CBC Digital Archives

GM's 'car of the future'

Buick, Cadillac, Corvette: iconic car brands from what was once the world's biggest automaker. Since its inception in 1908, General Motors has put millions of cars on the road and employed generations of Canadians. But competition from overseas began to take its toll in the 1980s, setting GM on a path to bankruptcy in 2009.

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Smooth, streamlined and with an instrument panel to rival an airplane's, GM's "car of the future" is a spaceship-like pod with windows that open like wings. Powered by a novel free piston system, the car is a star attraction at a Vancouver auto show in 1959. In this clip from the CBC-TV children's show Follow Me, young host Rod Gillingham meets a GM researcher who demonstrates exactly how free piston power works.
• According to the GMnext Wiki, GM's XP-500, the car seen in this clip, was the first free piston powered car. Unveiled in 1956 after 14 months of development, it remained merely an auto-show novelty. GM stopped exploring free piston power for its cars by 1959. • Under free piston power, a single piston or a pair of opposing pistons are driven not by a crankshaft but by gases in a combustion chamber combined with a rebound device.

• In 1953 GM created Motorama, a days-long travelling showcase of the newest auto designs and dream cars. Because GM also owned the Frigidaire appliance company, Motorama also presented "idea kitchens" showing what the future might hold for homemakers. The lavish event was free of charge and also featured singers and dancers in stage shows.

• GM was the first automotive company to establish its own research centre, in Detroit in 1920. Over the years the lab has engineered fuel additives, fuel cells and electric-powered engines, the catalytic converter and navigation systems, among many other innovations. 

Medium: Television
Program: Follow Me
Broadcast Date: Feb. 23, 1959
Guest(s): Mr. Phelps
Reporter: Rod Gillingham
Duration: 11:23

Last updated: January 15, 2014

Page consulted on June 27, 2014

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