoil amphibious car to make the crossing. It was actually a relatively slow time compared to other amphibious cars. The Splash suffered damage early in its transit and also had to contend with heavy traffic in the world’s busiest waterway.

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Rinspeed weren’t the only small fry out there having a go. The 2019 show saw the debut of the hybrid Puritalia Berlinetta. The debut car for the upstart manufacturer, it evolved from an earlier concept called the 427 Roadster, itself a modern interpretation of the classic AC Cobra. It combined a supercharged 5.0-liter Ford Coyote V8 and a YASA axial-flow electric motor into a performance hybrid drivetrain. Puritalia claimed the combined output was a lofty 952 hp, with the Ford V8 delivering 740 horsepower on its own. Drive was sent to all four wheels via a 7-speed automated manual transmission.

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The Puritalia Berlinetta.
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Italian style with American power. It’s a combination that’s been explored in the past.
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The problem a lot of bespoke manufacturers have is that their steering wheel emblems always look a bit silly.

The Berlinetta was a plug-in hybrid, though with a tiny 5.2-kWh battery, it only had an all-electric range of just 12 miles. Initial plans were to build 150 examples, though precious little has been seen of the Berlinetta since its grand appearance at Geneva five long years ago.

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Fornasari picked an excellent color when it built the Gigi 311 GT.

2019 also brought the Fornasari Gigi 311 GT to the show floor, though it had first appeared as a prototype in 2013. A carbon-fiber bodied sports car, it looked like some kind of swoopy classic car from Grand Theft Auto. Despite its distinctly Italian vibes, it drew heavily from the C6 Corvette, including its engine and interior. Still, that got you a V8 engine that offered 641 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque. Fornasari reckoned it would do zero to 60 mph in around 3.5 seconds.

Step back earlier to 2002, and you might have seen the Yak. It was an oddly angular crossover from little-known Italian design house Fioravanti. Led by ex-Ferrari designer Leonardo Fioravanti, it produced a number of interesting concepts over the years, albeit little that went further. 1996 had seen the design house build an ultra-streamlined take on the Fiat Bravo under the name “Flair,” while the 2007 show would see the debut of the Hidra people mover.

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The Yak.
Fioravanti Yak 003
What a name, what a design. If the Pontiac Aztec had a weird Stellantis competitor, this would be it.

Fioravanti’s designs were eye-catching, to be sure. By and large, though, they were either too unappealing or too out there to gain much traction. One highlight that it could wear with pride was the Ferrari SP1, a special one-off supercar built in 2008.

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1996 Fioravanti Flairconcept1
The Flair.
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The Hidra.

Death Knell

The end of the Geneva show is sad, but perhaps not entirely surprising. The official statement really says it all.

“This extremely regrettable decision should not detract from the efforts and determination with which we have tried to regain our success. However, it has to be said that the lack of interest shown by manufacturers in the Geneva Salon in a difficult industry context, the competition from the Paris and Munich shows which are favored by their domestic industry, and the investment levels required to maintain such a show, sound the final blow for a future edition.”
– Alexandre de Senarclens, President of the Comité permanent du Salon international de l’automobile Foundation.

I’ve cherry-picked a few of the hits here today, but there were many more besides. These were the weird and wonderful cars that caught my eye, but you’ve probably seen plenty of others over the years. If you had some hot new car and you needed to get eyes on it, you’d go to Geneva. That was how things worked back in the day!

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Now, it’s often easier for automakers to just throw a few JPEGs or WEBPs (ugh) on a press release and call it good. The realities of digital communication mean that it no longer makes sense for auto magazines the world over to fly their journalists into Geneva to get the scoop on the ground. Much is simply done remotely at much lower cost. Given the financial state of the modern automotive media, it’s perhaps no surprise.

Still, for over a century, Geneva was the place to be, once a year in March. It may be over now, but we can always appreciate it for what it was. Vale.

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Image credits: Fioravanti, Rinspeed, Fornasari, Puritalia, Jaguar, Italdesign, Toyota, Audi, Renault

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Mister Win
Mister Win
13 days ago

I’m glad I’m not the only one who hates WEBPs. Also, m4v is bloated and awful, nobody likes it

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
14 days ago

I love Rinspeed so much. Absolutely bananas cars.

