CONCEPT WE FORGOT
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 …