Ford Nucleon, the nuclear-powered car that never saw the light

It was the 50’s and the world was obsessed with nuclear energy. This technology was thought to replace oil and coal in different areas. One of them was mobility and, as Ford did not want to be left behind, it presented to the world the Ford Nucleon.

Can you imagine driving with a nuclear reactor behind your back? Now it may seem like a bit of a crazy idea, but when atomic energy was just in its infancy, moving around town with a uranium fission reaction.

The official presentation of the Ford Nucleon occurred in 1957, almost about the end of the atomic age. It was one of the highest expressions of the nuclear optimism of those years. It was imagined as a totally silent vehicle capable of traveling almost 8,000 kilometers before the reactor had to be replaced.

Interestingly, he envisioned a future away from oil, in which nuclear energy it would be safe and clean enough to reach the masses. Since vehicles would no longer have to refuel, gas stations would become complete reactor exchange centers, according to Ford.

Ford Nucleon, the atomic age at its finest

A member of the Ford design team puts the finishing touches on the Nucleon model

In the 1950s, the Ford Motor Company design studio was led by George Walker. This man was known for motivating his team to create futuristic concepts. It was thus that the designer Jim Powers, inspired by the rise of nuclear energy, gave free rein to his imagination.

The design of the Ford Nucleon started from the idea that one day, nuclear reactors would be so small that they could be located in a car. The oval model would have a radioactive core at the rear.

However, the details of the Ford Nucleon powertrain are unclear. It is believed that, through the fission of uranium, the necessary heat would be generated to convert the water into steam and move a set of turbines. One would provide the torque, while the other would drive an electric generator. The steam would then be condensed back into water in a cooling circuit and sent back to the steam generator to be reused.

We cannot deny that the vehicle lines appear to have been created on another planet. The driver’s cab was as far away as possible from the “atomic trunk”. The windshield and rear window were notable for their enormous size. One of the more evolved designs features prominent fins at the rear, a feature derived from the aerospace industry that was very popular on cars of the time.

A dream that never went beyond a model

Unfortunately — or fortunately — the Ford Nucleon was never more than a concept. Nuclear reactors were never small enough to be mounted on a vehicle, nor are armor systems light enough to keep the DNA of the driver and his passengers safe from radioactive isotopes.

For better or for worse, because this dream did not come true, today we do not have to worry about having thousands – or millions – of cars hitting the highways and highways at “nuclear speed.” The 3/8 scale model that gave a glimpse of a future with nuclear energy at the core can be seen at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.