Yesterday GM Authority told you about the 1953 General Motors XP-21 Firebird 1, America’s first gas turbine vehicle. This experimental concept car was a showcase for GM Styling VP Harley Earl to strut his stuff, but it also was a vehicle (pun intended) for GM’s engineers to explore the viability of gas turbine propulsion. Three years later, the much-improved Firebird II hit the 1956 Motorama.
Whereas the Firebird 1 was a one-seater made of a fiberglass-reinforced plastic body, the four-passenger Firebird II had an innovative titanium body, fully independent suspension with automatic load-leveling, four-wheel power disc brakes, alternator (back when cars had generators), magnetic ignition key, electric gear selection, and individually-controlled air conditioning. A regenerative gas turbine system was utilized to assist with exhaust heat dissipation, not to mention to power the accessories.
With self-driving cars in the conversation these days, it should be noted that the Firebird II had an interesting guidance system which was to be used with a futuristic highway system where signals would be sent from the road to ensure the Firebird II arrived at its destination accident-free.
The below promotional segment shows the development, assembly, and testing of the experimental 1956 Firebird II at GM’s Desert Proving Grounds in Mesa, AZ. It currently is a permanent fixture at the GM Heritage Center in suburban Detroit.