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If you thought the Chrysler Turboflite was taste gone mad, if you thought is was the result of throwing decorum out of the window, it you thought it was the result of ignoring all that is common sense, then the Beechcraft Plainsman might just be the concept car for you.

Designed in 1946 by people who were at once both jubilant at the end of WW2, and unstintingly cautious about the future, the Plainsman missed all the hot buttons for a concept car.
The US government had just stopped ordering aircraft like there was no tomorrow (which there might not have been if the US government hadn’t been ordering them in the first place). Beechcraft was one of the companies building those planes. All of a sudden it had a workforce and factory designed to turn out complex mechanical machines that no one wanted.

But Beechcraft wasn’t giving up easily. With a giant smile they turned to the burgeoning US car market. The car market didn’t just smile back, so Beechcraft needed to do something to get noticed. Unfortunately they hit on the idea of the Plainsman.

Now, I know they were trying to capture those sensible people who wanted to buy a car, but naming anything “plain” is a bad idea. There again, it is in keeping with the style-proof look of the car. In fact the guy in the front seat in this shot had pretty much the same idea, he has his head titled back in that why-did-I-agree-to-do-this kind of way. The reason he stayed in the car was probably because the door jammed when he tried to get out.

Talking of doors, this car was trying to be a technology demonstrator. For example, the doors were solenoid activated. This means they had a switch which operated an electromechanical lock. Given the reliability of car electrics at the time I can imagine that if these had gone into production the excuse “I was stuck in my Plainsman” would have been as common as “the check’s in the mail.”

In Beechcraft’s defense, they did try to incorporate safety features into their design. The interior sported rubber crash pads. Though these might have been their to prevent injury when buyers came to their senses.

On the safety downside, the engine was in the back. This meant the whole passenger compartment was a crumple zone, protecting the motor in case of an accident. It probably guaranteed atrocious handling as well.

Despite the acres of glass at the front of the car, the rear had a tiny window and giant area of metalwork (what you could laughably call the C “pillars”). So, if you were changing lanes this would pretty much ensured you’d hit anything smaller than an 18-wheeler.

The final straw that breaks the styling camel’s back is on the roof. I have absolutely no clue what purpose the loop on top of the roof serves. Possibly they intended stranded cars to be rescued by helicopter? Though I think you’d need several of Igor’s best to lift this thing.

Believe it or not, it wasn’t the staggering ugliness of this car that killed it. In 1946, Beechcraft had hoped to market it for $5000 … at a time when Cadillacs were selling for half the price. Beechcraft soldiered on convinced they had a superior luxury car until they finally figured out the actual price (you know, the one the engineering and production people worked out, not the one the marketing “gurus” came up with on the basis of a long lunch and several bottles of wine). Are you ready? $15,000. Fifteen thousand dollars! In those days you could buy houses for that sort of money – and not ones with “plain” in the name.

So, what do you think? Was it relief for the motoring world when Beechcraft went back to making airplanes? Or would the rubber crash pads have reduce the 30,000 deaths on US roads every year during the forties?

And if you think of any use for the loop on the roof, let me know. I might just try it out.



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