Ah, the 1950s. Automotive design in America was heavily influenced by the jet age. Folks were crazy about the new-fangled jet planes, but this was also an era where nuclear energy was taking strides. What would've happened if nuclear influence made the same kind of impact in the motoring world?
That's what Ford was looking into with the curious concept featured here, called the Nucleon. Photos of the concept and the original Ford press release from 1958 were recently added to the ever-expanding Ford Heritage Vault. This was merely a design study to see how future vehicles incorporating nuclear power might look. The round thing in the "bed" of the Nucleon is the power capsule containing a nondescript atomic core.
Beyond that, the sleek design has retractible bumpers for better aerodynamic efficiency. The passenger compartment has electronic climate control systems. Per the release, Ford envisioned a range of 5,000 miles before the Nucleon needed recharging.
Of course, this was all purely speculative. This design never progressed beyond a 3:8-scale design experiment, so at no point was there a concept cruising the streets of Detroit with a nuclear reactor in the back. If you've ever been to the Motor City, you know that's likely for the best.
The press release stated the design assumed a future where nuclear reactors were small enough to fit into a car. In 2023 these reactors are still humongous because they're basically big steam engines. Presumably, Ford saw a future where nuclear reactions were generating power directly, though we still wonder how one would recharge a decaying element.
Ford's vision of the future wasn't completely off, however. The press release mentioned charging stations taking the place of fuel stations, and that's happening now as electric vehicle development expands. Ford also described the Nucleon as having electronic devices front and rear to warn occupants of nearby vehicles. Today, such driver-assist systems are common in new vehicles, even serving as standard equipment for some models.
And if you're experiencing some strange familiarity with the Nucleon's design, you just might be a gamer. The Fallout game franchise reportedly based its retro-futuristic fusion-powered cars on the Nucleon concept. We pinged Ford to see if this is accurate, as we see more than a few similarities between the Nucleon and the post-apocalyptic rides in the game. For now, at least, it remains unconfirmed. But we'll update the post if we learn something new.