The year was 1986 and French car maker Peugeot was in a celebratory mood. They had just won the World Rally Championship two years in a row, both as a manufacturer and in the individual driver categories.
To celebrate, Peugeot created a concept car that was introduced at the Paris motor Show that year. One might expect a concept car celebrating rally victories to be rally themed, but Peugeot actually introduced a successor to the well-received Quasar coupé concept of 1984.
This new concept was named Proxima, after Proxima (or Alpha) Centauri, the closest star to our sun. The name suggested space travel and science fiction, as did the Quasar before it.
The car’s design was also influenced by the radical creations of Luigi Colani, design maverick and self-proclaimed aerodynamics genius.
Colani, who might be described as the David Bowie of automotive design (among other more colourful, and unprintable descriptions), was enjoying one of the occasional periods of appreciation of his work at the time, and apparently provided a little inspiration to the team at Stile Peugeot.
The first thing that one notices, after absorbing the science fiction image of the Proxima, is the overall stance. The wheels are pushed to the four corners of the car, and in the case of the rear pair, look like an appendage rather than part of the car. Still the car looks like it is ready to spring forward, an appropriate image for a company whose symbol is a lion.
The front mask is recognizably Peugeot-esque with the scowling headlights and a variation on the Peugeot grille of the time. The carbonfibre body, at least in front view, looks like a supercar. At the back, however, things are very different. The engine was located at the rear and was exposed along the lower flanks both at the rear and the sides. The extreme location of the wheels also adds to the odd proportions.
While from the exterior the Proxima looks like a two-seat supercar, it is in fact a 2+2, with tiny buckets behind the front seats that look more like an upholstered luggage compartment. To enter the cockpit, one slid the electronic keycard into its slot, and then slid the canopy back and finally stepped over the side of the body.
There was a shallow running board tucked into the bodside to assist in this process, but its position under the shoulder line seems to limit its usefulness.
At any rate, with an overall height of just over a metre, the high step into the interior did not seem to be much of an obstacle. Lowering oneself into the driver or passenger seat was an immersion into a sea of the colour red. The seats, the IP, the surrounding finishes are all brilliant red, with blue accents and flooring.
The IP is more like an ensemble of computer modules; the two computers on board, plus five cameras fed into five “high definition displays” facing the driver and passenger. An early satellite navigation system plus cameras and radar aided in safely traversing the Champs-Élysées. The entertainment centre is directly in front of the passenger.
Like all bubbletops, once that canopy is closed, the heat can build up quickly, so solar panels on the rear deck of the car powered a cooling system linked to a thermostat.
The Proxima was powered by a 2.8-litre bi-turbo 24 valve V6 – most likely based on the one powering Welter Racing’s Le Mans prototypes – that produced 680 bhp, and was set amidships, behind the cabin. All four wheels were driven, with a traction control system on board to keep the car gripping the road. An early collision avoidance system was on board to assist with emergency braking.
The Proxima was well received at the Paris show. Of course, the Quasar of a couple of years prior had already prepared the way with its radical form. But everyone knew it was pure fantasy – a way of showing advanced technology in a science fiction form.
It is interesting to compare the Proxima to even more radical IAD Alien concept, also of 1986. That car was introduced at the Turin show and was, in many ways, similar to the Proxima – but even more extreme. The car was visibly divided into two – a silver power pod pushed a blue/black passenger pod.
Both cars had non-traditional massing and proportions. The extreme placement of the engine in both cars suggested a pulling apart of power and passenger sections. The Alien just took the idea one or two steps further.
The Proxima was followed by the two-seat Oxia concept of 1988. While Peugeot moved on to a decade of new and interesting concepts and other racing triumphs, the Quasar, the Proxima, and the Oxia of the late ’80s remain a memorable trio of concepts.
As for the rally effort, Peugeot had to move on from the Group B victories after 1986. The races were deemed too dangerous. A particularly gruesome crash in Portugal cast a shadow over the whole class of racers, which were very powerful and sophisticated, but fragile. The Group B class was cancelled for 1987, and Peugeot moved on to eventually dominate Group C endurance racing with the V10-powered 905 instead.
The Proxima remains a part of Peugeot’s corporate collection and makes regular appearances at Concours in the U.S. and Europe.
Proxima Video walkaround: