Concepts from Future Past: GM’s Turbine Firebirds

by Kenny Hoeschen

In the 1950s, General Motors was working to develop a car powered by a futuristic engine that was the darling of the jet age: the turbine. We’re not talking about strapping a jet engine to a car a la Wile E. Coyote, but rather a gas turbine engine. Unfortunately, turbines are notorious gas guzzlers (just ask Jay Leno, who built his own a few years ago).

In 1954, GM unveiled the Firebird I, a car that could reach speeds of 230 mph.

general_motors_turbine_firebirds_1zoom in

In 1956, the Firebird II was introduced, which was even more powerful and was meant to latch onto the public’s fascination with the jet age of the future (and some terribly high-pitches singing).

general_motors_turbine_firebirds_2zoom in

The third design in the series, aptly named the Firebird III, was launched in 1959. The car came with a “sonic key” that used sound waves to open the door and start the car. (The turbine sound┬áreminds us of Adam West’s Batmobile from 1966.)

general_motors_turbine_firebirds_3zoom in

GM’s turbine-powered program was shelved at the end of the 1960s. Seems we won’t be “taking off on the highway of tomorrow” just yet.


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