If you grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s you might remember all the predictions of just how our future would turn out. It may have been the euphoria of winning the second World War, or just because, at the time, we were the most prosperous country in the world. At the end of WW II the US had $26 billion worth of factories itching to convert from building war material and a surplus of $140 billion, no bomb craters and just about no competition.
In 1954 the 7.5 million new cars we bought were almost exclusively made in the US by US workers. Americans made up about 5% of the worlds population and had more wealth than the rest of the world combined.
It was natural for Americans to focus on the future. Theirs looked so bright and limitless. Reading the magazines of the era our future would consist of underwater cites off our coasts, and colonies in space stations orbiting our planet. Atomic power would be the engine of choice for just about every mass transit conveyance. From atomic powered trains, ships, and planes. Just about everyone could look forward to having their own helicopter. There would be jet-packs to commute locally with and our cars would morph into boats, submarines, and flying cars.
President Eisenhower created an Interstate Highway system that we can take for granted today. At least until the older bridges collapse or we discover that our highway taxes are being used for something other than repaving the old roads.
The automobile was a huge factor in the lives of people of those decades as families went from the standard of a single car to a two-car family.
And the car companies wanted to show us just what the future had in store for us in terms of exciting new cars.
Cars would be like our own personal jet plane.
They would have cockpits instead of a bench seat.
This past week I visited Heritage Plantation in Sandwich, Massachusetts, where there was a special exhibit featuring prototype cars that the car companies would develop to whet our appetites and inspire us to think to a possible future.
Here are several examples:
When Hudson and Nash merged they looked to an Italian designer to create a stunning design exercise to let the American public know that the new company would be at the forefront of the automotive future.
The 1954 Plymouth Explorer used the Ghia design house to execute this car of the future with a distinctive European look. There are elements in the rear that are very much the same as the VW Karman Ghia. That VW started out in the late 50’s and continued to be VW’s sports car through the 1970’s.
The 1956 Buick Centurion above even used a TV camera to replace the rear view mirror function.
GM stylists went wild with the above future version of the Corvair. Unfortunately this excellent car was targeted as a “death trap” by the non-driving Ralph Nader and was doomed to extinction. It is a shame since it was an excellent design that was completely undeserving of the criticisms heaped upon it.
There was even a flying car:
As an example of how our view of the future has dramatically changed there was also a solar powered car.
If you are on Cape Cod, or anywhere near it this summer you should take advantage of this special exhibit and see these dramatic statements of the future yourself.