The GM Firebird III- An Experiment For Yester-Year

Screen Shot 2014-07-20 at 10.15.13 AM Considering that at present the company can’t seem to even get something as simple as an ignition switch right, it’s hard to fathom that General Motors was once a hotbed of advanced technological study and innovative design. This GM film from 1958 highlights this fact in describing both the design and feature set of the Firebird III show car. This was the last of the Motorama cars to carry the Firebird name – which GM would reuse just shy of a decade later on a production Pontiac – and as you will see is a tour de force of advanced design and a test bed for a number of forward-thinking automotive concepts. The film also highlights why auto company execs are perhaps not the best on-camera talent. I was fortunate enough to catch all three of the Firebird Motorama cars at Pebble Beach in 2008, along with several other of the company’s former dais darlings. The Firebirds, as you might expect, took center stage.. IMG_3432As they well should. The Firebird series of Motorama cars started with the 1953 Firebird I. That one was a single-place bullett on wheels that featured a 370-horse gas turbine for power and open front wheels. The engine produced so much torque that the car was un-drivable at speed and would routinely lose traction when shifted into second gear. Airbrakes and externally mounted drums helped rein in all those ponies. IMG_3430The next iteration arrived in 1956 and was intended as a study of an advanced family car, placing 4 seats under its futuristic bubble canopy. The turbine engine was further refined, featuring better exhaust cooling and dropping horsepower to 200. Still featuring ’50s jet fighter styling, the bodywork of the II was also an aircraft-like titanium. IMG_3439Arriving on the scene 2 years later, the final Firebird show car continued to sprout fins and wings as that was the era’s most iconic styling trope, emblematic of the Jet Age. It also featured a double bubble canopy separating both driver and passenger. Technical features included antilock brakes, movable body panels, and a central joystick for control of steering, brakes and acceleration. That was managed by an onboard computer and it’s amazing in this video to hear about that advanced designs, from 1958! I mean, you’d expect a computer of that era to be run on punchcards or something. The Firebird III also featured a gas turbine engine, but in addition to that there was a 12-bhp 2-cylinder APU mounted in the nose. That was intended to drive the A/C, 1,000-psi hydraulic system for the steering and brakes, and 3,000-psi oil pressurization system. Check out the video to see all that and more, and to perhaps wonder why we can’t have the GM of the past, today.


Images: ©2014 Hooniverse/Robert Emslie, All Rights Reserved Source: YouTube

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