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'Fifties Concept Cars

Weird, wonderful - and worth a look!

by Julian Edgar

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This article was first published in 2007.

Call them concept cars, dream cars, prototypes that never went into production, or simply show cars – car companies have been building tantalising prospects for well over half a century. And, paradoxically, it is those very earliest concept cars that are the most interesting. Here we take a look at fourteen of them.

General Motors Pontiac Strato Streak II

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Simply superbly elegant – and the car is too. From the swivelling front seats to the suicide rear doors, lack of B pillars, sweeping rear curves and wraparound windscreen, this is one heck of a car.

Chrysler Ghia Dart

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We’ve all heard the jokes about American cars and their enormous wings, but did they ever look as good as this? With the roof on (the hardtop was retractable) you could almost think that the low, rounded nose and the vertical fins would aerodynamically work...

Chrysler Turbine

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The most amazing thing about this car is not its clean styling but the motive power. Under that bonnet is a gas turbine - and furthermore, it was a car that was actually put into the hands of the public!

Crossley Motors

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It’s not from the Fifities but instead from 20 years earlier. Made in Britain and reputed to have been the work of an airship designer, the car used a front-wheel drive chassis.... reversed. With strong echoes of later Tatra rear-engined machines, it must have had enormous interior room – and very odd at-the-limit handling... (But then, maybe not – look at the length of the wheelbase.)

Chrysler De Soto Adventurer Two

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Who said that smooth, sleek styling was the province of only the Europeans? The curved rear flanks were more than decorative – the rear window slid back into the boot. A very pretty car – especially if you squint and give it wider wheels...

General Motors Rocket Cars

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Ah, who can resist these amazing cars, styled like jet fighter aircraft crossed with rockets - and complete with jet engine power. Three different cars were made, all the work of designer Harley Earl. Firebird I appeared in 1953...

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...and Firebird II came three years later in 1956. The way the car is positioned suggests the occupants are just on their way back from a picnic at the lake...

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Firebird III, the last in the series, saw the light of day in 1968. In a way that’s surprisingly late – it’s hard to imagine anyone taking the car even remotely seriously. But oh boy, it looks good...

General Motors Cadillac Cyclone

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Now you just have to admit that this is really some car. From its full lift-up canopy to its sliding doors, top and bottom fins and front-pushing ‘dagmars’ (the latter apparently named after the attractive projecting charms of a contemporary TV hostess), this is a car you could park with pride in your driveway. And yes, we really think so!

General Motors Runabout

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From the Sixties rather than the Fifties (actually 1964), the GM Runabout was a new age urban car. And hell, it doesn’t look too bad even in the context of 43 years later...

Ghia Selene

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OK so here’s the trick question: which way is the car facing? If you said “right” you are correct. With the wheelbase so short and the overhangs (front one, anyway) so long, it must have been rather odd to drive – perhaps a bit like a bus. And that glasshouse is certainly unique...

Ghia Selene Seconda

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And not content to stop with the first Selene, there was a second. Again, in case you’re wondering, this is the front...

Triumph

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Something completely different is this concept Triumph. With hints of Porsche 356, Jaguar and even Cord about it, the design is beautifully proportioned and cohesive.

GM Van

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And we’ll leave you with this amazing looking van or wagon (we’re not sure which it is!). No information is available but we don’t think that should preclude you from seeing it. What a great looking car. Or van. Or wagon.

The photos in this story are drawn from Dream Cars – Design Studies and Prototypes. It was published in 1980 and has the ISBN 0901564184. The author is Michael Frostick. There are many other cars in the book – it covers the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties. Highly recommended – if you like the cars shown here, in the book there are plenty of others to shake your head over!

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