Here it is, documented evidence that working in the Motor City used to be more fun: Ford designers circa 1955 playing with radio-controlled models of the latest dream cars.
Alex Tremulis (1914-1991) had a long and colorful career in automotive design, starting in 1933 at Auburn when he was only 19. During WWII, he worked on advanced aircraft aerodynamics at Wright Field, and in 1947 he styled the distinctive Tucker 48. In 1952 he arrived at the Ford Motor Company, where he served as head of the advanced design studio.
Then as now, the studios used scale models to shrink lead times and save money. Among the Tremulis designs executed in 3/8 scale form were the La Tosca, a futuristic bubble-top dream car, and the Mexico, an aerodynamic reskin of the 1955 Thunderbird that was designed to top 200 mph.
Now here’s the fun part: For these two models, Tremulis and a studio staffer, Romeyne Hammond, constructed radio control systems, adapting six-volt car batteries, convertible top motors, and other full-size components from the Ford parts bins. Hammond’s clever gadgetry is visible in the lead photo above, around the miniature driver. Along with power, braking, and turning, the radio control system also reportedly operated the headlights, brake lamps, and turn signals.
Below are additional photos of the La Tosca and Mexico, and finally, a short video where the La Tosca (misidentified as the Ford Atmos) is shown in action. Toward the end of the film, a woman and a dog appear in the frame to provide visual scale.
In Ford lore, the design crew had a good time with the R/C gear, terrorizing Village Road and Oakwood Boulevard with their dinky dream cars. Security guards saluted when the models passed by. However, the project generated excess heat for the staff when one of the miniatures got in the way of a Ford executive’s life-sized sedan. That brought an end to the radio control experiments—or so the story goes.
Most photos of the 3/8 scale La Tosca concept car are cropped to disguise the car’s true size, but in this shot the paving stones in the foreground give the game away. No full-size versions of the La Tosca were built, but the design did influence the 1958 Lincoln line, reportedly.
In this 3/8 scale street scene at the Ford styling studio, a 3/8 scale guy in a sharp blazer looks in admiration at the 3/8 scale Mexico. Designed to fit on a two-seater Thunderbird chassis, the Mexico was designed to go 200 mph.
For wind tunnel testing, the Mexico scale model was fitted with an aerodynamic nose cone to minimize drag. Influenced by his WWII aircraft experience, Tremulis vigorously campaigned at Ford for more efficient aerodynamic designs.
Above, the La Tosca (left) and Mexico (right) concept models get a careful looking over on the turntable at the Ford Rotunda. In the video below, the La Tosca goes for a spin at the Dearborn Proving Grounds. Note the historic windmill at Greenfield Village in the background. The car looks very convincing—until it encounters a 1:1 scale lady and her dog. Enjoy the film.