Showing posts with label Concept Cars. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 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!

Ford Mustang 1

Ford Mustang 1 1960s American classic concept car

Lee Iacocca is an automotive legend! As soon as he set eyes on the Ford Mustang 1 prototype, he knew it could become an American icon. That was at Watkins Glen racetrack - in October '62. Dan Gurney and Stirling Moss were driving the Mustang 1 that day. It wowed the crowd as a whole - not just Iacocca! The young Ford product planner saw potential written all over it. His only concern was that it may be too extreme for the mainstream motorist. He resolved to tone down the car's shape a tad. But - that he had seen the future of Ford - he was in no doubt.

The Mustang 1 Iacocca witnessed at Watkins Glen, then, was never going to be the one which rolled onto the roads of America. The roadster's bodywork - 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 perfectly in tune with its hair-raising heritage. Two huge air intakes were a clear pointer to the race-bred beast within!

The Mustang 1's motor was German in origin. The V4 was sourced from the Ford Taunus 12M. It was moved back in the chassis - the better to power the rear wheels. 109bhp was on tap - giving a top speed of 115mph. So, while it may not have been in the same league as the P-51 fighter plane - after which it was named - the Mustang 1 still shifted at a fair old clip. A 4-speed gearbox kept things civilised. Capacity was 1,498cc - or 91ci, in old money. Suspension was by wishbone and coil spring. Front disc brakes were a more than welcome feature. Steering-wheel and pedals were fully-adjustable. It would be hard to overstate the impact the Mustang 1 made. Iacocca was Italian-American. In styling terms, the lines of his car saluted the land of his forebears. Two 'dream cars' were duly constructed. In time, Ford Mustang muscle cars did full justice to the Mustang 1 concept. They would, of course, become some of the most coveted machines in the history of motoring. Lee Iacocca made his mark all right!

Italdesign Aztec

Italdesign Aztec 1980s Japanese concept car

The Italdesign Aztec came with dual cockpits. A 2-seater, driver and passenger were ensconced in separate 'compartments'. It was a concept car, after all! The Aztec was made to commemorate Italdesign's twentieth anniversary. Its designers never envisaged it on the open road. A group of maverick Japanese businessmen, however, had other ideas!

Giorgetto Giugiaro was chief stylist for the Aztec. As a rule, his work was far from flamboyant. Indeed, he had penned many a family runabout. Who knows - maybe it was just time for him to let his creative hair down. At any rate, Giugiaro was immensely proud of the Aztec. And - certainly, from a visual point of view - it was nothing, if not striking. Slick and sophisticated - and with a silvery sheen - showgoers' eyes were riveted. The Aztec's rear end was seriously high-tech. Wrapped around the wheel arches were 'service centre' panels. They housed a raft of gizmos and gadgets. There were coded door locks, built-in hydraulic jack controls and engine fluid monitors - just for starters. Somewhat more down-to-earth features included a torch and fire extinguisher. Not forgetting a petrol cap! The Aztec's interior was equally cutting edge. Communication between the two cockpits, for example, was via electronic headsets!

The Aztec's engine was a 5-cylinder Audi unit - turbo-charged and transversely mounted. Transmission was Quattro 4-wheel drive. A dual-canopy body allowed easy access to the bay. The Aztec was unveiled in '88 - at the Turin Motor Show. Among the enraptured onlookers were the aforementioned suits. They were sure there might be a market for the car back in Japan. With the rights to the Aztec safely in their pockets, they set about putting it into production. 50 replicas of the prototype were due to be built - though less than half that number would roll off the line. The bodies were made in Italy. They were then shipped to Germany. There, they were entrusted to engine tuners Mayer MTM - who installed the Audi powerplants. Finally, they arrived in Japan. When transportation costs had been factored in, the Aztec retailed at the yen equivalent of $225,000. That was a lot of money. Each car, though, came with an added extra. Giorgetto Giugiaro signed every Italdesign Aztec personally. He was indeed proud of his outré creation!

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.

Alfa Romeo BAT 7

Alfa Romeo BAT 7 1950s Italian classic concept car

The Alfa Romeo BAT 7 was a concept car out of the house of Bertone - an Italian coach-building firm, par excellence. The BAT 7 was the work of the young Franco Scaglione - a rising star of the Bertone team. It was one of a series of cars he designed - which also included the BAT 5 and BAT 9.

BAT stood for 'Berlinetta Aerodinamica Technica'. As the name implied, airflow was a key concern. Scaglione's goal was to decrease cornering drag - while simultaneously increasing frontal downforce. That tied in with another performance box Scaglioni wanted ticked. That 125mph be extracted from a mere 100bhp engine. All these technical criteria were achieved with flying colours. The BAT 7's drag coefficient was 0.19 - a figure a modern-day supercar would struggle to match. And that, from a car built in '54! Okay, so it helped that the BAT 7 did not come with roadster-style baggage attached. That said, its sibling - the BAT 9 - did put real miles on the clock.

