Tag Archives: concept cars

GM Cars of the Future: Firebird

The General Motors Firebird is a trio of prototype cars designed by Harley Earl, and engineered 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 name “Firebird” was also used by the Pontiac division of General Motors for the line of pony cars, which has no direct relation to the concept cars.

 

Firebirds

Two of the three GM firebird concept cars, 1956 and 1959

 

 

General Motors had done research on feasibility of gas turbine engines in cars as early as the 1930s. It wasn’t until the early 1950s that they began building an actual engine, with Emmett Conklin leading the project. The top speed of all 4 of them are 200 MPH.

General Motors Firebird 1

Firebird I
By 1953, the research team had produced the Firebird XP-21, later referred to as the Firebird I, which was essentially a jet airplane on wheels. It was the first gas turbine powered car tested in the United States. The design is entirely impractical, with a bubble topped canopy over a single seat cockpit, a bullet shaped fuselage made entirely of fiberglass, short wings, and a vertical tail fin.[2] It has a 370 hp (280 kW) Whirlfire Turbo Power gas turbine engine, which has two speeds, and expels jet exhaust at some 1,250 °F (677 °C). The entire weight of the car is 2,500 lb (1,134 kg) and had a 100 inch wheelbase.

At first, Conklin was the only person qualified to drive it, and he tested it up to 100 mph (160 km/h), but upon shifting into second gear the tires lost traction under the extreme engine torque and he immediately slowed down for fear of crashing. The car was later test driven at the Indianapolis Speedway by race car driver Mauri Rose. The car was never actually intended to test the power or speed potential of the gas turbine, but merely the practical feasibility of its use. The braking system differs from standard drum systems, in that the drums are on the outside of the wheels to facilitate fast cooling, and the wings actually have aircraft style flaps for slowing from high speed.

 

General Motors Firebird II

A miniature version of the Firebird I crowns the Harley J. Earl Trophy, given to the winner of the Daytona 500.

 

Firebird II
The second concept car, the Firebird II in 1956, was a more practical design: a four-seat, family car. It is a low and wide design with two large air intakes at the front, a high bubble canopy top, and a vertical tail fin. Its exterior bodywork was made entirely of titanium (which turned out to be hard to make).[4] The engine output was 200 hp (150 kW), and to solve the exhaust heat problem it was fed through a regenerative system,[4] which allowed the entire engine to operate at nearly 1,000 °F (538 °C) cooler, and also power the accessories. Kerosene was the most common fuel used.[4] Another innovation on the car was the first use of four wheel disc brakes, with a fully independent suspension, as well as a sophisticated guidance system which was intended to be used with “the highway of the future”, where an electrical wire would be embedded into a roadway to send signals that would help guide future cars[5] and avoid accidents.

Specifications

Wheelbase = 120 in (3,048 mm) [6]
Length = 234.7 in (5,961 mm) [6]
Ground clearance = 5.5 in (140 mm)

Firebird III

Firebird III

Firebird III on display at the Century 21 Exposition, Seattle, 1962.
The third design, the Firebird III, was built in 1958 and first shown at Motorama in 1959. It is another extravagant concept with titanium skin, and no fewer 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.

Specifications

Wheelbase = 119 in (3,023 mm) [8]
Length = 248.2 in (6,304 mm)
Height = 44.8 in (1,138 mm) (canopy top)[8]
Ground clearance = 5.3 in (135 mm)

 

Firebird IV Ext. 6
Firebird IV (XP-790)
The Firebird IV debuted at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, it was displayed in three variants Firebird IV Runabout and Stiletto.

The Firebird IV, another sleek, turbine-powered car with strong aircraft styling cues.

The Runabout 3-wheeled concept car by GM is the “Runabout”. The vehicle had a front wheel that could turn 180 degrees to allow parking in the tightest of spots and the rear end of the car contained two detachable shopping trolleys with wheels that would fold away when the trolley was parked in the vehicle. The Runabout had space for 2 adults in the front and 3 children in the rear.

The GM-X Stiletto was an advanced, high-performance car with styling strongly influenced by aerospace design. It featured aircraft-type steering, a maintenance monitoring system with toggle switch controls, and a three-way speaker system for inside/outside communications.[10] In 1969 the GM-X Stiletto got a nose job, some new paint and was renamed as the Pontiac Cirrus.