Also, whoever decided to make Lucid’s? (I think?) press kit ALL FRICKIN’ WEBPs deserves a stern talkin’-to. (I’ll stop short of jail because they’re really good about getting back to me on questions, but COME ON. EVERYONE HATES WEBP.)

AverageCupOfTea
AverageCupOfTea
14 days ago

Now i know how Daewoo Leganza got its design, another car was Matiz, its design was for Fiat Cinquecento but they didn’t use it, Daewoo took it, both cars looks good and i love them both for that, even a car maker like Daewoo can have few good cars.

Bobfish
Bobfish
14 days ago

That Jaguar Kensington has a face almost as smug as its name, which is basically perfect. It looks like it was just offered tap instead of sparkling.

The NSX Was Only in Development for 4 Years
The NSX Was Only in Development for 4 Years
14 days ago

I’m really sad it’s gone. I remember so clearly the days of looking through Car and Driver for Geneva coverage and seeing pages of the most bizarre nonsense and hyper-boutique supercars that they only built like 2 of. I always wished I could’ve gone.

EricTheViking
EricTheViking
15 days ago

The first time I visited the Geneva Motor Show in 2011, I was shocked at how tiny the venue was as compared to ones in Frankfurt and Los Angeles. We covered the whole place in less than two hours as compared to eight hours or so for Frankfurt and Los Angeles.

That was only time I had visited Geneva Motor Show.

Denis Maina
Denis Maina
15 days ago

Bruh, this is my first time reading about the dodge demon concept. We were robbed.

Last edited 15 days ago by Denis Maina
Bobfish
Bobfish
14 days ago
Reply to  Denis Maina

There’s an alternate universe where the Dodge Demon, Pontiac Solstice, And a hastily developed to compete Ford Maverick (or Probe) started a “mini-ponycar” battle in the late 2000’s…. with Miata still winning, but variety!
ETA: duh, Ford Capri….based on the NC Miata lol (Ford/Mazda partnership FTW)

Last edited 14 days ago by Bobfish
Roofless
Roofless
14 days ago
Reply to  Denis Maina

There’s a whole world of Daimler-era Chrysler concept cars we were robbed of. Comparing that company’s concepts to its actual outputs is like watching an entire design org update its resume on LinkedIn in real-time.

Rod Millington
Rod Millington
15 days ago

How does that convertible Echo work so well? I just don’t understand how they made that happen.

Chris D
Chris D
15 days ago
Reply to  Rod Millington

It looks like a slightly more modern take on the convertible version of the Suzuki Cultus/Pontiac Firefly/Geo Metro. That should be available, for goodness’ sake!

Chris D
Chris D
15 days ago
Reply to  Chris D

It’s a Yaris, but all is good! That is a little gem. Not a MX-5, but would be a great economical fun runabout.

NAMiata
NAMiata
15 days ago

Geneva was the Autopian of car shows. You never knew what you were going to get. Like the Rinspeed Etos, a car that came with its own drone. It will be missed.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
15 days ago

Sadly, it’s true: Fewer people are observing the Geneva conventions.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
15 days ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

PS. The Gigi 311 GT, Dodge Demon and Yaris Cabrio make me sad they were never produced.

Tim Beamer
Tim Beamer
15 days ago

Sign me up for that Puritalia Berlinetta if I ever hit the lottery.

Toecutter
Toecutter
15 days ago

The Fioravanti Flair has a Cd value of 0.18.

Lizardman in a human suit
Lizardman in a human suit
15 days ago
Reply to  Toecutter

Of course you would bring up a tidbit like that. But I do so enjoy it

Amberturnsignalsarebetter
Amberturnsignalsarebetter
15 days ago
Reply to  Toecutter

I love the treatment of the rear wheel arches – I’m guessing they are marginally beneficial, and they look cool too.

Nic Periton
Nic Periton
15 days ago

Sbarro? You really wrote a long piece about odd cars at the Geneva Motor Show and you did not mention Sbarro. I can only assume that the entire Autopian team are going to devote a whole week to the seven door, eight passenger Fiat Multipla limousines that were built for the 2004 Olympic games.

Spikedlemon
Spikedlemon
15 days ago

What is Rinspeed’s business, and how do they fund themselves?

Timbales
Timbales
15 days ago

That Audi is wearing a magenta thong.

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