Investigating news regarding the most topical automotive concepts, whether production or research, Auto & Design in this issue returns to the past to trace the story of the design of a concept car of yesteryear, the GM Firebird III of 1959. For years head of design at Citroën and thereafter lecturer at the Detroit College for Creative Studies, Carl Olsen addresses the question from a fresh viewpoint, without confining himself to the more superficially striking aspects by which the car has always been remembered.

“At first sight the Firebird III is quite simply the caricature of an aircraft: the fins recall the flaps of a plane and the two canopies those of the B-47 bomber; the side air intakes could have come off a fighter and the front opening a jet aircraft. This was the image sought by Harley Earl, at the time styling staff vice-president at General Motors, in order to transmit a sensation of speed, flight and a future of revolutionary technology. James (Norman James, the young designer who was assigned the job of giving concrete form to the project, editor’s note) cleverly incorporated everything that Earl asked for; the result might have been a disastrous set of visual clichés without any aesthetic value, but James’s extraordinary abilities lay in his having been able to assemble these clichés into a combination of biomorphological, constructivist form”. (…)

“Now, more than forty-six years after its debut, the car continues to arouse the enthusiasm of the public at large. It is thanks to the genius of Norman James that the car contains at one and the same time some of the most attentive and sophisticated styling forms and details ever applied to a car. It is a noteworthy result and, in my opinion, a masterpiece of twentieth century design”.

The article continues in Auto & Design no. 153

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