The BAT 7 served only to strengthen the bond between Alfa and Bertone. The latter had designed the bodywork for the Giulietta Sprint GT - now an established product in the Alfa range. The insights gleaned by Bertone from the three BAT cars had been vital in the GT's development. Not least, the BAT 7. From its rakish low nose - to the folds of its 'tail-fins' - air-pressure did not stand a chance. In time, Bertone's lessons in shape-shifting would be learned by other automotive designers. Few of their creations, though, would have the allure of the Alfa Romeo BAT 7. A manta ray on wheels, the BAT 7 took metalwork to a whole new level. Young Italian coachbuilders - take notes!

Alfa Romeo Carabo

Alfa Romeo Carabo 1960s concept car

The Alfa Romeo Carabo is one of the most influential concept cars ever created. Think Lamborghini Countach, for example. The Carabo was the ultimate in wedge-shaped styling. As diagonal lines go, the one from the tip of its nose - to the top of its roof - was about as dynamic as it gets. That was in sharp contrast to its cute stub of a tail. Not only did that combination look cool - aerodynamically, it was bang on the money. Show car though it was, the Carabo had a top speed of 160mph. It was, after all, kitted out with a 230bhp V8 engine.

To be fair, the Carabo did not stint on real-world parts. Many of them were honed at the racetrack. Its chassis was spawned by Alfa Romeo's Tipo 33 competition car. There was double-wishbone suspension all round - as well as disc brakes. For a car that was not built to be driven - at least, not in anger - the Carabo came pretty high-spec.

Marcello Gandini - of design house Bertone - was chief stylist. Certainly, the scissor-doors set-up he drew would become a supercar trademark. When fully flung up, they were not just visually stunning - they were an engineering tour de force, too. The car's finish was fittingly flamboyant. Metallic green paint was set off by orange highlights. The lightweight glass used - by Belgian firm VHR-Glaverbel - was copper-tinted. It was a gimme that the Carabo wowed the Paris Motor Show, in '68. Nuccio Bertone - and his Turin-based studio - had delivered. Lamborghini lovers, especially, will be forever indebted to the Alfa Romeo Carabo!

Cadillac El Camino

Cadillac El Camino 1950s classic concept car

When it came to Fifties 'dream cars', GM set the design bar high. The Motorama was a travelling show of avant-garde automobilia. The Cadillac El Camino was a 'space-age' case in point. El Camino Real - The Royal Highway - was a sobriquet for Highway 101. While the El Camino sounded Spanish, it was American as apple pie. It was also one of the most influential concept cars ever created. Many El Camino features would be seen on production Cadillacs, by decade's end.

Show car though it was, a V8 was duly dropped into the engine bay. 230bhp was, in theory, available. El Camino capacity was 5,422cc. Had Cadillac's boffins wanted it to go touring, it was good to go. As it was, the lure of the open road played second fiddle to the car's publicity-seeking uses.

To that end, the El Camino had styling to die for. Its pearlescent paint-job, in particular, was a cinch to turn heads. Silver had never looked so good! And the radical roof-line was almost as engaging. Curvaceous windows - and deftly-drawn pillars - were a visual treat. Brilliantly topped off by brushed aluminium. Front bumpers referenced bullets. Front arches revealed intricate wheels. At the rear, tail-fins were a pop-up delight. The El Camino blended seamlessly into the Motorama mix. Cadillac's class of '54 also comprised the Espada and Park Avenue. But the El Camino, above all, would be their blueprint for the future.

Chevrolet Corvette Mako Shark 1

Chevrolet Corvette Mako Shark 1 1960s classic concept car

The Chevrolet Corvette Mako Shark 1 'dream car' was one of the most stunning conceits in automotive history. An exotic blend of muscle car styling and supercharged grunt, it paved the way for one of the most spellbinding roadsters ever made. The Corvette Stingray took low-slung chic to another level. A production car had seldom - if ever - looked so good.

A marine mammal provided design inspiration. William Mitchell - GM's chief stylist - went fishing, off Florida. His luck was in. After landing the catch, Mitchell was blown away by its beauty. He had caught a mako shark - a streamlined slab of predatory power. It was graced with to-die-for blue and white hues. Immediately, his design sensibilities kicked in. He saw a way to bring to the roads what had previously been confined to the deep. That short-fin shark was about to go global!

The Stingray 'Spider' was first of the breed. A racing test-bed, it was the high-revving base upon which the Mako Shark was built. The Stingray would be the final piece in the jigsaw. Of course, many of the Stingray's styling motifs can be seen in the Mako Shark 1. Indeed, they had the same designer - Larry Shinoda. But even the Stingray had its work cut out to compete with its prototype predecessor. Its projectile-style bodywork and gradational paint took pride of place - but they were just the beginning. Not just the exterior - but the interior, too - were a futuristic time-warp of avant-garde art. It was the start of the Sixties, after all - the ideal time to get radical with form and function. With plastic now the new gold standard, the wraparound windscreen and see-through hardtop were 'classic' space-age styling touches. Topping them off was a 'periscope' rear-view mirror. Ranged along the car's flanks were two banks of exhausts - catering to the 456bhp that its V8 engine output. One thing is for sure. When that mako shark mammal gave up its life - in the waters off Florida - an automotive legend was born. Long live the Chevrolet Corvette Mako Shark 1!