Ford Motor Company reflected the era of optimism-the
1950s and 1960s-in its concept vehicles, which revealed innovations
in style and technology. These cars, while capturing the new spirit
of American freedom following World War II, also looked to the
future, hinting at production models for years to follow. The
Volante, 1950-X Continental Show Car, Nucleon, and Futura are
four examples of how Ford saw personal transportation in the millennium.
Although the day when there will be an aero-car in
every garage still may be far off, Ford research designers developed
this 3/8-scale model to show how such a vehicle might look.
Named the Volante, the model was not operable but
represented a design concept of a vehicle that possibly capable
of operating either in the air or on the ground. The tri-athodyne
concept called for ultra-sophisticated use of the ducted fan principle,
employed in a unique manner.
The front rotor featured two sets of contra-rotating
blades in conjunction with two opposite-rotating, multi-bladed
fans in the rear. This system theoretically cancelled out all
propeller torque characteristics, with the result that aerodynamic
tail surfaces were not needed.
The Volante would be controlled by a system of adjustable
lateral and longitudinal vanes, which would allow complete maneuverability
in all directions.
The tri-ducted fan arrangement also inspired Ford
designers to take full advantage of the delta-shaped aerodynamic
1950-X Continental Show Car
Announced in 1952, this was Ford's "Car of Tomorrow,"
a pilot model being studied toward future development as a practical
five-passenger sedan. Called the Lincoln Continental Nineteen
Fifty X, it served as a laboratory for the creation of new features
for possible inclusion on production cars. This view showed how
the curved windshield blended into the clear-dome top. For fair-weather
driving, the non-glare, low-heat transmitting top over the front
seat retracted mechanically into the leather-covered canopy.
The Nucleon, a 3/8-scale model, provided a glimpse
into the atomic-powered future. Designed on the assumption that
the present bulkiness and weight of nuclear reactors and attendant
shielding would some day be reduced, the Nucleon was intended
to probe possible design influence of atomic power in automobiles.
The model featured a power capsule suspended between
twin booms at the rear. The capsule, which would contain a radioactive
core for motive power, would be easily interchangeable at the
driver's option, according to performance needs and the distance
to be traveled.
The drive train would be part of the power package,
and electronic torque converters might take the place of the drive-train
used at the time. Cars like the Nucleon might be able to travel
5,000 miles or more, depending on the size of the core, without
recharging. At that time, they would be taken to a charging station,
which research designers envisioned as largely replacing gas stations.
The passenger compartment of the Nucleon featured
a one-piece, pillar-less windshield and compound rear window,
and was topped by a cantilever roof. There were air intakes at
the leading edge of the roof and at the base of its supports.
Cars such as the Nucleon illustrate the extent to
which research into the future was conducted at Ford, and demonstrate
the designer's unwillingness to admit that a thing cannot be done
simply because it has not been done.
Regarded as a clue to the "shape of tomorrow
in American automotive styling," the Futura dream car measured
only 52.8 inches from the top of its double-domed plexiglas canopy
to the ground.
Designed by the company's stylists and engineers
to serve as a laboratory on wheels, the car had many innovations
adaptable for production vehicles.
A special Lincoln experimental chassis added to the
ground-hugging appearance. Ground clearance was six inches at
the center of the frame and 7.2 inches at the side rails. Both
the cowl and the rear deck were less than 35 inches from the ground
at their highest point.
An inch short of 19 feet in overall length, the Futura
was 84.6 inches wide and had a wheelbase of 126 inches.
In order to preserve the clean, uncluttered lines
of the instrument panel, controls were contained in separate compartments
in the lower half of the panel, and each compartment had its own
flexible roll-down door. Toggle switches were set into the chrome
interior of these compartments.
Reading from the driver's left were the heater, lighting,
accessories, radio and glove compartment. Each light control
switch had a label which was illuminated when the light was on.
The steering column binnacle contained warning lights
for fuel, battery and temperature and high-beam light indicators.
The fuel tank light was green when the tank is full, amber when
the gas supply dropped to half a tank, and red when the supply
was low. The lower half of the binnacle contains the speedometer,
while a tachometer and odometer were centered in the steering
Pushbutton control of the Turbo-Drive automatic transmission
eliminated the gear lever. Chrome pushbuttons, square for reverse
and park, and round for neutral and the forward gears, were located
in the functional pedestal dividing the two front seats.
As a safety measure, it was necessary to go through
two operations to move from reverse to a forward gear or from
forward to reverse. As an additional safety factor, the parking
gear control was linked with the roof controls so that the car
could not be operated if the roof section were raised.
On the cowl in front of the driver were five different-colored
lights which indicated what gear the car was in.
The sweeping shark-fin rear quarter panels of the
all-steel body housed functional twin air scoops. The lower half
of each scoop directed cooling air for the rear brakes. The upper
half was ducted to provide fresh air for the air conditioning
The front end of the Futura was set off by a concave
grille with unbroken vertical members and parking lights at each
end. Headlights were housed in the skillfully contoured front
fenders which swept into the center portion of the hood.