Wacky concepts of the '50s - '60s USA

So, last christmas my parents got me a big fat book about wacky, stupid and generally nonsensible cars and concepts of all types and eras. What struck me the most was the almost suicidally wacky cars that (mainly) the big three developed in the good 'ol US of A during the golden age of cars, namely the late '40s to the late '60s.

As the penultimate car-nut i am, not hesitating to dive into old dusty books and lurk into wierd websites for hours searching for data i decided to go on a grand quest and find more info on these wierd creations.
One can call it whatever they want. Was it innovation? Was it ingenuity? Was it a glimpse into a bright future or was it utter madness that should get the designer taken outside and shot? You decide!

Join me in this great quest as we travel to the mysteries of the golden age of the automobile in the eldorado of car-countries - USA!

[size=150]Not so long ago…[/size]
…The era is the 1950’s and we find ourselves in the USA. It’s the age of the atom with mushroom-clouds rising over the New Mexico desert, it’s the era of the rocket and the satellite with sci-fi books filling the shelves and every theatre showing amazing stories of astronauts travelling to distant stars to fight slimy monsters on desert planets. Skyscrapers rose higher and higher, with more glass and steel than the neighbouring building. Every decent american saw scary Communists in every street corner and any suspicious-looking man in trenchcoat and stetson hat could be a potential KGB-spy sent by Moscow. Anything with large fins, a metric tonne of chrome and a very large blurbing V8 was the hottest thing on wheels and every year the crome shone more, the fins became larger and the V8’s bigger and blurbier… In this context we find our penultimate cars of the future, and first off is Ford with their…

[size=150]Ford Nucleon[/size]


As you can see this rather sleek concept from 1958 existed in the works both with and without fancy fins plus the fashionable whitewall tyres, but that wasn’t the main technological edge this streamlined cruiser had to offer… That came in the form of it’s Nuclear reactor powerplant located in the back, Everyone who has played some Fallout 3, where cars like these are littered across the landscape know how they could look. Assuming that the power figures for these cars featured in the game would be somewhat realistic you would look at 0 - 100km/h in split seconds tyre grip permitting of course, Nice, clean emissions merely consisting of water-vapor and excess heat and some insanely good mileage to service-cost ratios with only changing the central uranium-core every 4 or 5 years.* Sci-Fi! Future! Atomics!* The downside of course being what you would do with the depleted uranium cores when they should be interchanged… There were rougly 250 million cars registered in the US in 2007, if you assume that 50% of those 250 million cars would be driven by atomic engines today if the technology for making them became common in the '60s and every uranium-cartridge would consist of 0.5kg of Uranium you would have to deal with 62,5 MILLION kilograms of uranium averagely every 5 years… We have problems taking care of a few hundred tonnes worldwide every year today! Imagine those 625.000 tonnes every 5 years for 50 years… wow…

And last but not least, what will happen if you have an accident? :wink:. Beware of small mushroom-clouds by the roadside here and there…

[size=150]Meanwhile, in the office across the street…[/size]

As Ford penned their atomic-driven miracles in the Ford-building GM didn’t rest on their laurels. In their vision the future wasn’t atomic, it was rocket-powered! Yes! Flames and kerosene indeed, and they penned their Firebird-series (No, not the Pontiac ones) to prove their point. There were 3 series of concepts released in this study, all of them made as 1:1 sized concepts, fully drivable and reasonably well developed.

However, the use of a jet engine fell short as it was, quite frankly, suicidal madness to imagine a jet propelled car even for a '50s american car designer, so the choice of engine fell to the classical and reasonably well proven Gas turbine, which could in theory be powered by anything that was liquid and flammable but worked best with airplane-grade kerosene not found at your local gas-station. Nevertheless GM went ahead and built a few examples i will present here:

[size=150]Firebird I[/size]

The Firebird 1, presented in 1954 was to be a small fibreglass sports coupe in the shape of a rocket powered by the Whirlfire Turbo Power turbine at a whopping 370hp and spewing out exhausts at almost 700°C, hot enough to melt lead! Needless to say, this was utter madness as the one test-“pilot” that tried it stopped short of 160km/h as the car almost lost control because of the extreme torque. It never saw production because of the extremely low mileage to gallon it gives you, it’s rather unsafe design and general impracticality, not to mention how hard it is to find jet-grade kerosene at affordable prices for the average joe… But at least it looks cool!

[size=150]Firebird II[/size]

In 1954 GM realized that their Jet-turbine powered lineup of the future needed something more than the insane sportscar that was the Firebird I, so they made a nice spacious sedan for the average American family of mom, dad and their child!
With a rather modest 200hp engine, 2-speed gearbox and an all-titanium body and a bubble top of plexiglass it was to be the ultimate family-car of the future. As earlier stated, this became rather impractical for everyone at GM as titanium was a nightmare to obtain and process into car parts and fuel avalibility coped with some nasty service-costs made it a dream for the bold and brave. It did, however, feature novelties as all-wheel disc brakes to stop your rocketcar and a novelty guidance system akin to those you would find on bumper-cars, as a simple computer would help the driver stay on the highway at his 300km/h+ speeds by signals from wires in the road, not a bad thought considering this was the US and the '50s and safety wasn’t top priority like style and power was.

[size=150]Firebird III[/size]

Finally, they had the Firebird III designed in 1958 with the sporty younger couple in mind, with 2-bubble top canopys for the passenger and driver but limited room for luggage and no room for whiney kids. This beast would have a body of titanium and aside from it’s Whirlfire gas turbine engine jetting out 225hp it would have a small gasoline engine at about 10hp just to power all the luxurious accessiories such as Climate control, cruise control, ABS and the fail-safe aerobrakes like the ones jetplanes has!

