The 1956 AMC Astra-Gnome Is the Closest You’ll Get to a Jetsons Car

This quirky concept was built on the chassis of a Nash Metropolitan.
white car with a bubble dome
Petersen Automotive Museum

In the mid-50s, American Motors Corporation hired industrial designer Richard Arbib to design a futuristic concept car built on a 1955 Nash Metropolitan chassis. The result was this wild “Time and Space Car” concept car called the Astra-Gnome, which was built in a light-speed quick four months.

The Jetsons-like Astra-Gnome was intended to suggest what a time-traveling car would look like in the year 2000 and included a “celestial time-zone clock permitting actual flight-type navigation.”  It was a hit, appearing on the cover of Newsweek on September 3, 1956 and starring at the New York International Auto Show that same year.

white car with a bubble dome

Crafted in aluminum and chrome, the exterior of the Astra-Gnome has full fender skirts that give the car a boat or hovercraft appearance. The rear fins and taillights are distinctively 50s-styled (dang, I miss fins) and the bubbletop canopy is pillar free, giving the driver and passenger a 360-degree view. A cartoonish gnome/astronaut logo adorns the hood.

Inside the cockpit, the seats are covered satiny blue and space-ace gray upholstery. The steering wheel is coated in chromed blue with the same Astra-Gnome logo in the center, and the knobs and gearshifter are clear and transparent blue. Its giant celestial clock takes center stage at eye level.

Arbib himself was quite an accomplished designer even before he came up with this quirky little masterpiece. He designed concepts for General Motors, Ford, and Packard; he also penned the gorgeous Packard Pan American, which was based on a modified Packard 250 convertible that Hemmings describes as being “chopped, channeled and smoothed into a two-seat luxury roadster.” That Pan American was the launchpad for the elegant Packard Caribbean, which was the last gasp of a dying brand pulling out all the stops to survive.

But Arbib’s talents weren’t limited to cars. He was also the creator of the asymmetrical Hamilton electric watch, which is now a collector’s item for vintage watch aficionados. Arbib also designed the sleek Century Coronado hardtop speedboat.

The Petersen Automotive Museum will debut its “Eyes on the Road: Art of the Automotive Landscape” exhibit on March 30, including this wonderfully bizarre space car. The Astra-Gnome will be displayed in the “vehicle concepts” section along with other delightful weirdos like the 1934 Dymaxion, 1955 Ghia Gilda and 1969 Chevrolet Astro III.

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