Con­cept cars from by­gone eras seem to have been the ex­clu­sive realm of rogue de­sign­ers with the full man­u­fac­tur­ing ex­tent of an au­to­mo­tive gi­ant at their fin­ger­tips. And, with all that po­ten­tial, a lot of turds were quickly binned be­fore they ever got sighted pub­licly, though an oc­ca­sional di­a­mond in the rough did slip through the high-se­cu­rity doors to grace our eyes.

So, if you’ve ever won­dered what would hap­pen if a brand took its main­stream lux­ury model and let an Ital­ian de­sign com­pany go nuts re­design­ing it, here’s your an­swer: the Lexus Lan­dau — a never-to-be-pro­duced hot hatch that packed a very un­ex­pected heart.

What you’re look­ing at here is a 1994 Lexus GS300 (or Aristo, in Toy­ota terms), but one that mor­phed into a com­pact hatch­back. Much like the GS that it was based on, the Lexus Lan­dau was de­signed by Italde­sign.

What it might lack in the styling de­part­ment by to­day’s stan­dards — it looks as though it was ripped straight out of a Hyundai cat­a­logue — back in ’94 it would have been the modern vi­sion of Euro­pean de­sign, with hints of Maserati all over it. But what it re­ally had go­ing for it lay be­neath the skin, as it made use of the GS300 power train.

Yep, that unas­sum­ing econo-look hatch­back houses a 186kW 1UZ power plant, a four-speed au­to­matic, and a four-wheel-drive sys­tem that de­liv­ers power to each wheel. It shouldn’t come as a sur­prise that when we say this is a GS300, we mean it lit­er­ally, as the car shares the same floor­pan, but cut down. They chopped off about 600mm from the length and raised the roofline by 50mm. Re­move all the Lexus badges, and you’d have no idea where it came from.

De­spite its smaller stature, in­side space wasn’t neg­a­tively af­fected, but, to free up more room, the en­gi­neers re­lo­cated

the fuel tank un­der­neath the rear seats. So, in other words, the Lan­dau was every much the lux­ury and com­fort horse that the GS was, but in a way smaller pack­age.

The de­signer said that it set out to prove, “That con­cepts such as com­fort, lux­ury, and re­fine­ment are not nec­es­sar­ily the sole re­serve of big cars.” We’d say it achieved that.

And who would com­plain about smash­ing through the daily com­mute in the ul­ti­mate fac­tory-pro­duced sleeper? Sure, its fuel economy wouldn’t come close to ri­valling to­day’s ex­am­ples, but that’s not what this was built for — we think. What­ever the Ital­ians had in mind, the Lan­dau is eas­ily awarded the ti­tle of the most unas­sum­ing lux­ury barge ever de­signed. It’s just a shame it was never made …

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