25+ Retro-Futuristic Engineering Visions and Machines From the Past

These examples of real futuristic engineering concepts from the past will have you wondering what could have been.
Chris Young
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Arthur C. Clarke once wrote that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

The famous sci-fi writer did, of course, know that it took a lot of hard graft, testing, and trial and error to make the wonder of technology a reality.


Let's take a deep dive into retro-futuristic ideas, machines, and concepts from the past that were once dreamed up as a solution for the future — our present.

1. The 1983 Steinwinter Supercargo concept

1983 Steinwinter Supercargo 2040 Cab Under Semi Trailer Concept from r/RetroFuturism

Despite looking like a futuristic solution to maximizing storage capacity, this idea was unsurprisingly scrapped due to poor visibility and handling.

2. This diving suit from the '20s

This 20's era diving suit looks like something out of Flash Gorden or Jules Verne from r/RetroFuturism

This retro-futuristic diving suit represents the past's fascination with the unknown of the deep blue sea.

3. The Golden Sahara II with glowing tires concept

1958 Golden Sahara II. A Custom Concept developed by Jim “Street” Skonzakes and customiser George Barris. One of the car’s standout features was the tires. Developed by Goodyear using Neothane, a translucent form of synthetic rubber, they contain internal lighting, which allowed them to glow. from r/RetroFuturism

This car was originally built in 1958. The glowing decorative tires were seen as the highlight of this retro-futuristic decadent design.

4. The Soviet turbojet train concept

Abandoned Soviet turbojet train from r/interestingasfuck

This idea was seriously tested by the Soviets and by the U.S. in the 1960s. It turns out that adding a jet engine to a train can cause catastrophic derailments — who would have thought? So, naturally, the idea was scrapped.

5. France's Aerotrain concept

French Aerotrain from the 60's (low quality) from r/RetroFuturism

A similar idea to the Soviet turbojet train was tested in France in the 60s. Similarly, it never gained traction.

6. This 60s home communications system

Home communications system by Burkhard Vogtherr. Germany (1969) from r/RetroFuturism

This 60s home communication system by Burkhard Vogtherr is the closest thing they used to have to Amazon Echos and Google Homes devices. We'll take this one any day.

7. The Ford FAB 1 from Thunderbirds

Ford FAB 1 from r/RetroFuturism

This car was made out of a Ford Thunderbird in the 60s and was used in the extremely popular British sci-fi series Thunderbirds. 

8. Polytechnical Museum Robot, Moscow

This robot has been leading visitors around the Polytechnical Museum, Moscow since the 60s.

9. Hoverboard concept from 1955

Flying Platform - 1955 Hover Board from r/RetroFuturism

This flying platform by the U.S. Navy was a precursor to today's jet suit, and hoverboard concepts.

10. Suburban housing apartment concept 1981

1981 vision of suburbia after there's no more room left for suburbs. from r/RetroFuturism

Could suburban house stacking like this still be a future possibility in the face of overpopulation? Maybe they could be built alongside some of these recent vertical farming concepts.

11. The Ford Beatnik Bubble

1955 Ford Beatnik Bubble from r/RetroFuturism

This 'bubbletop' modified 1955 vehicle looks like something straight out the Jetsons. According to Top Gearit was put on auction as recently as 2015.

12. The GM Futurliner

1939 GM Futurliner from r/RetroFuturism

This vehicle was designed in the 1940s by Harley Earl for General Motors. It was 33 feet long, 8 feet wide, more than 11 feet tall, and weighed more than 12 tons.

13. The mysterious Porsche 911 HLS

The forgotten Porsche 911 HLS from r/WeirdWheels

This car, and its strange clamshell roof, was a one-off that was almost forgotten until a Porsche employee took a picture of it in 2010, as per TheDrive.com.

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14. The "future soldier"

The future soldier wearing thermal protection and infra red detector as envisioned in the early 1960s from r/RetroFuturism

This is one of the few ideas from this list that is actually widely used today. This news report from AP touts thermal and infrared detection as a future technology.

15. This 1986 Soviet Modular Computer System

Soviet Modular Computer System (1986) from r/RetroFuturism

Called Project Sphinx, this Soviet home computing concept had different modules for different users, as well as for different uses, including telecommunication, health monitoring, and radio. 

