The 1956 Firebird II: A Car Ahead Of Our Time

Perhaps one of the the most unusual looking vehicles ever to come out of Detroit was the Firebird I.  Introduced in 1954, it was basically a jet plane on wheels.  While never intended for production, the concept proved so popular that a second model was released in 1956.  The updated version had a gas turbine engine as its power plant, just like the original.  But it also featured several modifications intended to make it a more practical vehicle.

From One Seat to Four
The Firebird II could seat four adults comfortably.  It had air conditioning, power seats, and even built-in snack trays, which passengers could use to enjoy a meal.  Whereas the Firebird I was intended for solo pilots, its successor was clearly created to appeal to more practical tastes.

A Kinder, Gentler Jet Engine
Like its predecessor, the Firebird II was powered by a gas turbine engine.  In the first version this created a number of problems, including dangerously hot exhaust gasses that might have melted any vehicle that pulled up too close behind it.  This time around the builders dropped the power output almost in half, from 370 to 200 HP output.  They also added a regenerative system that lowered the engine temperature by 1000ºF.  This, along with a system that vented the fumes at a 90º angle, relieved any worries that the Firebird would set anything behind it ablaze.

The 1956 Firebird II jet engine

More of a Shark Than a Jet Plane
The exterior saw an extensive redesign as well.  While the original looked amazingly similar to a fighter jet, the 1956 version came closer to resembling a shark, with a wide, flat body and fishlike rear fins.  Harley Earl, who was the brains behind the vehicle, had the exterior made from brushed titanium.  Twin air intakes in the front drew in air for the turbine.  The vehicle was the first ever built with four-wheel disc brakes, and a specially designed compartment could hold up to eight pieces of luggage.

An Early Vision of Accident-Free Driving
The biggest single cause of traffic accidents is driver error.  That’s why many recent innovations, such as rear view cameras, are aimed at reducing the potential for human misjudgment.  Auto builders in the 1950s were aware of this problem as well.  A solution proposed at the time will sound familiar to anyone who ever owned a slotted toy race car track.  The idea was for a highway that operated by remote control.  It would allow the person behind the wheel to sit back, relax, and enjoy a snack, while human or machine controllers guided the vehicle, keeping it from colliding with others.

The Firebird II was built with an internal guidance system designed to link up wirelessly with this anticipated traffic system, via electronic cones that were in the front section of the vehicle.  Once automated control took over, the driver and passengers could kick back and relax while the central network (eerily similar in concept to the Internet) took over.  The fact that this was done using 1950s technology makes it all the more incredible.

The 1956 Firebird II_side angle

A Vision That Never Came True – Yet
The idea of a remote control road system never became more than a nifty concept, and the Firebird II, along with its predecessor and its later 1958 version, is now used as a draw at car shows.  But the principles that underlie its design remain at the cutting edge of transportation technology. And, with computerized driving devices becoming more common, a future version of this groundbreaking vehicle may yet be seen cruising down a fully automated highway while its passengers watch TV. Time will tell.

PHOTOS: See more of the 1956 GM Firebird II Concept

Latest News

  • SRK shoots at London's Madame Tussauds for 'Fan'

    Mumbai, April 2 (IANS) Superstar Shah Rukh Khan was more than happy to have shot for his upcoming film "Fan" at the Madame Tussaud's museum in London, which also houses his wax statue. …

  • 'Helen' not biopic of actress Helen: Poonam Pandey

    Mumbai, April 2 (IANS) Actress Poonam Pandey, who made her Bollywood debut with the bold film "Nasha", will next be seen in a movie titled "Helen". She has clarified that the project is not a biopic on the yesteryear's dancing diva Helen. Poonam told IANS: "Helen is not a biopic on the great Helenji. Helen in our film just draws a feeling from the great dancing actress. …

  • '...Byomkesh Bakshy!' gets U/A certificate

    Mumbai, April 2 (IANS) In a refreshing departure from the norm, Dibakar Banerjee has no reason to be miffed with the Central Board Of Film Certification (CBFC) regarding his film "Detective Byomkesh Bakshy", which has been granted a U/A certificate with only some cuts. Shravan Kumar, CEO of the CBFC, said: "A screening was held for Examining Committee, which recommended the grant for U/A with excisions. No request for constitution of Revising Committee has been made by the producers as on …

  • My films are commercial, but different: Akshay Kumar

    Mumbai, April 2 (IANS) Bollywood star Akshay Kumar, who will next be seen in "Gabbar Is Back", says his films have always been commercial and his choices of films has always been different. "My films are commercial. I don't give any speech (on social issues) in my films. "Gabbar Is Back" is directed by popular southern actor Krish and produced by Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Viacom18 Motion Pictures. …

  • 'Fan' Will Be The First Bollywood Movie To Be Shot At Madame Tussauds
    'Fan' Will Be The First Bollywood Movie To Be Shot At Madame Tussauds

    Madame Tussauds has always be a place of repertoire for most of Bollywood stars, as their wax statues have been put up on display to connect with the large number of Bollywood fans settled in United Kingdom and elsewhere. He wrote, ''Thanx Madame Tussauds. Directed by Maneesh Sharma, Fan also marks the debut of model turned actress Waluscha D’Souza. …

  • Vidhu Vinod Chopra Wants PM Narendra Modi To Watch 'Broken Horses'
    Vidhu Vinod Chopra Wants PM Narendra Modi To Watch 'Broken Horses'

    Acclaimed filmmaker Vidhu Vinod Chopra, who makes his Hollywood directorial debut with Broken Horses, has reportedly written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to watch the film. Confirming the news, Chopra said that he wants Modi to watch the film as the dynamic leader has propagated the 'Make In India' campaign and as such, a film like Broken Horses will make him proud as an Indian. Set in the shadows of US-Mexico border gang wars, Broken Horses is an epic thriller about bonds of …

  • When Abhishek Bachchan Made His Fan Cry...!
    When Abhishek Bachchan Made His Fan Cry...!

    Bollywood actor Abhishek Bachchan, who is known for being quite the prankster, made a Dubai-based fan weep (in joy, let us add) when he called her up and played a prank before revealing his identity on April Fool's Day. It seems that the Dubai-based fan had sent Bachchan Jr some sketches of the actor and our Guru called her up and pretending to be a member of Abhishek's digital team, gave her an earful for making such amateurish sketches and also grilled her about whether she has the …

  • DD documentary on Mrinal Sen handed over to filmmaker

    Kolkata, April 1 (IANS) As part of its tribute to India's living legends, Doordarshan has made a documentary on legendary film maker Mrinal Sen, the DVD of which was handed to the nonagenarian movie maker here on Wednesday. Titled "Celebrating Mrinal Sen", the four-episode documentary is primarily based on conversations between the maestro and renowned film critic and analyst Sameek Bandyopadhyay. Prasar Bharati chief executive officer Jawhar Sircar handed over the DVD to Sen and his wife …

Loading...