Showing posts with label American Classic Concept Cars. Show all posts
Showing posts with label American Classic Concept Cars. Show all posts

GM Firebird XP-21

GM Firebird XP-21 1960s American classic concept car

GM's mythical Motorama show spawned many an unusual exhibit. An orgy of automotive exoticism, visitors expected the radical and bizarre. Though whether any of them were prepared for what was served up to them in '54 is debatable. GM's Firebird XP-21 took prototypical outlandishness to a stratospheric level. First off, was it a car or a plane? It appeared to have elements of both. Since it did not fly, presumably that made it a car. But, it did not look like a car - at least, not in any conventional sense. The answer, of course, was that it was a concept car - one which pushed the believability limits, both visually and technically.

The Firebird's space-age looks were drawn by Harley Earl. He was GM's legendary head of design, at the time. From its projectile-style nose - to rear-mounted fin - the Firebird came with dynamism built-in. Its gas-turbine-engine made 370bhp. Sadly, its top speed stat was never established. Perhaps that was for the best. It was a 'dream car', after all. Could it have kept pace with the Douglas Skyray - the aircraft 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 the thumbs up - impressed, as he was, by its straight-line stability.

GM's Firebird was America's first gas-turbine 'car'. Over time, a few other marques followed suit. The XP-21's '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. When the time came, drum brakes and wing-flaps slowed the plot down. The XP-21 was the first of a trio of Firebirds. '55 saw the Firebird II - a 4-seater affair. In '58 came the Firebird III - this time a 2-seater. By that stage, the car was in road mode - a test-bed for cutting edge components. If there was any doubt about GM's commitment to the future, the Firebird XP-21 blew it well and truly into the weeds!

Oldsmobile Golden Rocket

Oldsmobile Golden Rocket 1950s American classic concept car

In the mid-Fifties, Oldsmobile's brand-image looked decidedly dowdy. The Golden Rocket was intended to change that. As a 'dream car' concept, it was never destined for the open road. Its purpose was to fire up Oldsmobile's creative energies again. A missile on wheels, the Golden Rocket's mission was to blaze a trail for Oldsmobile roadsters to come. To that end, it featured in the '56 Motorama. It toured the US as part of GM's state of the art automotive show. Fast-forward a year and a half - to '58 - and the Golden Rocket could be seen 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's stylists went ballistic - literally! Space-age design was all the rage at the time. Oldsmobile went to town with it. In profile, it was more like a projectile than a car. With its chromium nose - and 'bullets' back-end - the Golden Rocket was a startling statement of intent. A set of 'shark fins' only added to the suspense!

Inside, too, the Golden Rocket stood out. When a door was opened, it triggered an automatic response. The roof-panel pivoted up. Simultaneously, the seats rose 3″ - and swivelled invitingly. The steering-wheel's position was adjustable. The Golden Rocket, then, was more than a mere showcase - it was a technical test-bed. This was a heady time to be an automotive designer. The future seemed up for grabs - with anything possible. Saying that - with its venerable V8 engine - the Golden Rocket was not entirely divorced from the past. But - on the whole - the idea was to innovate. In that regard, it was like a breath of fresh air in Detroit. Garbed in shimmering plastic, the Oldsmobile Golden Rocket promised a brave new motoring world!

Chrysler Turboflite

Chrysler Turboflite 1960s American classic concept car

The Turboflite had radical written all over it. Chrysler's goal was to put a gas-turbine-powered car in the showrooms of America. Certainly, the system had been seen before - in land speed record cars! Chrysler wanted to make it widely available. Albeit, detuned a tad! The R&D work was already done. In '54, Chrysler installed a gas-turbine engine in a Plymouth. The car was driven from NY to LA - by Head of Research George Huebner. 50 or so variations on the Plymouth theme had been built. Not to mention, numerous new motors. In '61, the test schedule was complete. Chrysler unveiled its latest gas-turbine creation. It was dubbed the Turboflite.

Maury Baldwin designed the new dream car. He did not pull any stylistic punches. Most notably - and that was saying something - it was fitted with an aerofoil. Not just any old aerofoil, though. This one pivoted - to help with braking. At the front, open wheels and a pointy nose smacked of street-rods. Baldwin had not held back on the chrome. The Turboflite's interior was similarly striking. Space-age seats looked suitably enticing. Electro-luminescent lighting added a relaxed ambience. Even climbing into the cabin was fun. Opening the doors automatically raised the cockpit canopy, for ease of access.

The Turboflite's gas-turbine motor was code-named CR2A. Chrysler claimed it weighed half as much as their standard V8. After all, it was made up of just 60 - rather than 300 - moving parts. Chrysler knew it worked. A Dodge truck put it through its paces, prior to the Turboflite's launch. Ghia were recruited to coachbuild the car. The Italian masters were given the most exacting of briefs. Chrysler were serious about this one - so, every last detail mattered. In due course, Ghia built bodies for the Chrysler Turbine - the production version of the Turboflite prototype. But while it was ultimately, then, a means to an end, the Chrysler Turboflite's exuberance made it more than a mere staging-post!

