Record employment, low interest rates, strong consumer confidence and a "new economy" that doesn't seem to adhere to all the old-fashioned rules about upswings and downturns. Aging, affluent baby boomers buying up every manner of consumable, and now their ultra-brand-conscious children starting to follow in their free-spending footsteps.

Not since the 1950s has America seemed so awash in optimism. It seems to be permeating almost every aspect of American life - hence our whimsical focus on the 1956 Buick Centurian dream car (below), a classic '50s concept. And, interestingly enough, it shares many design features with the 1999 Buick Cielo concept (above), showing that sometimes good ideas never fade away, they just get updated.

As 1999 wraps up to be the biggest sales year ever for the auto industry in the U.S., few see signs of it letting up. Instead, most echo the comments of DaimlerChrysler Co-Chairman Robert Eaton when he says:

"The traditional paradigms that we've had for the economy are simply not valid. That does not mean the cyclical economy is gone, but it does mean that we can, I believe, absorb greater growth in the economy because the productivity is being driven by not only the traditional industrial companies but also by information technology and micro-electronics. So the bottom line is, I think, we'll continue to see a very strong industry next year."

General Motors Corp. Chairman John F. (Jack) Smith Jr. and Ford Motor Co. CEO Jac Nasser agree. While 2000 may not equal 1999's blistering sales in North America, it could come close.

Even looking ahead 10 or 20 years, everyone seems to be wearing rose-colored glasses, with the old concerns about fuel crises and other cataclysms disappearing into the sunset.

Outside the U.S., the picture isn't quite as pretty, but it's looking up. Japan still is slogging through tough economic times, but the rest of Asia definitely is reviving and starting to show some of its old promise. And the outlook for The Continent is promising, too, although a more unified Europe also promises more challenges.

So, relax as we cruise into the next century. It promises to be a great ride.