In America the concept car, or the dream car as it was then known, took a dramatic leap forward in 1951 when General Motors unveiled Harley Earl’s sensational and outrageous Le Sabre.
Like The Y-Job, it was built on a Buick chassis which was cloaked with a two-door convertible aluminium body a mere 914 mm (3 ft) high. The design audaciously united elements closely associated with a jet fighter and more orthodox automotive themes. The post-war years had witnessed the arrival of the jet age and the LeSabre took its name from North American Aviation’s F-86 Sabre that was the US Air Force’s first swept-wing jet fighter.
Like the aircraft, the front of the car was dominated by a jet engine-inspired air intake. This was masked by a horizontal barred grille which unobtrusively incorporated on its reverse side the car’s headlamps. It was automatically rotated to bring the into use.
The aeronautical theme was reinforced at the back of the car by the presence of a stylized outlet duct reminiscent of a jet’s. Each tail fin concealed a 90-litre (20-gallon) aircraft-type rubberized fuel tank: one contained methanol and the other petrol. This volatile cocktail was required to fuel’s the car’s experimental, high-compression, supercharged, 215 cid (3533 cc), aluminium V8 engine. A de Dion rear axle was employed.
A wraparound windscreen was a further innovation but this created plenty of technical headaches for the Lilley-Owens-Ford company which made it. Happily the firm perservered and it went on to become the largest supplier of suck screens to the industry.
Instrumentation had more in common with an aircraft than a car and this influence was reflected in the dials that included a tachnometer, compass and altimeter. Electrics motors were used to adjust the seats, which incorporated thermostatically activated seat warmers. These were based on the principles developed for electrically warmed flying suits. Doors were also secured by electrical catches and the roof was similarly activated. It automatically closed at the first few drops of rain.
LeSabre was shown in model form in 1949, was unveiled in 1951, and, together with its Buick-based XP-300 stablemate, was one of the stars of General Motors’ 1953 Motorama. Thereafter Harley Earl used the car as his personal transport for some years and it was often seen in the car parks of the Grosse Pointe country clubs that he patronized. He even loaned it to General Eisenhower when he was Nato commander in Paris. Goodness knows what the French thought of the Gallic-sounding LeSabre!
Wood, Jonathan (1997) Concept Cars, Paragon, ISBN 0-75252-084-9.