By Drew Hardin
Photo Courtesy Petersen Archive
Inside the Future
Concept cars and styling exercises—especially those from the ’50s and ’60s—were often just that: exercises to showcase a designer’s wild ideas about the future of automotive design. Sometimes they previewed a production model to come, but more often they were the result of a fertile imagination coupled with whatever styling trend was current at the time.
At first glance, this photo of the interior of the ’66 Chrysler 300X “research car” seems to fall into that latter category. The handgrip steering looks very jet age, almost like two ray guns attached to a flat steering module.
Closer inspection, though, reveals some inventive thinking that was remarkably prescient. The gun-like steering handles operated a twist-grip, hydroelectric steering system that could be considered a precursor to today’s electric power-steering systems. The pod it attached to was designed to retract to ease entry and exit, or collapse in an accident—like today’s collapsible, adjustable steering columns.
The 300X’s accelerator and brake pedals were oversize, “treadle-like” pedals that didn’t make production, but their adjustability to suit different-size drivers did. The car’s transmission was operated via a rotary dial, like those found in today’s Ram trucks equipped with the new TorqueFlite eight-speed transmissions.
On the instrument panel was a digital speedometer, just like we have in today’s cars, and what Chrysler public relations at the time termed “a television screen on the front panel [that] informs driver on traffic conditions to the rear.” In other words, a rear-view camera.
What doesn’t show in the photo were forward-thinking interior design ideas we learned about from Tony Thacker and David Fetherston’s excellent book, Chrysler Concept Cars 1940–1970. The seatbacks had head restraints (items that were soon required safety equipment) and built-in armrests, another feature that eventually showed up in production cars. The 300X also pioneered the use of molded door and quarter-trim panels, which first made it to production on the ’70 Barracuda and Challenger.
Not all of the 300X’s design features were as successful. The “audible clock that gives the time by tape-recorded voice” didn’t make it (unless you consider it to be the grandfather of Apple’s Siri), nor did the “push-button emptying of ash trays by vacuum action.”