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GM Firebird III 1958

GM Firebird III 1958

The GM Firebird III tops our list of the most beautiful Space Age cars ever designed. The current "pick up truck" style from GM is a far cry from the beautiful cars Harley Earl used to design for General motors in the 1950's. Harley Earl is by far the best American industrial designer of the 20th Century, although Raymond Loewy and Charles & Ray Eames are better known among the public. Harley Earl was an incredible visionary and we will feature more of his design on this blog. We wonder how Harley Earl would feel with the current GM production line which is very unflattering, to put it extremely mildly. We strongly urge General Motors to have a closer look at their production of the 1950's to really envision the future again.

The above picture shows the GM Firebird III at the Motorama show in 1959. Take a closer look at the beautiful background decor and the matching mid century modern wall sconces.

The General Motors Firebird is a series of three concept cars designed by Harley Earl, and built by General Motors for the 1953, 1956 and 1959 Motorama auto shows. They were very much inspired by innovations in fighter aircraft design at the time. None of the designs were intended for production, but instead were to showcase the extremes in technology and design that General Motors was able to achieve. The cars were recently placed on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, and still make regular car show appearances.

The Firebird III, was built in 1958 and first shown at Motorama in 1959. It is another extravagant prototype with titanium skin, and no less than seven short wings and tail fins that were tested extensively in a wind tunnel. It is a two-seater powered by a 225 hp (168 kW) Whirlfire GT-305 gas turbine engine, and a two cylinder 10 hp (7.5 kW) gasoline engine to run all the accessories. Its exterior design features a double bubble canopy, and more technical advancements to make it more practical, such as cruise control, anti-lock brakes, and air conditioning. It also featured "space-age" innovations, such as special air drag brakes, like those found on aircraft, which emerged from flat panels in the bodywork of the car to slow it from high speeds, an "ultra-sonic" key which signaled the doors to open, and an automated guidance system to avoid accidents and "no hold" steering. The steering was controlled by a joystick positioned between the two seats. This gave the car a more futuristic feel and simulated the experience of flying a plane.

The 1956 motorama projected movie projecting a future contrasted with the present; in the present (1956), a nuclear family of hot and perspiring convertible occupants are attempting to travel to the beach - but they are stuck, imobile, in an insufferable freeway jam. In a flashforward to the future, they are cruising at high speed in air conditioned comfort along an automated freeway (with no other vehicles to be seen) in their turbine-powered Firebird. The concept (now over fifty years old) was that this future was not unreasonably remote, and would be provided by General Motors, yet is consistent with current projections (2008) for future automotive travel using electronic vehicle control and improved highway infrastructure.

Above: the GM Firebird III (shown at the GM Warren Tech Center - where it was designed and built) was a two-passenger, gas turbine-powered experimental car. It was the first to feature a single-stick control system, which replaced the conventional steering wheel, brake pedal and accelerator. This drive-by-wire system was used in the first experiments with automated highways. The GM Technical Center was designed by architect Eero Saarinen and was built in 1950.