Simca Fulgur

This wasn't really a real car.

And that makes me sad.

But 1958, it seems, was a far simpler time, when the automotive companies were the world's most cutting-edge purveyors of far-out concepts and forward-thinking features. Cars today are better in every measurable way, that's not arguable.

When you see a concept car from 50 years ago…I have a feeling that the designers and engineers fully expected their visions to eventually come true. French designer Robert Opron was just 26 when he penned the Fulgar—Latin for "Flash"—his very first groundbreaking design in a career that gave us some of the world's most futuristic vehicles.

His work included the Citroën SM, GS, and CX; the Renault Fuego, 9, 11, and 25; and the later, facelifted Alpine A310. From his earliest concept to his last design, Opron was one of the very best at the use of glass and clear plastic to give his designs a more refined look—the SM's covered headlights and the Fuego's complex glass hatch are among my favourite details on any car.

Like the Ford Nucleon styling mock-up, the Fulgar was to be atomic-powered. These days, we can all chuckle at a car accident that removes entire towns from the map, but in the late 1950s, nuclear power was the bomb—pun intended—and designers could have rightfully expected everything to be powered by splitting atoms. 

What gets me is that the Fulgar looks like it was a functional mock-up (minus the nuclear reactor, of course)—there are photos of it in towns and on highways, with curious onlookers wondering what the hell they were looking at. In one photo below, it looks like police are giving the driver of the Fulgar a ticket—though it may have just been a publicity stunt.

The reactor was to power electric motors that drove the rear wheels and, like the Gyro-X (but not quite), above a certain speed the two front wheels retracted in order to reduce rolling resistance—with the Fulgar left powering along, gyroscopically stabilized on its rear wheels. The large fins out back were to steer and keep the front end off the ground at speed. Gnarly! 

Also novel was the idea that it could be controlled by speech instructions picked up by an "electronic brain"—presumably they meant it had autopilot, or what we now call a "driverless" car.

Fun to look at today—the chrome detailing around the bubble top is beautifully done—I can't help but be sad that the early 2000s were more Ford Focus than Simca Fulgar.

Just don't think too hard about what would happen if a fully-functional Fulgar had to stop at speed…with its front wheels retracted up into the bodywork.