Concepts from Future Past: American Motors Astra-Gnome

by Paul Strauss
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I have a strange affinity for unusual concept cars. One of the wackiest designs I’ve stumbled across in my travels has to be the American Motors Astra-Gnome, a “space age” concept that dates back to 1956.

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The car was designed by Richard Arbib as a look forward towards the future, incorporating design elements that made it look like hovercar of sorts – though it still rode on wheels. The bubble-shaped passenger compartment might not have been the safest design, but it certainly captured the feel of a spaceship, and the placement of its antenna made it look like it was communicating with the mothership.

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That bubble served more than just an aesthetic purpose too – it was designed to provide improved acoustics for the car’s hi-fi system – which included a record player. Perhaps my favorite element in the Astra-Gnome’s forward-looking interior was the “celestial time-zone clock, permitting actual flight-type navigation.” I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds awesome.

While the car was designed to be a glimpse at the shape of things to come, it was actually built on the chassis of a contemporary car, the quirky little 1955 Nash Metropolitan. Impressively, the concept car weighed under 2,000 lb., thanks to the generous use of aluminum in its construction.

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While concept cars of its era were often destroyed or lost, the Astra-Gnome has been preserved and fully restored. It’s part of the cool and quirky museum collection at the Metropolitan Pit Stop, located in Valley Village, California.


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