What a Concept!

  • Shaun Tolson

In the wake of world war II, with American troops returning home to victory parades, a renewed optimism blanketed the United States. It was around this time that jet-powered airplanes began taking to the skies, and with a revitalized sense of adventure and discovery all around them, American designers began incorporating those themes into their work. No industry displayed this better than the automakers. “It was an era in time when America was the leader of the world in all sorts of design,” says Craig Jackson, the chairman and CEO of Barrett-Jackson Auction Co. “You’re never going to have another point in history like that.”

Prior to the war, American car manufacturers often competed with each other over who could build the flashiest automobile. Those rivalries were renewed during the late 1940s and early 1950s; however, effusive amounts of chrome took a backseat to more wild and innovative designs. Suddenly, it wasn’t enough to show the public an elaborate, sparkling piece of automotive showmanship; the new platform was delivering the car of tomorrow—or at least a glimpse of what that car might someday look like. Leveraging America’s excitement about the future, car companies commissioned their top designers to build futuristic automobiles and staged elaborate auto shows to display them, as well as their newest production models. No one did this better than General Motors. “Hearing from firsthand experiences of people I know who came home from the war, they’d go to the auto show and see all these wild designs and concepts, and it was really inspiring for the future,” says Ian Kelleher, a specialist with RM Auctions. “It was a pretty dynamic time in American manufacturing. They tried to give people a glimpse into what auto manufacturers envisioned in the future and what could be possible.”

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