The Future of the Past: 16 Retro-Futuristic Vehicle Designs

retrofuturistic personal vehicles

We’re all still waiting on our flying cars, jet packs, robot maids and all of the other awesomeness that previous generations foresaw for us. Nowhere was our ingenuity more apparent in those days than in the futuristic vehicle designs that just kept coming. Some of the best places to find those futuristic automotive designs were on the covers of magazines geared toward creative and scientific minds. These covers show some of the best, the weirdest, and the most impressive vehicle designs that never quite made it into production.

retrofuturistic motorcycles

These concept motorcycles were once the height of futuristic design. It’s interesting to note that, although they bear little resemblance to the motorcycles of today, they do bring to mind the cars being used these days to try to break the land speed record. The big ball wheels and inexplicable single wing were surely design stepping stones on the way to modern aerodynamic motorcycles.

retrofuturistic personal vehicles

retrofuturistic round cars

Overall car designs haven’t changed radically in quite some time, so it’s easy to forget that the shape and functionality of vehicles was still evolving in the 1940s and 1950s. If any of these design strategies had been adopted 50 years ago, our highways and parking lots would look drastically different today. They may look impractical from a modern standpoint, but it would definitely be cool to change up your car’s body design at the touch of a button.

retrofuturistic buses

retrofuturistic buses 2

Even mass transit designs were subject to speculation in the golden age of vehicle innovation. Buses that drive themselves, buses that climb mountains, buses that drive on the water, and buses that feature impossibly impractical central wheels were once at the forefront of new vehicle ideas. One has to wonder how many of these concepts were expected to actually work in practice, and how many were simply meant to be viewed as art.

retrofuturistic submarines

Obviously, past generations expected us to spend much more time on and in the water than most of us actually do today. Many personal boat and submarine designs graced the covers and pages of Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, and other monthly journals for the futuristic-minded. Though one-person submarines do exist today, they’re a bit too costly to be used for recreation and are mostly used for research purposes.

retrofuturistic snow and ice vehicles

(all images via: Modern Mechanix)

Not all of these futuristic designs were way off, though. These ice and snow vehicles look a lot like the snowmobiles of today, though better engines have made the ever-present rotors of these designs unnecessary.

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See more in Retrofuturistic or under Vintage & Retro. November, 2009.