The Prototype Cars That Never Made It
Posted on July 12, 2016
In the late 1930s, Alfred P. Sloan, the CEO of General Motors Corporation, and its Vice-President Harley Earl started implanting the concepts of ‘Dynamic Obsolescence’ and ‘Annual Model Change’ to car manufacturing.
Dynamic obsolescence is about deliberately redesigning goods and services so that they become outdated and finally obsolete, encouraging consumption; annual model change is an extension of this principle, with cars being tied to the year when they were being produced with year-specific modifications.
I can see you raise an eyebrow and think “So…?” While we take those strategies for granted nowadays, it was a novel concept at the time and had never been done before. It gave birth to the world of car shows where manufacturers present their new models every year and display prototypes and new technology to gauge interest before mass-production.
However, not every prototype car will be manufactured. Some of them can be created to showcase a company’s creative talent pool; they may be the first step in a project that won’t see the light for a decade or they can, very simply, be a pure PR exercise to create a buzz for a company without any intended commercial future.
Have a look at some of those rare and sometimes bizarre cars which were short-lived:
The 1954 De Soto Adventurer II
The 1954 Desoto Adventurer II Coupé is without a doubt one of the coolest cars that was ever designed. Built with a Chrysler Imperial chassis and a body designed by Ghia, it also boasted cowhide upholstery, a chrome dashboard, a retractable rear windshield, and matched luggage among other things. It attracted the attention of Morocco's King Mohammed V but this wasn’t enough to save the model from being abandoned.
The 1956 Pontiac Club De Mer
The 1956 Pontiac Club De Mer is a truly unique concept car. The pièce de résistance at GM's Motorama car show in 1956, the two-door sport Roadster could have been a great commercial success but was never meant to be more than a symbol of GM’s commitment to futuristic car design. Its long, sleek body was made of brushed aluminium and housed a powerful 300 horsepower Stato-Streak V8 engine.
A quarter-scale replica of the Club De Mer had also been made so that it could be paraded more easily at all the auto shows in the United States, and while the full scale Pontiac was dismantled in 1958, the quarter scale model was kept. It was later motorised by Harley Earl who gave it to his grandson as a peddle car. It still exists and was restored by its previous owner, the Bortz Auto Collection, before being sold for US $100,000 (NZ $140,000) to another collector in 2009.
The 1956 Packard Predictor
Whoever gave this prototype its name couldn’t have made a more ironical choice: Packard unexpectedly closed its door only a few years later in 1959 so, presumably, the executive team didn’t have much of a foresight!
In its day, the Packard Predictor was a sight to behold. With its angular, chiselled shape and its reverse rear window, it was nothing less than a show stopper when it was taken around the country. It also boasted ‘cathedral’ taillights and roof panels that could slide away to facilitate getting in and out of the car.
Inside, no expense had been spared to offer a feeling of luxury, with reversible seat cushions, swivel bucket seats and electronic pushbutton transmission. But it wasn’t just a pretty car: fitted with a 300-horsepower V-8, it could pack a punch.
Although the Predictor was striking at the time, its distinctive features were, however, not terribly original from a design point of view. The car didn’t age well and never acceded a collectible status.
The 1954 Oldsmobile Rocket
After the Second World War, the US and the then USSR engaged in a fierce competition through their space exploration programmes.
In 1946, an American rocket reached the edge of space and mankind discovered what Earth looked like with the first pictures of our planet taken from space. In 1947, the humble fruit fly had its hour of fame as the first animal the US sent into space.
In 1957, the USSR launched the first intercontinental ballistic missile, the first artificial satellite and sent the famous Laika into space.
All in all, everybody was obsessed with space at the time, which is reflected in the design of the Oldsmobile Rocket: it looks like it has just returned from some exciting mission and someone put wheels and a cockpit on it!
With its three-point nose, rounded lines and rocket-tip rear bumper caps, it could hardly look less futuristic. There were even cockpit controls fitted in the middle of the steering wheel! It came with a roof that could be lifted up for easy entry and exit, point front fenders, and metallic gold body paint.
Although the ‘Golden Rocket’ was promoted as a 'glittering new experiment' it failed to make it past the stage of prototype and nobody even knows what happened to the car after the 1956 Motorama car shows.
The 1958 Ford X-2000
The 1958 Ford X-2000 is another perfect example of the craze for all things space related in the 1950s. Without moulded sides that looked just like rocket boosters, elongated, sleek lines and propeller-like fins at the rear, it was a vision of the future. It was powered by a 352 cubic inch V8 engine with an output of 220bhp coupled with an automatic transmission, and had an independent front suspension.
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