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GM Firebird XP-21

GM's mythical 'Motorama' show spawned many an unusual exhibit. An orgy of exoticism, visitors expected the radical and bizarre. Whether they were quite prepared for what GM served up to them in '54 is debatable. The Firebird XP-21 took automotive outlandishness to another level! For starters, was it a car or a plane? Well, it did not fly, so presumably that made it was a car. But, it did not look like one - at least, not in any conventional sense. What it was, of course, was a 'concept' car ... one which pushed the limits, visually and technically.The Firebird's space-age looks were drawn by the legendary Harley Earl. He was GM's head of design, at the time. From its projectile-style nose - to rear-mounted fin - the Firebird had dynamism written all over it. Its gas-turbine-engine made 370bhp ... though its top speed stat is not known. It was just a 'dream car', after all. Could it have kept pace with the Douglas Skyray - the plane on…
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Oldsmobile Golden Rocket

In the mid-'50s, Oldsmobile's image looked decidedly dowdy. The 'Golden Rocket' was about to do something about that. Ultimately, it was just a 'dream car' concept. A missile on wheels, visually,the Golden Rocket was never destined for the open road. It blazed a trail at the '56 'Motorama', nonetheless. The Golden Rocket toured the US as part of GM's state-of-the-art show. Fast-forward a year and a half - and it was tripping the light fantastic in France. The car was a must-see exhibit at the Paris Motor Show, that year.When it came to its shape, the Golden Rocket went ballistic - literally. Space-age design was all the rage at the time - and GM had really gone to town. In profile, it was as much like a projectile as a car. With its chromium nose - and 'bullets' back-end - the Golden Rocket made a startling statement of intent. The subtly-styled 'shark fins' - rising at the rear - only added to the suspense.Inside, too,…

Chrysler Turboflite

The Chrysler Turboflite had 'radical' written all over it. The goal was to put a gas-turbine-powered car in the showrooms of America. The set-up had been seen before - in land speed record cars. Chrysler wanted to make it available to Everyman ... albeit detuned a tad! The company had already done its R&D. As far back as '54, it put a gas-turbine in a Plymouth. The car was driven from NY to LA - by Head of Research George Huebner. 50 or so variations on the theme were built. Not to mention, numerous new motors. In '61, the test schedule was complete. Chrysler were ready to unveil their latest gas-turbine-powered creation. They dubbed it the 'Turboflite'.Maury Baldwin styled the new dream car. Restrained, it was not! Most notably - and that was saying something - it came equipped with an aerofoil. Not just any old aerofoil, mind! But one that pivoted, to help with braking. At the front, the open wheels and pointed nose smacked of street-rods.…

Ford Mustang 1

As far as automotive legends go, they do not come much bigger than Lee Iacocca! He it was who saw the clout in a car which would go on to become an American icon. The Ford Mustang 1 prototype first appeared at Watkins Glen racetrack - in October '62. Dan Gurney and Stirling Moss were driving. It wowed the crowd - which included Iacocca! The young Ford product planner saw potential written all over the Mustang 1. His only concern was that it might be too extreme for the mainstream motorist. He resolved to tone down the car's shape a tad, for starters. But, that he had glimpsed the future of Ford, he was in no doubt.The Mustang 1 Iacocca witnessed at Watkins Glen was always going to be different from that which rolled onto the roads of America. The new car's body - by Troutman and Barnes - was a low, flat slab of aluminium. Good aerodynamics were a given. Cutting edge retractable headlights smoothed the flow of the car's nose. A stylish rollover bar was perfe…

Excalibur SS

The Excalibur SS was styled by Brooks Stevens - one of the great industrial designers. Stevens was prolific, to put it mildly. In the course of his 61 years in the profession, he amassed 550 clients - and thousands of designs. Thankfully for gearheads, some of them were for cars. Probably the best-known was the Jeep Jeepster ... the first cool 4x4.Arguably even cooler, was the Excalibur J sports-racer. It first appeared in '52. But, Stevens really hit the jackpot - at least in terms of publicity - with the Excalibur SS concept car. Unveiled in '63, it fitted in perfectly with the increasingly popular 'retro' design trend. When the SS wowed the NY Auto Show, Stevens was inundated with orders. With its Studebaker Lark chassis - and supercharged V8 engine - the SS was an intriguing mix of old and new. Dyed-in-the-wool vintage fans did not like it. Everybody else thought it was great!Concept complete, Stevens' next step was to render the SS road-ready. A Ch…

ATS Tipo 100

In development terms, few cars can match the ATS Tipo 100 for intrigue. In '61, Ferrari's race division was riding high. As F1's new 1.5-litre era dawned, prospects for the prancing horse marque looked rosy. The fire-engine red, shark-nosed Ferraris ruled the F1 roost. Enzo Ferrari - founder of the firm - was, no doubt, a happy man. Not so, though, some of his employees. At the end of the '61 season, Enzo fell out with his top engineers. As a result, they picked up their spanners and left.Ring-leader of these motor racing dissidents was Carlo Chiti. Rotund of frame - and temperamental by nature - many considered him a design genius. He was also thought of as a thoroughly good egg! Chiti took his troop of disgruntled technicians to Sasso Marconi - near Bologna. Before long, he had set up a factory and foundry. Chiti had financial clout - courtesy of a trio of industrialists. He was a man on a motor racing mission. After the mass walk-out from Modena, Ferra…