So, as you can see GM didn’t lack vision and futuristic thought on their part, Gas-turbines may have horrible l/km ratings but you could empty the good old minibar and the deep-fryer into the tank and get to work if everything else fails. :wink:

Nice write-up! And wow… it really was a time specked with insanity :smiley:

Oh dear Killrob, it’s not over yet! :smiley:.

Ford also produced a small show-off in 1961 that was for all intent just marketing and research into how the cars of the future would be stabilized, So they made the…

Ford Gyron!


What is so special with this car-motorcycle-thing then? Well first off it’s 100% battery powered, so it’s not a far fling from what some people imagine will be our own future, These batteries power a electric motor located at the rear tyre. Yes, there were only to be 2 tyres, one at the front and one at the back, the car would have to be stabilized by means of 2 gyroscopes inside the body, shifting miniscule weights back and forts so you would ride totally calm and nice on the highway until your batteries run out. If you look at it you will se that it also sports that, for it’s time, totally fashionable plexiglass canopy and some tiny tiny wheels for preventing it tipping over when parked. Ahhh, lovely times indeed.

Interestingly, the designer of the project, Alex Tremulis had before he joined with Ford and went ahead with the Gyron spent some time designing gyroscopic motorcycles, UFO’s for the US Airforce and this one, the Tucker Torpedo:

Tucker Torpedo, too bad you didn’t made it, such a beautiful and efficient car… But that’s another story i’ll ptobably ramble on about later!

Oh and if you thought that only GM as a whole considered things like rockets and jet-engines you are dead wrong, Cadillac also wanted to join the fray…
In 1959 Cadillac had reached the peak of their power, that is, they now had the tallest wings on a production car in the world. So how did the future look like?
No wings it would seem, but rockets, RADAR and more plexiglass canopys!

They were set to work using some real high tech, and after a while they could present the Cadillac Cyclone!

Oh my what a beast!

Well, the jet-turbine they had settled for at first (the same as in the Firebird-series) was ditched because of terrible mileage and the fact that you had to be on the run constantly, idling meant that something started to melt or burn sooner rather than later, so they fit a rather conventional 6.4L V8 engine rated at 325 hp in the front but decided they would go for a VW Beetle-esque transaxle with both the transmission and the differential in the same housing in the back. All independent suspension and as always, that plexiglass canopy (that could actually be retracted this time) was covered on vaporized silver particles to help block out the sun. The most modern and striking feature this baby carried wasn’t the ordinary engine or the silver-coated canopy, no no, It had two RADAR-units located in the black rocket-like nosecones in the front and supposedly some kind of beeping-system in the car warning you of incoming cars several hundred meters or perhaps kilometers ahead! My guess is that it would be rather dull to listen to in a highway blocking, and what avout that electro-magnetic radiation emitted from the Radars?

Needless to say, it looks sleek and cool! But hey, that’s NOTHING compared to the follow-up with the same name:

Cadillac Cyclone II

This beast was made in 1964 as a model and a few conceptual drawings only, mainly for Cadillac to have a car that they could out-punch the Lincoln Continental Mark II and find a suitable engine for their Up-coming Eldorade which had to to with “just” a 8.0L V8 instead of a V12 or V16. Rumors have it that Cadillac have the actual blueprints still hidden in some basement somewhere… As said it would be powered by an equally hypothetical V12 engine or perhaps even a V16 as both of them were in the works. You might imagine this being somewhat of a monster, but oh my GOD what a monster! the “Silver Arrow” is afitting name indeed. Let’s take a sneak-peek into the future to see if this project ever got anywhere…

Cadillac Sixteen

Oh yeah, you knew it! Spot on, Cadillacs Sixteen-concept of 2003 does more than borrow* just a little* from the Cyclone II, It’s practically it’s reborn future! As it’s predecessor it would feature a V16 too with the option of a V12 for those not rich enough for the V16, but that’s too far into the future, just wanted to show y’all how it all hangs together.

Coming soon: Even MORE nuttery from Ford and what was Chrysler up to in all these days? Stay tuned!


What about this Aurora ? :mrgreen:

EDIT : as the image doesn’t work, I put the entire page. (in french)

You forgot the Dodge Turbine. It had a turbine engine that could run on a large variety of fuels. Dodge made about 60 for test families. They were terrified by the engine’s ability to rev over 45,000 RPM. Dodge then destroyed all but three of the cars. (Most were completely destroyed but some had their engines deactivated) One of the cars with deactivated engines was reactivated so there are 4 working ones left.


EDIT: scratch that. It was a Chrysler.

Lincoln Futura, where they take the Batmobile from


[quote=“markfrank”]Lincoln Futura, where they take the Batmobile from


seriously…Batman stop loaning your car out its gonna get nicked xD

[quote=“Cwazywazy”]You forgot the Dodge Turbine. It had a turbine engine that could run on a large variety of fuels. Dodge made about 60 for test families. They were terrified by the engine’s ability to rev over 45,000 RPM. Dodge then destroyed all but three of the cars. (Most were completely destroyed but some had their engines deactivated) One of the cars with deactivated engines was reactivated so there are 4 working ones left.


EDIT: scratch that. It was a Chrysler.[/quote]

Jay Leno has a working one. Check out Jay Leno’s Garage on youtube, where he actually drives his. I was amased, how well it operates. :slight_smile:

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