Astra Gnome

A couple years ago, I stumbled across this slide of an amazing 1950s space age show car. Much to my frustration, I couldn’t quite read the name plate on the hood and had no idea what it was. In all the car books and mags I’ve read through the years, this is one dream car of the future I had never seen. But I knew that some way, someday the mystery would be solved.

Finally, last February at Palm Springs Modernism Week I attended Jim Cherry’s slide show lecture about mid-century cars. Half way into the presentation, it appeared on the screen — pictured on the September 3, 1956 cover of Newsweek no less. I recognized it instantly and was beyond delighted to finally find out that the striking bubble-topped, quad-head lamped space age show car extraordinaire is the Astra Gnome. Mystery solved. Yay!

And fun name too, huh? The adorable Astra Gnome was built on a Metropolitan chassis and displayed one time only at the 1956 New York Auto Show.

Knowing the vast majority of mid-century era dream cars were made only for show and then destroyed for insurance purposes, I almost fell out of my chair when I heard that it’s on display right in my own backyard at the Metropolitan Pit Stop in North Hollywood, CA.

Half not believing what I was hearing and half wanting to savor the anticipation of actually standing before what I thought was a long lost artifact from the space age, I waited until last week to see if it Astra Gnome really existed.

Crazed with curiosity, I walked in the door and there it was gleaming in all its out-of-this-world glory and spellbinding me into an out-of-body retro-religious experience of the highest order.

Mark Lane, the nice man that runs the Metropolitan Pit Stop told me the Astra Gnome was discovered in 1980 sealed up in a New York high-rise office then faithfully restored to perfection. It’s fully functional but deemed far too precious to roll on the reckless streets of Los Angeles.

So the Astra Gnome stays indoors, virtually undiscovered except by those who trek from all over the world to the Metropolitan Pit Stop to seek parts or restoration for their Metropolitans.

Perhaps if you ask very nicely, Mr. Lane will turn on all four headlights and raise and lower the bubble top with the push of a button. But fair warning … you might pass out!

To see what the Astra Gnome looks like today go to my Facebook page!

Here’s to the Astra Gnome and YOU!

Charles Phoenix
Los Angeles
May 16, 2012