Some speculation
about FAB1's ancestry

J. Lester Novros II

one of the most excruciating anecdotes surrounding the 2004 live-action Thunderbirds movie must be the story of the email the production company sent Gerry Anderson to get him to endorse the project. It contained a picture of the new fab1 and that, according to the gushing mail, was guaranteed to draw Gerry over the line. Imagine his horror when his [and our] beloved Rolls Royce turned out to be a Ford [and a pretty ugly one at that].

Ford Seattle-ite XXI side elevation
the Seattle-ite XXI in all its glory

The connection between the two is not as tenuous as might seem at first sight, however. In the late Fifties and early Sixties of the previous century, the Ford Motor Company was very much engaged in the development of socalled 'concept cars' or 'dream cars', one of a kind automobiles packed with futuristic features wrapped in an equally futuristic design to be shown at the annual travelling auto shows current in the America of the day, the socalled Detroit Motor Shows. The idea was of course that production models for the coming year could be fitted out with any one of the features found in the current concept car in order to boost sales.

Ford was surely not the only car manufacturer using this tactic: googling for 'dream car' or 'concept car' results in numerous hits pointing to inventories of other such cars. But Ford, at that time anyway, certainly led the pack, witnessed by what might well be the most forward-looking concept car ever, the Ford Seattle-ite XXI. As was the case with other concept cars of the time, the Seattle-ite only existed as a scale model [this one in 1/38" scale] and was built especially for the 1962 World Fair which took place in, as the name indicates, Seattle. The model was on display during the fair and brochures detailing the various features of the car were handed out to visitors. In the brochure's own words:

"Advanced stylists are not restricted in their "dreaming" to designs based on existing facilities or scientific achievements. Unlimited freedom to speculate is the key to progressive automobile styling. A styling experiment like Seattle-ite XXI, with its many forward-looking features, could lead to exciting new concepts of automobile styling, comfort and safety.

This unique styling dream car envisions four steerable front wheels in Ford Motor Company's Advanced Styling Studio, would feature such advanced concepts as a travel programming computer, variable density glass, jalousie windows, and finger tip steering.

Seattle-ite XXI is an example of the kind of exploration that could lead to important backthroughs in automotive styling and engineering. Such a vehicle might be powered by fuel cells or a compact nuclear device.

The entire front of the car would "break away" from the passenger compartment in order to permit conversions from an economical power capsule of perhaps 60HP, to a high speed, transcontinental unit in excess of 400HP. This concept would allow many styling treatments for the trailing vehicle that would house passengers in air-conditioned, noiseless comfort.

Seattle-ite 3/4 front/side view
another view of the Seattle-ite

The entire front end of Seattle-ite XXI would uncouple from the passenger compartment and an optional power unit could be quickly installed. All controls would be conducted through a flexible coupling that would simply plug into the passenger compartment. Four front wheels would turn in tandem. Ford stylists believe this would greatly enhance tracking, traction, and braking efficiency.

Fingertip steering and a travel programming computer are among the interior features of the Seattle-ite. Virtually effortless fingertip steering would allow accurate "zeroing in" at all speeds. A viewing screen would show engine performance characteristics, road and weather conditions, position of the vehicle in relation to an automatically rolling road map, and estimated time of arrival at any selected designation.

Jalousie windows could improve ventilation and reduce noise. At left is a close-up view of the windows in a closed position; at right they are open.

Variable density glass around the passenger compartment would give cool, diffused light on the interior, eliminate glare and permit more efficient air-conditioning."

[source: www.rocketfin.com]

It should by now be obvious that Penny's six-wheeled Rolls Royce is in fact more closely related to Ford then would at first appear. And I wager there's a good chance that Derek Meddings somehow saw a picture of the Seattle-ite [it must have been well-published at the time] and subconsciously remembered it when he designed fab1. After all, this sleek piece of futuristic engineering premiered at the 1962 World Fair and Thunderbirds hit worldwide television screens in 1965 so, in all likelyhood, Meddings and AP Films were probably in the middle of preproduction when the Seattle-ite grabbed the headlines.


1940s road building machine
1940s roadbuilding machine

And now that we're on the subject of forebears, the roadbuilding machine of Lester Gray and Eddie Houseman also had a 1940s predecessor as witnessed by this illustration. It even came complete with a helicopter for resupplying [and conceivably surveying missions] just as the Gray & Houseman machine did.