There’s something undeniably quaint about the way the industrialized world imagined the future back in the 1950s. Looking at it now, you think less “future” and more “aww, look how retro!” And nothing epitomizes that more than the Astra-Gnome.
The Astra-Gnome concept car was commissioned by American Motors and designed by Richard Arbib using a 1955 Nash Metropolitan chassis as its base. It was intended to represent what cars would look like in the far-off year of 2000, at which point everyone was sure cars would look a little more like airplanes (oh, how precious). It was called a “Time and Space Car”, and… yeah, you can definitely tell why.
One of the big selling points on this car was the space—the literal, physical space. Ads pointed out that the “Integra-luggage” arrangement is one of the ways the Astra-Gnome is going to revolutionize the future. Arbib extended the Nash chassis for the design, and this extra “waste” space was supposed to provide a revolutionary amount of storage. Which included a six-piece integrated luggage set and bigger glove boxes on each side of the car. Only the important things, here.
I mean, it also has its perks. The fact that the top of the Astra-Gnome is a Jetsons-like bubble cuts out your blind spots and offers a hell of a lot of visibility. It would kind of suck on a hot summer day (although it did have air conditioning) or, like, during a rainstorm. But Future Americans would have definitely solved those kind of problems by 2000.
That bubble had some other nifty features, too. Like, the fact that it could be raised so you could just walk straight inside. Or that it was basically an echo chamber that would make the most out of the state-of-the-art record player.
Arbib built the whole thing in four months. He increased the Metropolitan body by 25% but still managed to keep the weight under 2000 lbs, which is pretty impressive. A lot of that weight admittedly did end up in the space-age protrusions, but, y’know. It’s a concept car. Cut ‘em some slack.
Probably one of the coolest features of the Astra-Gnome is the Hamilton clock. Which, according to Popular Science, is actually a “celestial time-zone clock permitting actual flight-type navigation”. I’m not sure where you’d be flying to in this very terrestrial car, but this was an era of possibility. The fender skirts were designed to hide the tires wheels to give the illusion of a hover car, so I guess it just adds to the appeal.
The car wasn’t ever designed for use. It appeared on the cover of Newsweek in 1956 and was one of the highlight features of the New York Auto Show that same year. If you’re looking at this thing like “this goofy block was absolutely not ever popular”, then think again: questionnaire cards were distributed at the auto show, and a whopping 80% of people had good things to say about the Astra-Gnome. Mainly, though, it played the part of a concept car well. It was great for displays and photoshoots with good-looking women, and it got everyone all excited about the cool stuff the 21st century was going to hold.
The Astra-Gnome somehow disappeared until about 1980. Now, it’s on display at the Metropolitan Pit Stop Museum in California, forever immortalized as a testament of the cool things we definitely never ended up having.