Harley Earl has gone down in history as one of the all-time greats in automotive design. A true visionary, his sketches and models would foreshadow and inspire design and technology for decades to come after his passing. His final creation, though, may have cemented him in the automotive design hall of fame.
The 1959 Cadillac Cyclone kept the tradition of post-war futuristic concepts. Earl even nailed a technology that was some sixty years away from mass production with the Cyclone. The first thing you notice about the concept is the rocket shaped cones where the headlights would normally be. Instead of headlights, Earl tucked them away into the grille, and instead envisioned the cones to be radar devices.
Say the driver was cruising a backroad at night and a deer was strolling across the road up ahead. The radar cones would detect this, and flash a signal on the instrumental panel for the driver which would get louder as the object approached, thus avoiding a collision. Sounds pretty 21st century, huh? That’s because it truly is.
Besides the technology Earl envisioned, the rest of the car suggested a few other futuristic concepts for its time, including the encapsulating windshield. The windshield was made of clear plastic, and provided a 360º look around the cabin. It was connected to a power canopy in the rear, transforming the Cyclone into a convertible, or providing shelter from inclement weather. A built in two-way speaker also was engineered so occupants could speak with outsiders without opening the windshield.
When it came to powering the Cyclone, Earl stuck a 325 horsepower 390 cubic-inch V8 under the hood, which also housed the exhaust and muffler system, with outlets peeking out just in front of the wheels. The engine was fed by a four-barrel carb that used a filtered air scoop instead of a top-mounted air filter, in order to achieve a lower design.
Sadly, Earl’s vision never truly came to fruition with the Cyclone, but one piece of the radical concept did find its way to mass production. The Saginaw rotary-valve variable-ratio power steering came to be standard issue in every Cadillac after the introduction of this concept.
It’s times like these where we miss the outlandish free-thinking concepts of yesteryear. These types of concepts have mostly gone the way of the dodo in favor of design concepts to preview new product, if anything. One thing is certain though, automotive historians will have much to look back on with Harley Earl’s portfolio of stunning work.