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February 9, 2001 – The 100th Chicago Auto Show opens, showing Ford Forty Nine dream car & more

The late 1990s and early 2000s saw a retro renaissance in the auto industry, giving birth to a variety of concept and production cars that hinted at a bygone era. On the heels of the new Volkswagen Beetle and hot rod inspired Plymouth Prowler, both which hit dealers in 1997, came the PT Cruiser, Chevrolet SSR and other modern cars with classic twists. Ford did not want to miss the beat. The company first unveiled a retro Thunderbird concept in 1999. Their next bid to capture the hearts of those stuck in the past was the Ford Forty Nine, a dream car that originally debuted at the 2001 International Auto Show. When the 100th Annual Chicago Auto Show opened on this day in 2001, a slew of modern classic cars littered the floor, but the Forty Nine stole the show.

The Forty Nine was less of a concept car and more of a could we? While the answer was ultimately no, the car came quite close to production. Styled in part by Chip Foose and inspired by Ford’s first all new post WWII cars, the wildly successful 1949 models, the dream ride transported baby boomer looky-loos and wide-eyed youngsters (like myself at the time) to an era of when terms like chopped and channeled could have been Webster’s words of the year. Like the original 1949 Fords that netted more than a million orders before sales even launched, the concept received massive praise. When pressed on the possibility of getting the green light, one Ford executive said the possibility was high. Then the new Thunderbird rolled out.

Above: Ford Forty Nine convertible concept (Ford). Top: Ford Forty Nine coupe concept (Ford)

Did the Ford Forty Nine go into production?

When it debuted the coupe and convertible Forty Nine concepts, many inside the company and plenty of consumers had high hopes of the them coming to market. Both sat on a rear-wheel-drive platform shared with the Lincoln LS, Jaguar S-Type and the soon to launch 11th generation Thunderbird, but only the coupe had a full powertrain. Under its hood sat a 3.9 liter V8 connected to a five speed automatic transmission, the same engine available the new T-Bird. The same T-Bird that would quell any production dreams.

Despite the positive reception of the Forty Nine and the apparent ease at which it could go into production, it wasn’t meant to be. When the new Thunderbird, inspired by the 1955-’57 models, hit the market in June 2001, sales were dismal. This ultimately led Ford to commit its resources elsewhere, shelving the Forty Nine for good. Instead, Ford put the money towards a production version of its new GT, also inspired by models of yesteryear.

Ford Forty Nine interior (Ford)

What else debuted at the 100th Chicago Auto Show?

While the Ford Forty Nine caused quite a stir, plenty of other cars curated crowds. Among the hundreds of vehicles on display were the new Nissan Xterra, as well as concepts like the Toyota RSC, Hyundai HCD6 roadster and the Buick Bengal. Buick had hopes of launching a vehicle like the Bengal, a two seat sports car, to attract younger buyers to the brand. Of course, that never happened. But hey, how about an Encore?

Buick Bengal roadster
Buick Bengal concept (GM)

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