16. The Soviet Ekranoplane that could fly on water

Ekranoplane km. A Soviet plane that would use ground effect to fly on top of the water. from r/RetroFuturism

This plane was an early example of an advanced ground-effect vehicle that attained sustained flight over a level surface by making use of the aerodynamic interaction between its wings and a level surface — in this case, water.

17. A vision of the autonomous cars of the future

Self driving cars of the future, circa 1960. from r/RetroFuturism

This vision of the future is surprisingly accurate, seeing as the car still has a steering wheel in case the driver needs to take over from autopilot.

18. The "Saturn" vacuum cleaner

“Saturn” vacuum cleaner. Lithuanian Soviet republic 1960s. Copy of “Hoover Constellation” design. from r/RetroFuturism

In the 60s, a time when people were looking to the stars thanks to the work of the Apollo and Soyuz space programs, what could be more futuristic than a vacuum cleaner shaped like a planet?

19. The selfie stick, before smartphones existed

Did you know the Selfie Stick was invented before the Smart Phone? from r/RetroFuturism

It's true, the selfie stick was originally invented before the advent of social media and smartphones.

20. The Seiko TV watch

SEIKO TV watch 1982 from r/RetroFuturism

According to HistoricTech.com, this watch television hybrid from the 80s is the world's smallest TV in history. 

21. The 1930s Mercury train

"Mercury" train in Chicago, 1936. from r/pics

The Mercury train was designed by industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss. The cyberpunk-looking model lasted until the 50s when it was replaced by more efficient trains.

22. The Isolator looks like it was made to combat smartphone addiction

Hugo Gernsback’s The Isolator, a device designed to increase productivity, from 1925 from r/RetroFuturism

This device, the Isolator, was designed by Hugo Gernsback in 1925. Made to help people avoid distraction, the crazy concept would block out unnecessary sound and vision while supplying the wearer with oxygen.

23. The Holden Hurricane

The gorgeous Holden Hurricane concept car. from r/RetroFuturism

Even though Porsche wasn't happy with the clamshell concept (see section 13), it didn't stop others from trying, as can be seen with this 1969 model designed by Holden. 

24. The Yuri Gagarin monument

Futuristic statue of the first person in space, Yuri Gagarin from r/RetroFuturism

This 42.5-meter tall titanium statue of Yuri Gagarin, the first person to travel to space, was once as a futuristic commemoration. Today it still stands in Moscow as a retro-futuristic monument to the icon.

25. This Grumman Aircraft Corp concept astronaut suit 

This was an actual space suit Grumman Aircraft Corp tried to sell NASA in 1962. from r/RetroFuturism

We wonder what the designer for SpaceX's spacesuit, for this week's Crew Dragon launch, would have to say about this?

26. An idea born from the Cold War

Nuke-proof underground city below Manhattan, 1969 (Oscar Newman) from r/RetroFuturism

It's crazy to think that cities underground were once seriously envisioned in order to keep citizens safe from a potential nuclear attack.

27. The nuclear-powered "Supertrain"

The nuclear-powered bullet train from the 1970's series "Supertrain" from r/RetroFuturism

This nuclear-powered bullet train design was created for the fictional American series "Supertrain" in the 1970s.

28. A vision of future dashboards

What Nissan thought would be the future of the automotive industry shown in the NRV-II concept car(1982). Pretty damn accurate. from r/RetroFuturism

This NRV-II concept from 1982 isn't so far off from dashboard interfaces and technologies we see today.

29. Predicting 2019's craziest car unveiling 

Very Futuristic 1980 Citroën Karin concept car - link to more pics and details in comments from r/RetroFuturism

This 1980 Citroen Karin concept car reminds us of something else — we can't think what it could possibly be.

30. Incredibly familiar angular designs

Aston Martin Bulldog Concept (1980). CyberTruck anyone? from r/RetroFuturism

This Aston Martin Bulldog concept also looks strangely familiar.

31. Hang on a minute

Lancia Stratos Zero, 1970 from r/RetroFuturism

Ok, so there's a pretty obvious trend here. This Lancia Stratos Zero concept from 1970 greatly resembles the Tesla Cybertruck. That car is, of course, famous for its retro-futuristic cyberpunk aesthetic.

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