Buick Centurion a ‘dream’ blast from the past
IN the 1950s General Motors developed a series of “dream” cars of the future and displayed them to the American public in extravagant exhibitions called Motoramas.
Millions went to see these cars. And it was all free.
Many of the cars that were shown finished their brief lives as scrap, but one that survived is the sensational Buick Centurion XP-301 from 1956.
That XP is for “XPerimental”, and 301 is its build number.
Being a car of the mid-1950s, there was plenty of chrome but not too much to distract from the svelte shape.
The a e r o d y n a mi c b o d y matched its stunning i nteri or, which was uphol- s t e r e d i n a i r c r a f t - i nspir e d El e kt r on Red.
The glass roof arched over four individual bucket seats with individual headre sts and retractable seat belts.
The s t e e r i n g wheel was mounted airc raft- st yle on a wide, chromed arm that cantilevered out of the centre of the dashboard, thus removing the safety hazard of the steering column.
Perhaps its most visionary f eature was a rear- mounted camera with a wide-angle lens and a 4 x 6- i nch view sc reen embedded in the dashboard.
The camera, paired with the car’s transparent bubble top and panoramic wraparound windshield, meant that no rear view mirror was necessary.
A chrome-plated strip that began above the front wheel, curved down just before the rear wheel, and then curved back to t he t ail- l i ght — t he “Sweepspear” — would become a Buick trademark. Twin air scoops directed outside air to passengers. The tapered tail resembled the exhaust outlet of a jet aircraft.
The flat rear fins were later used in even more extravagant from on the “bat-winged” 1959 Chevrolet and again on the 1971 Buick Riviera coupe.
Chuck Jordan, who designed the Centurion, went on to become global head of GM design in the 1980s and 1990s.
The Centurion i s one of a selected number of dream cars c ur r e ntl y on di s pl ay a t t he Museum of High Art in Atlanta, Georgia.