These days we call them concept cars, but they were once known by the manufacturers as dream cars or simply idea cars. Whatever the name, these custom show vehicles have always had the same basic purpose: to test and explore the very latest designs in automobiles. In 1961, the latest from Dodge was the Flitewing.
Designed by Chrysler stylists in Detroit and crafted by hand by the Ghia coachbuilding house in Turin, Italy, the Flitewing sported dozens of unique features. The most obvious were the gullwing-style side windows—flitewings—that swung up automatically when the doors were opened, thanks to a pair of electric motors hidden in the trunk.
They seem odd today, but the idea behind the flitewings was to improve passenger entry and egress while still allowing the sleekest, lowest body profile possible. In a nutshell, that was the Dodge Flitewing’s design mission: to provide maximum style and comfort with no compromise in either.
Inside the Flitewing’s cabin, rows of push buttons on the dash and console operated everything from the Torqueflite automatic transmission to the exterior lamps, radio and climate control, all in easy reach of the pedestal-style bucket seats. Instead of a conventional speedometer, the instrument panel featured a horizontal row of 13 windows in 10-mph increments that flashed to indicate speed.
Unveiled at Central Park in New York on December 5, 1961, the Flitewing was valued by Dodge at $125, 000, equivalent to more than a million in 2013-era dollars. Modern-day concept cars can often represent an even greater investment, due to all the advanced technology they showcase. But whatever the price, today’s concepts perform the same service as the Flitewing back in 1961: they give us a tantalizing glimpse at the cars of tomorrow—today.