Published on November 30th, 2016 | by Steve Hanley
A Look Back At The Firebird II Self Driving Car Of 1956
Set your way back machine to 1956, boys and girls, and let’s travel back in time to 1956. Eisenhower was in the White House (when he wasn’t playing golf). Construction of the interstate highway system had just begun. Cars had tail fins and looked like jet fighters. Transistor radios were everywhere and people flocked to shows like the General Motors Motorama that showcased the automotive wonders the future had in store.
That was the year engineers at General Motors unveiled their vision of a future in which cars drove themselves on dedicated highways. Similar to air traffic controllers, humans in towers built alongside the road every 20 miles or so would issue instructions about speed and direction to the cars using wires embedded in the roadway. Instructions from the control towers would eliminate congestion and keep us all safe on our journeys.
The idyllic future was embodied in the Firebird II, a finned and frothy design that included such technological marvels as an onboard orange juice maker. It was powered by a gas turbine and was the first car ever constructed of titanium. The Firebird II was featured in a recent episode of Jay Leno’s garage.
60 years later, Tesla Motors has brought us forward into the future with a modern day version of the Firebird II that is made of aluminum and features an electric motor. Like the concept car from 1956, it has a large center display packed with driving directions and entertainment options. It also can drive without a human hand on the wheel thanks to an onboard supercomputer 1000 times more powerful than the guidance systems that guided Americans to the surface of the moon and back.
The Tesla Model S with Autopilot is a far better car than the visionaries at General Motors could have ever imagined back in 1956. But drivers today owe a debt of gratitude to those people who could peer far into the future and foresee a time when self driving cars would become the norm. For a trip back in time, be sure to enjoy the video put together by General Motors to showcase the Firebird II. You can skip the fanfare at the beginning. The fun begins just prior to the 2 minute mark. Enjoy!