GM Turbine Firebird Pages

What started as a chronicling of family history and sharing a private collection of photos has turned into the definative General Motors Firebird site. And when we talk Firebird, we don't mean the car you can buy today, but rather the car of the future, a self-driving, turbine powered, titanium skin car right out of the Jetsons, with a twist - they were built and running over 50 years ago!

Turbine car? That's correct. As far back as the 1930's, General Motors had started research into turbine vehicles, and around 1950 they started building a series of turbine powered vehicles, including the three Firebird experimental vehicles. Over the span of a decade these vehicles fascinated and captured the imagination of the world.

Our story originally started with the story of a central figure in the Firebird's development, Emmett Conklin, the Firebird's test supervisor and basically the only person authorized to drive the multi-million dollar vehicles. If you see a picture of someone driving one of these cars, it's almost always him.

But as people liked the site, we added more. Then other people who were involved with the research program contacted us. Since this site originally went online in 1998 or so, we've learned much more about the program and the hundreds of people who made the Firebirds possible, and we're working to integrate more of the Firebird story as bits and pieces become available.

1925 at the G.M. Proving Grounds
First Fuel Economy Test Instrumentation (1925) "Shorty" Mann and Emmett Conklin
Checking the Firebird II gasifier
Checking tolerances on the 'bird II
Now children and grandchildern of the people who made the Firebird real have been finding the Firebird pages and sending in notes, and recently, bits of material - old photos, stories, etc.

If you have information about the Firebird project you'd like to donate, we'd love to add it. The Firebird is truly a great American story. Not a product of antiseptic laboratories and incremental improvements, but a classic example of 'roll up your sleeves and change the future' R&D.

We feel it's important to document as much of this history as we can, not only as history, but to remind us today that breakthroughs aren't the result of "some corporation," but just good ideas combined with hard work and a desire to make a difference. The American experience has been littered with great adventures; please, help us remind people how they start.

This Firebird site is free public service provided by Conklin Systems.

Were you or a family member involved in the Firebird research program? If so, please drop us a line at as we have a community forum for Firebird team members.

The Firebird Article Collection:

The page that started it all, Bloodlines, chronicling Emmett Conklin, test supervisor for the turbine research program and the Firebirds' driver.
Paying Your Dues, an amusing recount of the day they went to shoot a movie about the Firebirds and came up short an actor. You may have seen the movie, but you haven't seen these behind the scenes photos!
NEW! Even with everything in our collection, we didn't even know that this flyer from the 1954 General Motors Motorama existed! Special thanks to Jerry McDermott for making his copy available. Reproduced here in it's entirety.
We would like an original of this for our collection. If you have one you're willing to part with, please contact us.
A couple years later the Firebird II was the featured star in this pamphlet from the 1956 General Motors Motorama! Reproduced here in it's entirety, it's a little slow, but we want you to get as close to the '56 experience as possible and thus created the 'pamphlet effect.'
Three years later at the 1959 General Motors Motorama a new flyer was passed out, this time, all about the Firebird III. Reproduced here in it's entirety.
Here again, we're trying to give you a feel for the enormous impact the Firebird's had in the 50's and 60's with Firebird Fly-bys, news articles from a public road test where they actually drove the Firebird III through the streets of Detroit!
Flight of the Firebirds! A fascinating pamphlet that was internal to G.M., given out to employees to explain what G.M. Research Laboratores did.
This 1954 magazine featured two articles about the Firebirds:

America's First Turbine Car about the creation of the car, and

I Drove the Firebird, a short piece written by Mauri Rose about driving it.


Some other random Firdbird items:

A letter to Emmett Conklin from the G.M. Patent office about a patent they received on the Firebirds.

For information on the actual patents, click here and click here.

Here's something you might not have heard of - a Firebird III toy!

Thanks to Lyle Mirsky for sending us a photo. Aware of any other Firebird toys? Please let us know.

Firebird III toy

Questions or comments? Send them to

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Conklin Systems 9905 Barnes Hwy Eaton Rapids, MI 48827
Phone (517) 663-6418 Fax (517) 664-5802

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