Dodge Firearrow

Dodge Firearrow 1950s American classic concept car

The Dodge Firearrow was an American-Italian collaboration. Coachbuilders Carrozzeria Ghia - based in Turin - finessed the fine details. Their craftsmanship was second to none. Resplendent in red - and sporting a polished metal belt-line - the Firearrow was an elegant, well-proportioned automobile.

Ghia liaised with Virgil Exner. He was chief stylist for the Firearrow. Exner - and his colleagues in the Chrysler art department - came up with a clean and tidy design. Restrained and tastefully-placed lines were the backdrop for a plethora of neat features. The way the bodywork overhung the wheels was a sweet touch. Inside, the wooden steering wheel bespoke class. Twin seats were sumptuously upholstered.

The Dodge's engine was an all-American V8. 152bhp shot the Firearrow III coupé up to 143mph. The Firearrow timeline was a long one. It started out as a show car mock-up. A working prototype duly followed. Decked out in yellow - and with wire wheels - it featured in '54's 'Harmony on Wheels' extravaganza. After that - along with the coupé - came the Firearrow and Firebomb convertibles. The idea was just to whack a bit of wow factor back into the jaded Dodge brand. But - so big a hit were they with the public - that a limited production run was soon mooted. It was privately funded - by Detroit's Dual Motors. 117 Firebomb replicas were built. They went under the name of the Dual-Ghia. Virgil Exner - and his feverish work ethic - had delivered on two fronts. Dodge received its much-needed facelift. And the Firearrow lit up the landscape, in its own right!

Chrysler K-310

Chrysler K-310 1950s American classic concept car

The K-310 was a Chrysler/Ghia collaboration. It was facilitated by Fiat. The firm had approached Chrysler - with a view to the American giant helping streamline its manufacturing process. Chrysler immediately spotted a symbiotic relationship. They could benefit from Italian craftsmanship. Subsequently, Ghia and Pininfarina - two of the great automotive design houses - built and submitted bodywork to Chrysler. Ghia got the gig. Their brief had been the Plymouth XX-500 saloon. Whilst slightly underwhelmed by the mock-up's looks, Chrysler were in awe of Ghia's coachbuilding skills. They liked the price, too!

Over to Virgil Exner - Chrysler chief designer. He was tasked with penning a prototype. Exner came up with the K-310. Drafts and scale models of the new car were dispatched to Turin - home to Ghia HQ. In due course, Chrysler were sent back a fully-fledged roadster. The invoice was just $20,000. Kaufman Keller was pleased. He was Chrysler's president - and the man who put the 'K' in K-310. Ghia had brought to glittering life, Exner's sculpted lines and low profile design. The car was laden with exotic features. Most notably, the enlarged wheels were highlighted by whitewall tyres - and generously-sized arches. The front-end was adorned by a diminutive 'egg-crate' grille. At the back, the shape of the spare wheel embellished a moulded boot lid.

Innovative as the K-310 was visually, in one respect, at least, Chrysler's song remained the same. To wit, the booming baritone from the car's V8 engine. Indeed, it could be heard all around Auburn Hills, Michigan - Chrysler's home town. With '51's K-310 concept car, Virgil Exner went out on a limb, aesthetically. And thanks to Ghia, Chrysler was now competing on every front - including craftsmanship!

Chrysler Thunderbolt

Chrysler Thunderbolt 1940s American classic concept car

The Chrysler Thunderbolt was named after the land speed record car, driven by Captain George Eyston. That mission had been accomplished at Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah - in '38. The 2-seat roadster Thunderbolt sported an apt chrome lightning flash on its doors. Its straight-eight 323.5 cubic-inch engine made 143bhp. Rather less, no doubt, than its record-breaking namesake. Like the LSR car, though, the Thunderbolt prototype was a promotional tool. In '41, six Thunderbolts duly departed Detroit. They did the rounds of Chrysler dealerships, throughout the USA. The job of these 'dream cars' was to generate buzz for the new range of Chryslers to come.

Alex Tremulis was tasked with designing the Thunderbolt. A freelancer, at the time, the commission from Chrysler kick-started his career. The Thunderbolt was radical. Its bodywork was a rounded slab of aluminium. Beneath it, wheels and tyres were only partially visible. The body was built by LeBaron - later acquired by Briggs Manufacturing. Technically, too, the Thunderbolt was ahead of the game. Its roof and headlights were electrically retractable. Tiny push buttons opened the doors - rather than conventional handles. The air intake was below the front bumper. Avant-garde stuff, indeed, in the 1940s.

The chassis, at least, was mainstream. It was carried over from the Chrysler New Yorker. Indeed, the Thunderbolt had its roots in the Chrysler Crown Imperial. That was in stark contrast, then, to the sci-fi gadgetry of the interior. Saying that, it was upholstered in traditional leather. In the toy shops, tin replicas of the Thunderbolt sold by the shedload. Each of the half-dozen life-size cars came in its own custom colour scheme. One of them is on display at the Walter P. Chrysler Museum - in Auburn Hills, Michigan. The Chrysler Thunderbolt, then, was a stylish blend of automotive futurism and coachbuilt craftmanship.