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The Buick Centurion Was So Futuristic That It Had a Rear-View Camera in 1956

Rear-view cameras are quite common nowadays, but they were still a thing of the future just a few years ago. The first production car with a backup camera, the Toyota Soarer, debuted in 1991, but this technology was actually envisioned in the 1950s. You might not know it, but Buick pioneered it in the Centurion concept car, introduced in 1956.
1956 Buick Centurion concept 7 photos
Photo: Buick
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Developed for the 1956 General Motors Motorama, the Buick Centurion debuted an impressive number of features back in the day. It had buckets seats before they were a feature and incorporate many aviation-inspired cues inside the cabin. It also boasted the largest, completely transparent bubble roof developed until then.

The Centurion concept was ahead of its time, and eventually inspired many GM cars launched in the late 1950s. The wing-type fenders and the two-tone paint are only two of the features that trickled into production models from Chevrolet and Buick. But there's one innovative feature that was forgotten as years passed by. The Centurion debuted the world's first rear-view camera.

The system was very similar to the backup camera layout we know today, but the technology was obviously crude compared to what we now find in modern cars. It comprised a television camera mounted atop the V-shaped trunk and a small TV in an oval-shaped section in the center of the really sleek dashboard. The then-groundbreaking system was created by auto designer Chuck Jordan.

Word has it, there was no proof at the time that the rear-view camera was actually functional, but the idea was nevertheless ahead of its time. The idea didn't catch on, though. That was most likely because connecting the camera to the TV would have resulted in a messy cabling system that would have taken a lot of space behind the dash, under the center console, and even in the trunk.

The backup camera made a comeback only 16 years later when Volvo introduced the Experimental Safety Car in 1972. It remained an experiment yet again, and it took almost 20 more years until a production car with a rear-view camera became available. Toyota offered one in the Soarer from 1991 to 1997, but it was restricted to the Japanese market. In 2002, Nissan started offering rear-view cameras globally in the Primera and the Infiniti Q45.

The 1956 Buick Centurion has plenty of reasons to brag about as far as design goes. But it should get a bit more credit for prophesying the rear-view camera almost 50 years before it became widely available.
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About the author: Ciprian Florea
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Ask Ciprian about cars and he'll reveal an obsession with classics and an annoyance with modern design cues. Read his articles and you'll understand why his ideal SUV is the 1969 Chevrolet K5 Blazer.
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