Nuclear-Powered Car and Other Dead Ends in Futuristic Auto Design

Ford Nucleon, study for a nuclear-powered car image
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Image: Media.Ford

What looks like a spare tire at the back of the 1958 Ford Nucleon is really a small atomic reactor. In the late 50's, a personal-use nuclear power plant, with scaled down reactors and shielding, seemed within grasp. Engineers estimated a range of 5000 miles before refueling. The one-piece, pillarless windshield adds to the futuristic style of the 3/8 scale study. With perfect hindsight, we see that the Ford Nucleon was not just a few years from an assembly line, but would remain a footnote in history, alongside so many other totally cool concept cars. From cars with jet engines to an Argentine car with a propeller built at the beginning of the last century, Spiegel Online has collected a series of pictures on the theme of "dead ends" in automobile design. It is worth clicking over but the subtexts are all in German. So open in a new window, and keep your TreeHugger handy: a brief description of the images is given below.

Image 1: Rover Jet 1
A 1950 two-seater with a Jet Engine. The 100 horsepower turbine accelerated the car to 135km/h (84 mph) but was a gas pig, using 40L/100km (5.9 mpg). The April 1958 image shows the Rover-Turbineauto in the Kensington Science Museum.

Image 2: Gas Turbine Car
Chrysler actually built 55 Gas-turbine powered cars in 1963. These were tested by U.S.-citizens in a three-year study, collectively covering 2 million miles. The engine was iced due to high fuel consumption (17L/100km is about 13.8 mpg) and the extremely hot tailpipe emissions. The body you might recognize as the Dodge Charger, built in series with normal engines.

Image 3: The Tyrell P34
Also known as "Six-wheeler", the Tyrell P34 raced in the Formula 1 in 1976 and 1977. Racing engineer Derek Gardner's idea was to lower the wind resistance. The photo shows Ronnie Peterson'sTyrrell P34 flying over Villeneuve's Ferrari in the 1977 Grand Prix in Japan. While the drivers were uninjured, one spectator was mortally wounded and many others seriously injured.

Image 4: Ford Nucleon
Image 5: The Rumpler-Tropfenwagen ("Drop Car")
The Tropfenwagen, by Edmund Rumpler, was named for its shape and first appeared in 1921 at the Berlin Auto Show. The optimized aerodynamics demonstrated an air resistance of 0.28. Due to technical defects in the motor and steering, the car failed to find commercial success. About 100 Drop Cars were built, most used as Taxis in Berlin, two of which appear in the silent film "Metropolis" (1925/1926) by Fritz Lang.

Image 6: Propeller car
The French engineer Marcel Leyat built a propeller-powered car already in 1913, but the bold design did not succeed. Later, two Argentiniens built the pictured car, with a propeller driven by a Chevrolet motor. Top speed was rated at "more than 160km/h" (99mph), but the acceleration 0-60 killed the concept, which never made it beyond prototype.

Image 7: Compressed air-powered auto
Compressed air figured in automotive experiments already in the early 19th century. More recently, Formula-1 motor builder Guy Nègre, with his company MDI in France, pursues the technology. The compressed-air concept has been announced ready for series construction many times, but has not yet made it so far. The picture shows a futuristic-appearing MDI-prototype Air Pod from 2009.