Jet engines were all the rage back in the 50’s. The same technology that revolutionized air travel could also power a car, so GM built a series of space-age concepts for their Motorama shows. We had a chance to experience the first Firebirds a few years ago at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, and it was jaw-dropping to see them in person.
Built as a statement to the world, Harley Earl and his team built a car around a jet engine for Firebird 1. It is as loud as a 747 and it sets fire to everything behind it. This isn’t exactly practical, so Firebird II improved the formula which resulted in Firebird III. Jet turbines make incredible power and they offer years of smooth running. The final Firebird has a double-bubble cockpit with a central joystick for control. It would be amazing until you realized it has no air conditioner!
The one main problem that kept them from mass production is thirst. They will burn any type of fuel oil or gas- in large quantities. Not that gas was expensive back then, but the tank would have to be enormous for daily driving. Instead of a 5,000 rpm redline, turbines can see 50,000 rpm without a sweat. This requires one heck of a transmission to send power to the tires, and the technology just wasn’t available. A turbine electric generator would make for a screaming exotic car for sale, so maybe GM is foreshadowing something wild…They rarely allow these cars outside, so thanks to Jay Leno’s Garage for this blast from the past.