How does this sound for a car of the future: a convertible that runs on both gasoline and methyl alcohol, both of which are stored in separate fuel cells? The headlights are normally hidden, but with a flick of a switch the front grille revolves around and goes out of sight, revealing the head beams. In case of a flat tire the vehicle automatically raises itself with a built-in jack – no digging one out of the trunk and getting dirty crawling around on the ground. And, just in case you leave the top down in a rainstorm, an electronic sensor detects the first drops to hit the interior and automatically raises the windows and closes the top.
Sound pretty futuristic? In did back in 1951 as well, when it was built.
A Glimpse Into the Future
In addition to the above features, the 1951 Buick LeSabre had not only power windows, but also an adjustable power seat and manual backup for the controls in case of battery failure. It was built entirely from aluminum, fiberglass, and magnesium, for extraordinarily light weight. Rear air scoops cooled the rear brakes as well as the battery. Plus it looked way cool, with smooth lines and sleek, jet aircraft-like styling. It also had the very first wraparound windshield, which GM engineers said gave drivers a “panoramic” view of their surroundings.
Under the hood was a 215 cubic inch V-8 hemi with aluminum block and heads. It was fed by dual carbs and a supercharger that turned out 29.5 PSI of boost. Its power topped out at 335 hp @ 5500 rpm. Incredible performance from a relatively small engine. In every sense of the word, the ’51 Buick LeSabre was, and in many ways still is, the car of the future.
Harley Earl’s Baby
Like so many other cutting-edge concept vehicles, it was the child of Harley Earl, head of GM’s style department from 1927 to 1958. Heavily influenced by the design of early jet aircraft, Earl incorporated many aeronautical themes into the LeSabre, including an instrument panel that included an altimeter, tachometer, and compass. He loved the vehicle so much that, like the 1938 Buick Y-Job Concept before it, the LeSabre Concept became his personal car. The great designer put 50,000 miles on it, before giving it over to GM’s auto museum in the 1960s.