The Cars That Money Can’t Buy – General Motors Firebird I

Sun 14th Oct 2018

Sometimes your wallet won’t stretch to purchasing your dream motor. But don’t worry too much, there are some cars that even the biggest bank balances can’t buy, the dream cars that will forever remain a dream. These are the concept cars that never go into production.

General Motors Firebird I
Many of the concept cars in this series have a leaning towards the space-age, but surely on the Firebird I can truly say that it looks more destined for the moon than any other.

Designed by General Motors as a feasibility study to test gas turbines in cars, the Firebird I was one of four cars designed by the company during the 1950s which were demonstrated at the Motorama autoshows.

The first prototype was unveiled in 1953, and it looked like a missile with four wheels tapped into the side of it. A single-seat cockpit came with a bubble-top canopy, and the rocket-style frame was made entirely out of fibreglass.

Designed by Emmett Conklin, test supervisor for the Firebird programme, Conklin was originally the only man allowed to drive the Firebird I, and though the vehicle had a fanciful top speed of 200mph, the driver never got to take it up to full throttle for fear it would explode. Racing driver Mauri Rose was another who attempted the the top speed, taking the Firebird I to the famous Indianapolis Speedway, but he too never achieved the 200mph mark.

The problem that the Firebird I had was that it only ever had two speed settings, ‘fast and faster’ as Conklin quipped, but once the rocket-car started to get into second gear, the tires began to lose grip leaving the driver fearing for his life.

As far as experiments go, the Firebird programme was never intended as a test to see how fast a vehicle could go, it was merely to test whether a car could run on gas turbine power.

The first of its kind, GM spent the remainder of the 1950s further proving the theory and demonstrating that they were a motor company ahead of the curve in terms of technology.

The cutting edge design raised eyebrows and may have been better pointing towards the stars, rather than the road, but it certainly gripped a nation with its promise of a jet-propelled future for cars.