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In the mid-1950s, American Motors Corporation hired industrial designer Richard Arbib to design a futuristic concept car based on the 1955 Nash Metropolitan chassis. The result was this wild concept car called the Astra-Gnome, which was built in just four months.

The Astra-Gnome was intended to show what a time travel car would look like (it was planned to appear in 2000) and included “a celestial time zone clock allowing time navigation.” It was a hit: it appeared on the cover of Newsweek on September 3, 1956, and was the star of the New York International Auto Show that same year.

The Astra-Gnome’s aluminum and chrome body features wide fender skirts that give the car the appearance of a boat or hovercraft. The rear fins and taillights have a distinctive ’50s style, and the clear cockpit canopy is pillarless, giving the driver and passenger a 360-degree view. The hood features a cartoonish gnome/astronaut logo.

The seats are upholstered in satin blue and gray. The steering wheel is finished in blue chrome with the same Astra-Gnome logo in the center, while the knobs and gearshift lever are painted in clear. A giant celestial clock takes center stage at eye level.

Richard Arbib was quite an experienced designer even before he came up with this quirky little masterpiece. He developed concepts for General Motors, Ford and Packard; he also created the magnificent Packard Pan American. This Pan American was the launching pad for the elegant Packard Caribbean, which was the last gasp of a dying brand that was doing everything it could to survive.

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

On March 30, the Petersen Automotive Museum will open an exhibition, “Eyes on the Road: The Art of the Automotive Landscape,” featuring this amazingly quirky space car. Along with it you can see a 1934 Dymaxion, a 1955 Ghia Gilda and a 1969 Chevrolet Astro III.

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