High Tech Lo Tech: Concept Cars from 1969
General Motors was on a roll in the 1960s, with muscle cars and cars inspired by the space race. The biggest automaker in the world ended the decade with concept cars that took imagination and innovation to an entirely new level. These cars looked more like space ships than speed demons and they were created with idea of where technology could take us when we were on the roads.
The most notable was the Buick Century Cruiser. The shape of the automobile was not unique from other concept cars from GM, Pontiac, and Chevy in the same year, but the technology inside of it certainly was. The Buick Century Cruiser did not have a steering wheel because it was designed to drive itself. Buick was imagining that the driver would not steer, because a guidance system would take control. The guidance system took over when the driver inserted a punch card into a slot when entering the highway. The driver would follow the road on a video monitor. If the driver did want to steer, he had to use the joysticks in the arm rest. The Buick Century Cruiser also had a rear view monitor, so no need for a back window. We might laugh at the low tech idea of using a punch card, but we now have televisions in our cars, back-up cameras, and guidance systems we call GPS.
In 1969, the world was fully engulfed in the race to moon and man made it there that year. It was only natural that cars would begin to really look like rockets. The 1969 Chevy Astro III Concept fit the bill. This car, along with the Buick Century Cruiser, had narrow front wheels and wide-set rear wheels, giving the cars a wing-like (or pizza-slice-like) shape. This car ran on a gas turbine that delivered 317 horsepower. It had closed-circuit video system for the rearview mirrors. Like the Buick, the Astro III Concept was years ahead of its time.
The last rocket ship high tech car was made by General Motors. It was called the GM XP-511. This car did not have the same sexiness of the Chevy Astro III or the punch card guidance control of the Buick Century Cruiser, but the XP-511 did have three wheels and an electric motor. The high tech of 1969 certainly has affected the way we design cars, today.