Top 10 American concept cars of 1950s

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Top 10 1950s American concept cars | ClassicCars.com Journal
Had it gone into production, the XNR would have been Plymouth's answer to Chevrolet's Corvette and Ford's Thunderbird | Larry Edsall photo

Well, Larry, you wrote the book on concept cars, so what are your top 10 favorite concept cars?Top 10 1950s American concept cars | ClassicCars.com Journal

Whoa, there, Nellie. Do you realize how many concept cars there are from which to choose? And you want me to pick just 10?

How about this: This week I’ll give you my 10 favorite concepts from Detroit and unveiled in the optimistic 1950s. Soon, I’ll move on to the ‘60s, etc. And perhaps I’ll even include some concepts from overseas automakers. Eventually, I might consider an overall, all-time top 10 list.

For now, however, I’m limiting this article to my 10 favorite American concept cars from the 1950s.

Top 10 1950s American concept cars | ClassicCars.com Journal
Lincoln Futura | Ford photo

10. 1955 Lincoln Futura


Ford unveiled the long, low but sharply finned Futura in 1955. The car featured a twin-bubble cockpit cover. After Ford was done showing the car, George Barris converted it into the original Batmobile for the 1960s Batman television series.

9. 1952 Chrysler K-310


This was the first collaboration between Chrysler design chief Virgil Exner and the Ghia coachbuilding works in Italy. The concept also introduced the Forward Look that would characterize Chrysler production cars in the coming years.

8. 1954 Dodge Firearrows


There were four Firearrows — two roadsters, a coupe and a convertible — and all of them were and still are gorgeous.

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Top 10 1950s American concept cars | ClassicCars.com Journal
Firebird II | GM photo

7. 1956 GM Firebird II


General Motors did a series of three futuristic and gas-turbine-powered Firebirds. The ’56 was supposed to be the most practical because it could hold a family of four and was designed to drive itself along an automated highway.

6. 1957 Dodge Dart

If you’re familiar with the B.A.T. concepts by Bertone in Italy, then picture one of them stretched way out into a very large and very American-sized car, albeit one with a gorgeous two-tone paint job and aerodynamics fine-tuned in a wind tunnel.

5. 1958 Ford Nucleon

Though it never grew larger than a small, scale model, the Nucleon was a very interesting concept. What appeared to be a large spare tire cover on the car’s rear deck lid actually represented a small nuclear reactor that would provide power to propel the vehicle.

4. 1956 Chrysler Norseman

It wasn’t so much the car but its fate that makes this one so endearing and enduring. The Norseman was among the cargo that went down to the depths when the Andrea Dora sank.

Top 10 1950s American concept cars | ClassicCars.com Journal
Le Sabre | GM photo

3. 1951 General Motors Le Sabre

Not only did this become GM design boss Harley Earl’s daily driver, but the jet-fighter-inspired convertible (complete with an altimeter, jet-like air intakes and tail fins) had a water sensor on its center console; if it even sprinkled while the top was down, the convertible roof automatically powered itself up into place to keep the cockpit dry.

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2. The other Corvettes


General Motors introduced the Corvette as a concept car at the 1953 Motorama. But the original Vette would be just one of only four concepts based on the same platform. The others were the Corvette hardtop, the Nomad wagon and perhaps my favorite, the Corvair, a fastback coupe.

Top 10 1950s American concept cars | ClassicCars.com Journal
XNR took its name from Chrysler design chief Virgil Exner | Larry Edsall photo

1. 1960 Plymouth XNR

This concept was Plymouth’s answer to the Corvette, and it was gorgeous, with an asymmetric design that featured a dorsal fin that extended from just behind the driver’s head to the trailing edge of the car. (Yes, I know, I’m cheating a little to include a concept from 1960, but it’s just so cool, and since the earliest car on this list is from 1951, I’m extending the ‘50s decade by a year.)

Top 10 1950s American concept cars | ClassicCars.com Journal
XNR cockpit
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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

8 COMMENTS

  1. How disappointing that your doing an article about concept cars, and not showing any photos of them. This reminds me of the 60’s era small format car mags., that would describe the beautiful candy apple color of the car, only to show a black and white photo. Thank goodness for Steve Coonan and his mag., the Rodders Journal to finally correct that nightmare.

  2. THANK U VERY MUCH AT 76 ANDO THE YOUNGEST OF 7 KIDS I WATCHED MY BROTHERS GO THROUGH CAR AFTER CAR IN THE 50 AN 60s WEREALLY. THE BEST FOR ME I STILL HAVE A 41CHEVY STREET ROD AND A 48 CADDY LIKE THE ONE MY BROTHER ROCKY HAD IN 57 FELL IN LOVE WITH THE GAS CAP REAR TAIL LIGHT. THANK YOU. SIR. FOR MY STEP BACK IN TIME WERE I BELONG

    • I have a vague memory, that I hope someone proves me, sane, of a person in Bakersfield Ca showed me a ‘Corvette Concept Vehicle’ which he stated was a 1952/53 Model! What I witnessed was a empty Shell of a METAL Body that looked very similar to the first production model. The reason I question my memory is I’ve been told all Corvettes were Fiber Glass even the Proto Type! Who is wrong but I did see it and it was not a UFO approx. 1965 era.

  3. My compliments on your good taste! As I was a child of the 50’s, we used to line up at the local car dealers each September to see those sleek new models! Years later, I purchased GM factory photos of every concept car I could find, and then took a flyer with Ford to do the same thing. For car guys, many of the styling cues utilized on the concept models are recognizable on the production models. I agree that the Corvette ‘Nomad’ should have been built, the Chevrolet version was of course a tremendous success but the concept Nomad (‘Astoria’ in GM speak) easily outclasses it! Finally, I humbly submit to you that the Bonneville Special belongs in the Top 10 !

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