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Utopia, the common ancestor of all of Brooks Stevens’s modern dreams?

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Images courtesy Milwaukee Art Museum.

Brooks Stevens never met an idea he couldn’t recycle. If it didn’t work on one concept drawing, he’d lift it for another. If it didn’t get picked up by one manufacturer, he’d run the idea by another. Generally, his ideas flowed among concepts like concurrent threads, though a look at his Utopia concept reveals a single-source wellspring of ideas that would form much of his automotive thinking for that decade.

As one of Stevens’s “prophetic” cars, the Utopia appeared to come about not from any contract with a specific manufacturer or concrete gameplan to improve an existing lineup of cars. Rather, like the visions of postwar cars that he put forth in the December 1942 issue of Popular Mechanics, the Utopia was Stevens’s glimpse into the future of automotive design, in this case his circa-1960 ideas of what cars will be like 10 years down the road, perhaps inspired by the dawn of a new decade.


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Little wonder, then, that the Utopia concept included many of the ideas that Stevens would go on to incorporate into his later futuristic concepts of the Sixties. Take, for instance, the single horizontal headlamp bar so prominent in the top image, a feature that later found its way into the design sketches for the Studebaker Cruiser and onto the Studebaker Sceptre prototype.

Then there’s his latter focus on interchangeable body panels, taken to its extreme here. Not only were the doors meant to swap front left to right rear and front right to left rear (as we saw on the Cruiser prototype), so were the fenders, the hood/decklid, the bumpers, even the headlamp bar for the taillamp bar (with different coloring, of course). If there was a place Stevens could save money by eliminating redundant stampings, he took advantage of it on the Utopia.

In contrast to the sliding roof on the Utopia’s station wagon version that not only became a physical reality but a production reality, the Utopia also featured a futuristic fuel cell drivetrain, one that Stevens didn’t dwell on in his design notes but believed would offer a more compact and low-slung powerplant and thus allow him more design flexibility.



That idea too he would recycle a year or two later in his Gondola Terra motorhome, which Glenn Adamson described as an update to Stevens’s Zephyr Land Yacht and other various streamlined motorhomes of the 1930s. Powered by a bank of fuel cells providing power to electric motors in each wheel hub, the Gondola Terra appeared to be a much more environmentally conscious alternative to other motorhomes powered by diesels or big gasoline V-8s.

To whom Stevens showed these concepts – if at all – we’ve found no record, and they’d easily be dismissable as mere pipe dreams had they not provided early examples of Stevens’s thoughts on later concepts. But hey, we’ve got hydrogen fuel cell-powered production cars on the streets today, and many of these ideas have been implemented in one form or another over the last few decades, so perhaps Stevens was on to something.