The 2021 Kia Stinger is a solid, rear-wheel-drive sports sedan we would love to see more of on the road. Similar only in name but back in 1989, the Pontiac Stinger concept was a 3.0-liter, 16-valve Iron Duke-powered beach car concept that should have made it into limited production. However, American carmakers had no luck with such halo products at the time, so the Pontiac Stinger’s fluorescent green carbon fiber went nowhere. Three decades on, it’s time for us to take a good look at its bold features alongside Ford’s Splash, another beach hero of the era that was designed by students.
As later executive vice president of GM J. Michael Losh said in 1989, Pontiac’s Stinger was supposed to be a “spirited, great-looking transportation for the under-35 car buyer or the young person in all of us.” Keeping that in mind, Pontiac’s design team created an all-wheel-drive four-seater with an active air suspension powered by its own 3.0-liter four-cylinder that could raise the car by four inches.
The Stinger also came with anti-lock brakes, a compass on the dash, removable lower door glass alongside four more detachable body pieces, and an accessory list long enough to put a 2021 Ford Bronco to shame, including a camp stove, portable AM/FM stereo, a pair of handheld vacuum cleaners and a torch. How about standard equipment as cell phones, CD player, a drink cooler mounted in the doors, tool case, first aid kit, extension cord, camping table, biking bags, or a garden hose of all things? The Pontiac Stinger got you covered, and not just with sand.
Also displayed at the 1989 Detroit Motor Show was Ford’s Splash, a two-seater beach roadster designed by four hired students under the direction of Jack Telnack. This equally functional all-wheel drive one-off also featured a variable suspension and an exterior by Warren Manser, who gave the Splash reversible side view mirrors with off-road lights, fiber optic tail lights and custom show car tires. More importantly, Ford’s fun mobile aimed at those youngsters came with a neoprene interior.
In 2002, at a Christies’ auction of Ford prototypes, the Splash went to a new home for a respectable $70,500, while the non-functioning Ghia Vivace you can still buy on Bring a Trailer now sold for $7,636. MotorWeek had a blast at the show that was pretty much all about Chrysler’s Viper RT/10 Viper concept, yet also came back reporting that Buick already had to cut back its Reatta production for 1989, with Cadillac also complaining about its Allante sales. Meanwhile, Bob Lutz’s crew was just about to launch their TC by Maserati, aiming for an output of 3,500 Italian-American cars in the first year. Chrysler ended up selling 2,924, followed up by a record 3,298 in 1990.
As far as Stingers go, Korea’s started out as the Kia GT Concept at the 2011 Frankfurt Auto Show, evolved into the Kia GT4 Stinger concept of 2014, and debuted as a production sports sedan tuned by the former BMW M crew by 2017. The Pontiac brand gave up just about a decade ago, and we’re still missing our beach car. Ford?
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