By Bill DeMain
1. Lincoln Futura (1955)
Lincoln designer Bill Schmidt was scuba diving in the Bahamas when he had a close encounter with a shark. Inspired by the predator's sharp contours, Schmidt designed the Futura. The concept car, hand-built in Italy at a cost of $250,000, electrified the auto-show circuit. While most concept cars are quickly forgotten, the Futura found immortality when it was customized into TV's original Batmobile in 1966.
2. GM Sunraycer (1987)
In 1987, General Motors entered this alien-looking craft in the rigorous 1,950-mile World Solar Race in Australia. And it won! The one-seater was made of plastic and aluminum and weighed just 390 lbs. More impressively, it was fueled by a single magnet and 7,200 solar cells. Although the Sunraycer was soon retired, it did inspire the EV-1, the first electric car to make it onto America's highways in 1996.
3. Ford FX-Atmos (1954)
This space-age dream craft had a rocket body, bubble dome, and a radar screen on the dashboard. Unfortunately, no one took the FX seriously. No one, that is, except animators at Hanna-Barbera. Impressed by the futuristic look, they used the design as inspiration for the family car in The Jetsons.
4. Guy Negre's Air Car (2007)
Writer Jules Verne once envisioned a future in which cars would run on air. Now, inventor and environmentalist Guy Negre is hoping to make that dream a reality. His pod-like vehicle uses compressed air to power the cylinders of its piston engine. There's no combustion and no pollution. The drawbacks? It takes four hours to refill one tank, which can only carry the car 125 miles. Still, that hasn't stopped Tata Motors in India from promising to soon mass-produce this windbag on wheels.
This article originally appeared in the 'Scatterbrained' section of the March-April 2009 issue of mental_floss magazine.