Space age Firebird had some fire power

In the 1950s exuberance of America, no one created dream cars like General Motors.

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

One of the best known of these ream cars is the turbine-powered Firebird II, first seen at the 1956 Motorama show.

GM built two of the cars, one of which 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 a self-driving car.

GM’s publicity claimed the Firebird II was built with an automatic control system that 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 that 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 of both cars was the luggage compartment.

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

Both Firebird IIs still exist today and can be seen at the GM Heritage Centre.

David Burrell is the editor of

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