After World War II, much of the Western world became positively obsessed with the relatively young field of nuclear energy. Wild fantasies of nuclear power becoming portable, safe, and practical enough to trickle down into powering everyday life in America abounded, and the automotive industry was not immune.
Hence the 1958 “Ford Nucleon” concept.
Pictured above, the Ford Nucleon never ended up moving beyond a futuristic design exercise (thank God), due largely to the fact that the sort of small, reliable nuclear powerplant envisioned as the car’s propulsion energy source simply never materialized. The nose of the car points down and to the left in the photograph; behind the cabin, a very serious-looking hatch can be seen, meant to house the Ford Nucleon’s nuclear reactor.
According to Hemmings, Ford had decided to leave such details as whether to utilize a fusion or fission reactor up to top scientists, and concentrated instead on designing everything else.
Ford had imagined that the car’s reactor would generate the electricity necessary to drive the wheels, sending that power through an electric torque converter. The automaker had also imagined that the car would be able to travel up to 5,000 miles between refuelling stops, at which point the Ford Nucleon could simply pull into one of the many recharging stations to have replaced traditional gas stations.
Doomed to start and end as a 3/8ths-scale design concept, the 1958 Ford Nucleon did at least float the idea of the electric torque converter – a device which would later be patented and see widespread use in hybrid-electric vehicles. As for introducing a bit of excitement and danger to the everyday commute, we think Ford nailed that pretty well with the Pinto.