Firebird III GMs Turbine Powered Wonder—An Experiment for Tomorrow

The new C7 Corvette Z06 may be supercharged and have 650 horsepower, but it doesn’t have Unicontrol and a Sonic Key. The Firebird III was an experimental car that GM hoped would “startle even Buck Rogers.” It was one of the jet age inspired Dream Cars that were conjured up in GM’s Design staff under the direction of Harley Earl. It was the third Firebird and it looked at a future without steering wheels and a bubble toped canopy right out of—well, a fighter jet. It’s fins were also in keeping with Earl’s aviation fixation. At the GM Arizona Proving Ground, the car goes on auto pilot and demonstrates its automatic doors, lights and an engine that can start itself. Let’s also not forget that the thing had two engines.

This video features Norm James creating a yarn drawing of the Firebird III. Stephan Hapsburg is in it. There are shots of the Firebird III under construction, and at the Desert Proving Grounds with all three Firebirds in driving in formation. Well worth the watch.

GM Styling Shows the Future in 1953

This video is a bit corny, but hang in there. There are all kinds of interesting shots of studios and designers from the day. Bonus: Chuck Jordan at 13:13 and with a pipe at 15:43. His renderings are in the background.

About the video: GM asked its in-house film team to show what is beauty. Inspired by nature with its abundance of beauty in sea shells, flower petals and birds in flight the filmmakers strove to find those shapes that occur in nature and are man made that are the essence of beauty. This is what they hoped the stylists at GM and other industrial designers would bring to consumers. A look at what we thought was the epitome of style in the early 1950s.

Besides Chuck Jordan I recognized Joe Farrar, but nobody else. Who’s in the video?

Watch Art Center’s tribute to Joe Farrar. It is REALLY good, and features many designers including Geza Loczi, Larry Erikson, and many others.



  1. John M. Mellberg


    Thanks for sharing this with all of us… On the first video, at 9:02, there’s also Paul Guillian (sp?) and at 9:10 a young Jack Humbert…

    Wonderful, John M. Mellberg

  2. Roy Lonberger

    Many thanks Gary. Very interesting video. Though the era is different, I did not find it corny. Instead, it is interesting to me that Mr. Earl promoted this message to build GM and GM Styling to the largest in the world. I wonder what message Mr. Welburn and GM Global Design would promote for GM and its future role in the market place?.
    Would the content remain the same but the style updated? Or is there a different content?

    Any thoughts anyone?



    I recognized Chuck Jordan, Paul Gilan, Jack Humbert, Irv Rybicki and a few more.

    The definitions and the philosophy was a little vague in spots but I think to just talk about it had to be groundbreaking.

    I saw FIREBIRD 111 driving on I-94 going east as it came over the bridge that crosses Woodward. I was going the other way in my 57 Corvette. I recall it was a Sunday.

    As I was coming over the bridge going in the other direction it suddenly appeared on my left, fins pointing in every direction, it was shocking. I had seen in the paper that morning that it was going to be, I think, presented to the press at the new Cobo Hall. There was a picture of it on a parking garage circular ramp. It passed making a strange sound. Apparently they drove it to Cobo, had the presentation and were on their way back to the Tech Center. THEY DROVE IT THERE.
    That would never happen today.

    Those were the days!


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