If the shape of the 1967 Corvair Astro I looks futuristic today, image its debut at the New York Auto Show 40 years ago. Designed to investigate the 'visual potential of automobile aerodynamic characteristics,' the Astro I dramatically demonstrated the harmony that could be achieved between aesthetics and aerodynamics.
To achieve the aero goals, a very small frontal area, extremely low roofline and a relatively high back were required.
These design parameters led GM Design to the Corvair platform with its air-cooled, rear-mounted engine and the absence of a space-consuming radiator.
The Astro I body is fiberglass, and the sleek bubble on the roof contains an intricate mirror system to provide the driver with unobstructed rearward vision.
Riding on a sophisticated double-wishbone suspension, the Astro I utilized compact centrifugal blowers to cool the engine while keeping drag-inducing body openings to a minimum.
Mitchell's breathtaking 1967 Astro I styling enabled his designers to explore the boundaries between beauty and low-drag forms. At less than three feet high, it was the lowest concept model ever created by GM Design, so low that passengers had to use elevator seats to get in and out. A touch of a flush release caused the canopy to rise electrically. Once inside, occupants were lowered to a reclining position with another button.
By contrast, the following year's Astro II, a collaboration between GM Design and GM Research, was a much more production-practical sports car. One of an extended series of mid-engine concepts created by Mitchell and Corvette Chief Engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov, with input from Larry Shinoda, it was designed with future Corvettes in mind.
The radical 1969 Astro III is a two-passenger experimental car resembling an executive jet aircraft, even down to its 'tricycle' wheel arrangement....though it actually has four wheels, with the front pair placed close together under its nose. Powered by a Model 250-C18 gas turbine engine, it was envisioned as a high-performance vehicle suited for future restricted access or system-controlled highways. A power canopy moves forward and upward for entry, and rear vision is provided by closed-circuit TV with a screen on the center console.