In the 1950s exuberance of America, no one created dream cars like General Motors who showcased them in their own car shows called Motoramas.

The Motoramas were lavish Broadway-style shows held at up-market venues that shouted out GM’s technical , engineering and styling leadership.

Many of the dream car design ideas were used in production cars a couple of years later.

One of the best known dream cars is the turbine powered Firebird II, first seen at the 1956 Motorama.

GM built two of them. One was a non operational “show“ car.

The other was fully driveable and used to test the turbine engine, an experimental air-oil suspension system and disc brakes.

The Firebird II pioneered the idea of the self-driving car.

GM’s publicity claimed the Firebird II was built with an automatic control system which electronically guided the car along special “Highways of Tomorrow”.

Of course, it was all a simulation, but a couple of years later GM had a functional system up and running.

The Firebird’s jet turbine engine was a GT-304 Whirlfire pumping out the equivalent of about 150kW at 28,000rpm.

The exhaust pipes ran through the rocker panels under the doors and exited up through the rear mudguards just near the bubble top canopy.

The fuel was contained in two 38 litre pods hung off the rear mudguards.

The interior of the show car had all manner of chromed switches, knobs, levers and TV screens.

The four seats were moulded in foam and plastic and the steering was via an aircraft type control unit.

The road going car was much more functional and basic.

A conventional steering wheel was used and all the dials and gauges for the engine were housed in a central dashboard pod.

A feature on both cars was the luggage compartment.

The floor of the boot was raised electrically to mudguard height to save having to bend over when for access to luggage.

Both Firebird IIs exist today and are on display at the GM Heritage Centre.

David Burrell is the editor of


David Burrell is founder and editor of, a free online classic cars magazine. Dave has a passion for cars and car design. He's also into speedway, which he's been writing about since 1981. His first car was a rusted-out 1961 Vauxhall Velox. His daily driver is a Pontiac Firebird. Prior to starting Retroautos, David was an executive in a Fortune 500 company, working and living in Australia, NZ, Asia, Latin America and the UK.
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