Thursday, October 1, 2015

1954 Ford FX-Atmos Concept

The cars shown on the July 1954 Motor Trend cover, above, are: top, the 1954 Dodge Firearrow IV; lower right, a pre-production 1955 Packard; left, the 1954 Ford FX-Atmos concept car that is the subject of this post.

I couldn't find a really good web reference dealing with the Atmos, so what follows are my memories and opinions regarding it.

When I first saw pictures of it, I thought the Atmos was sensational.  This was during the time that American "dream cars" and even production models had details and even larger elements inspired by jet fighter planes.

Recall my contention that the evolution of automobile design had reached something close to an end-point in the late 1940s.  Designs as collections of discrete elements (headlights, fenders, spare tires, etc.) were replaced by designs featuring the "envelope" body concept where those previously discrete details became incorporated into what was largely a simple mass.  I normally cite the 1949 Ford as the archetype for this evolutionary endpoint.

So it was that stylists groped for new themes, and jet fighters, science-fiction space ships and perhaps some other exciting, technically glamorous sources of inspiration became styling themes.  To my mind, aside from General Motors' gas turbine powered Firebird series, the Atmos was the blue-sky dream car that came closest to the jet fighter ideal.

Unlike the Firebirds, the Atmos had no engine; it was what some folks deride as a "pushmobile," though Ford's public relations people suggested that a future, operational, Atmos might be powered by a small nuclear reactor.  Ah, those were the days when imaginations were allowed to run free.

Here are some images of the Atmos found here and there on the internet.


These two photos give you a pretty good idea of what the Atmos was like.  The driver sat in the middle, apparently slightly forward of passengers on either side.  The fenderline is largely higher than the rest of the body.  The passenger area and the zone trailing behind it, where that nuclear engine would be, are nested between the fenders with catwalks as transition.  The cabin is essentially completely transparent in the mode of jet fighter canopies.  No headlights are apparent (perhaps that frontal bar that looks like a grille is actually a light fixture).  The front edges of the fenders mimic jet air intakes with centerbodies.  At the center of the rear are what appear to be jet or (if there was atomic power) heat exhaust pipes.  Atop the rear part of the fenders are tail fins resembling that of the F-86 fighter plane.

The Atmos at the Chicago auto show being admired by what I assume are Ford executives.  If the image was larger I might be able to guess who one or two of them might be.  Here they provide scale to the car.

Profile view with a model at the controls (hand grips, no steering wheel) and more executives.  Note that there is almost no room for vertical wheel movement and that the front wheels have little freedom to steer.  If you look closely, you can spy the door cut lines.

A 1955 photo of the Atmos on display in the Ford Rotunda.

Despite that fact that the Atmos was utterly impractical, I think it succeeds as a dream car.  By that, I mean it creates a "Wow!!" reaction setting the imaginations of viewers on fire.  Moreover, even though it's outrageous, the design is actually clean, graceful and conceptually coherent.

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