The Ford Nucleon was a nuclear-powered concept car developed by Ford Motor Company in 1958. The design did not include an internal-combustion engine, rather, a vehicle was to be powered by a small nuclear reactor in the rear of the vehicle. The vehicle featured a power capsule suspended between twin booms at the rear. The capsule, which would contain radioactive core for motive power, was designed to be easily interchangeable, according to performance needs and the distances to be traveled.
The passenger compartment of the Nucleon featured a one-piece, pillar-less windshield and compound rear window, and was topped by a cantilever roof. There were air intakes at the leading edge of the roof and at the base of its supports. An extreme cab-forward style provided more protection to the driver and passengers from the reactor in the rear. Some pictures show the car with tailfins sweeping up from the rear fenders.
The drive train would be integral to the power module, and electronic torque converters would take the place of the drive-train used at the time. It was said that cars like the Nucleon would be able to travel 8000 km (5,000 miles) or more, depending on the size of the core, without recharging. Instead, at the end of the core's life they would be taken to a charging station, which research designers envisioned as largely replacing gas stations. The car was never built and never went into production, but it remains an icon of the Atomic Age of the 1950s.
The main dangers of the car would be the radiation, nuclear waste and a possibility of a small nuclear meltdown.
The mock-up of the car can be viewed at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
According to Bob Gale, producer of the film Back to the Future, the Nucleon's rear nuclear reactor was one of the design inspirations for the De Lorean time machine.
The post-apocalyptic computer game Fallout 3 contains wrecked cars resembling the Nucleon. Tying in with the games alternate-history past these cars (as well as most other wrecks in the game) are powered by small nuclear reactors, and most of them explode in a relatively small mushroom-cloud when shot at with a sufficiently powerful weapon.
- Ford Nucleon Concept Car
- Ford's mid-century concept cars forecast future vehicles
- Article on the Ford Nucleon