GM Firebird XP-21

GM Firebird XP-21 1960s American concept car

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 which it was modelled? Probably not - though its aviation-style cockpit suggested otherwise! Mauri Rose was the Firebird's fearless test-driver. He gave the XP-21 a big thumbs-up. Straight-line stability, he reported, was more than impressive.

The XP-21 was America's first gas-turbine car. As such, it set a trend that other marques followed. The 'Whirlfire Turbo-Power' turbine revved to 13,300rpm. The 'gasifier' that turned it spun at nearly twice that speed. Heat from the exhaust reached 677°C. Drum brakes and 'wing-flaps' slowed the car down. The XP-21 was the first of a trio of Firebirds. '55 saw the birth of the Firebird II - a 4-seater affair. In '58 came the 2-seater Firebird III. By that stage, the car had entered road mode - and was a test-bed for cutting edge components. The Firebird XP-21, then, was proof positive of GM's commitment to the future.

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