Firebird III GM Concept Car

October 1, 2015 |
photos: Courtesy GM Media Archives

photos: Courtesy GM Media Archives

With its tailfins, double bubble canopy and air brakes disguised in its body, the Firebird III is space-age in the extreme. But it’s not just its Jetsons-meets-Batman style that makes it special.

“Most concept cars were just fiberglass dummies and didn’t have parts that really worked. This was the ultimate dream car or show car and it was also a research car,” says Jim Ewen, one of  two designers of the Firebird III who will talk about it during Tucson Modernism Week while the car is on display at MOCA, the weekend of October 3rd.

19_FIrebirdIII_06-0386The Firebird III, built in 1958, is powered by a gas turbine engine as well as a two-cylinder gasoline engine for the accessories. A two-seater with a double bubble canopy, it has a joystick instead of a steering wheel and a titanium skin. Like GM’s other concept cars, it was inspired largely by fighter aircraft.

1958 Firebird III at#4AAB0D (1)Ewen, now living in Tucson, was brought in to develop the wheels, interior and instrument panel. He says the design team was convinced some of their concepts – particularly the gas turbine engine – would one day be adopted by every car manufacturer. “We often talked back in the 1950s about how the year 2000 would be the ultimate year [in car design],” he says. But mainstream design proved to be much slower than they anticipated.

As for Ewen, his own car choice is far more subtle. Rather than vintage cars, he says he prefers to get around in something a little more reliable. Currently that’s a Chevy Malibu.

For tickets and a complete schedule of Tucson Modernism Week happenings, please visit

Category: Arts, Community, DOWNTOWN / UNIVERSITY / 4TH AVE, Events