These vehicles were first presented at the General Motors Futurama Exhibit in 1964 at the New York World’s Fair.

Motorama theme (1956)

The 1956 motorama movie projected 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, immobile, in an insufferable freeway traffic 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.

Reference


Wikipedia. General Motors Firebird. (2014)  Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Motors_Firebird

 

Dream Cars Exhibition – Atlanta Georgia

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Dream Cars – Innovative Design, Visionary Ideas

High Museum of Art – Atlanta, Georgia

Exhibition:  May 21 – September 07, 2014

Dream Cars

Through September 7, 2014
The exhibition will display conceptual drawings and scale models in addition to the concept cars, demonstrating how their experimental designs advanced ideas of progress and changed the automobile from an object of function to a symbol of future possibilities.

 For more information about this unique automobile exhibit:  Please visit the High Museum of Art’s Website at:  www.high.org

 

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“The automobile has evolved from curiosity to daily necessity. Its form has advanced from the horseless carriages of the early twentieth century to the sleek, highly functional objects we know today. The experimental, concept, or “dream car,” as it became known in the early 1950s, has long been a dynamic tool allowing designers to showcase and demonstrate forward-thinking automotive design ideas. Concept cars were not objects the public typically could purchase, but rather the testing ground for innovations that might find expression in automobiles produced decades later. This exhibition explores the innovative designs that sparked ideas of future possibility and progress. It examines the dream car through five themes: individual makers, the impact of styling, visionary designers, the design process, and the influence of automobile fairs.

Chosen from hundreds of concept cars produced between 1932 and the present day, the visions for these automobiles are exciting to behold. Like most concept cars, those on display were never intended for production. Imagine an egg-shaped electric car, an exterior surface made of flexible fabric, or a jet fighter rolling down the highway – all of these were among the ideas dreamed up by designers and are featured in these galleries. The “dream” represented by these cars was that of future possibilities and pushing the limits of imagination and design.

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Dream Cars: Innovative Design, Visionary Ideas

by Sarah Schleuning and Ken Gross

A sensuously designed showcase of covetable concept or limited-edition cars by the best American and European manufacturers. Dream Cars presents some of the world’s most breathtaking concept cars built between 1934 and 2001, a series of visionary designs that influenced the automotive industry and challenged notions of what is possible both aesthetically and technologically. Stunning, all-new photography of design pioneers such as the 1935 Bugatti Type 57S Compétition Coupé Aerolithe, the 1951 General Motors Le Sabre XP-8, and the 1956 Buick Centurion XP-301. 7 accompany lush images of dream sports cars, including the 1970 Ferrari (Pininfarina) 512 S Modulo and the 1955 Ghia Streamline X “Gilda.” Meticulously restored and brought to life by all-new photography, these images trace a lineage of innovation in automobile design.

Comprehensive descriptions by celebrated automotive writer Ken Gross as well as drawings and scale models further illustrate the imaginative force of individual designers and famed manufacturers. Surprising insights into familiar models such as the minivan, based on the streamlined silhouette of the Stout Scarab concept car developed in 1936, are juxtaposed with startling new technologies such as the 2001 BMW GINA Light Visionary Model’s ingenious use of fabric as a retractable skin. An extended essay by Sarah Schleuning explores the effects of aerodynamics and aeronautics on car design and considers how groundbreaking eventssuch as General Motors’ Motoramafueled the creativity of automobile styles.

Sarah Schleuning is the curator of decorative arts and design at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta. Ken Gross, consulting curator, is an award-winning author of six books and a contributor to many major automotive publications.

Organization & Support
Dream Cars: Innovative Design, Visionary Ideas is organized by the High Museum of Art, Atlanta.

The exhibition is supported by presenting sponsor Porsche Cars North America, Inc. We gratefully acknowledge AutoTrader, AutoTrader Classics, Manheim, WSB-TV, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and WSB News Talk Radio for their generous support. Special thanks to contributing sponsors Delta Air Lines, AT&T, and NAPA. Additional support is provided by The Coca-Cola Company, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Dorothy Smith Hopkins Exhibition Endowment Fund, the Fay and Barrett Howell Exhibition Endowment Fund, and Tommy and Beth Holder. In-kind support provided by UPS.

 


Resource:
High Museum of Art – Atlanta Georgia Exhibitions (2014)  Retrieved July 23, 2014 from https://www.high.org/Art/Current-Exhibitions.aspx