1938 Buick Y-Job
17 Images

Motorama: GM’s 1950s’ Dream Cars

1938 Buick Y-Job
1938 Buick Y-Job

“Alfred Sloan Jr. and Harley Earl redefined automotive design in 1937 with the inception of the industries first design institution -- ‘GM Styling.’ Charged with creating a ‘laboratory on wheels’ the Styling Groups’ focused on advanced features to reduce the roof line, streamline the overall shape and make the vehicle ‘lower, longer and wider’ as Harley Earl would say.

The result was the 1939 Buick Y-Job. The Y-Job became the automotive industries first concept ‘Dream Car’ and Harley Earl’s daily driver. The Y-Job’s innovative designs are still inspiring auto designers today – most notably through the recent Buick Invicta Concept. " -- General Motors (General Motors)
1951 LeSabre
1951 LeSabre

“By 1949, Harley Earl had discovered a fresh source for inspiration – the jet plane. Enamored by proportions and technology, Earl commissioned the LeSabre.

Like the aircraft it emulates, the LeSabre is made entirely of lightweight aluminum, fiberglass and magnesium. Jet inspired cues including rear fins impart dramatic styling and presence. The LeSabre also features the first ever wraparound windshield. The LeSabre became a traveling ambassador for GM overseas and remains amongst the most famous Motorama cars. " -- General Motors (General Motors)
1951 Buick XP 300
1951 Buick XP 300

“Envisioned by Charles Chayne, head of GM Engineering at the time, the Buick XP 300 was conceived as an experiment in styling and engineering. The lightweight aluminum body and skirted rear wheel openings make the XP 300 appear as if it is floating. Coupled with a high horsepower engine, Charles Chayne himself tested the XP 300’s performance by reaching more than 140 miles per hour during an engineering test run.” -- General Motors (General Motors)
1953 Chevrolet Corvette ‘Dream Car’
1953 Chevrolet Corvette “Dream Car”

" Intended never to be more than a show car, unanimous praise for the Corvette ensured the American sports car emerged from dream to driveway. Created to rival popular European sport cars, Harley Earl and his design team went from paper to mockup in less than eight months.

Intense consumer demand and interest moved Corvette production forward. While intended to be constructed from steel, designers and engineers re-engineered tools and plans move the fiberglass prototype to production instead. More than fifty years later, enthusiasts continue to appreciate the Corvette for its unique, lightweight fiberglass construction and design.” -- General Motors (General Motors)
1953 Cadillac Le Mans
1953 Cadillac Le Mans

“Fueled by the space race, designers channeled their passion for aerodynamics in everything from trains to pencil sharpeners. The 1953 Cadillac Le Mans is no different. With expressive fins, chrome plated grill and famous Daomar front bumpers, the Le Mans served as a preview for upcoming production Cadillac’s and a favorite on the Motorama show circuit.

Sold to actress Marie McDonnald, The first Le Mans show car was immediately redesigned to feature 24 karat gold plated trim, thirty coats of platinum dust to the body panels, as well as adding a radio-telephone and cocktail bar to the reupholstered red leather interior. Destroyed in a fire in 1985, only a handful of parts remain of the original LeMans showcar.” -- General Motors (General Motors)
1953 GM Futurliner
1953 GM Futurliner

The “Red Elephants” of GM’s Parade of Progress emerged during the 1950s, and the dozen streamlined Futurliners built by Fisher Body were eventually sold off or abandoned. Devoted enthusiasts tracked down the transporters but only 10 were salvageable. The best-restored model is No. 10, which is owned by the National Automobile and Truck Museum of the United States and was shown at the recent Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. -- Dan Neil (General Motors)
1953 Pontiac Parisienne
1953 Pontiac Parisienne

Pontiac billed the massive two-door, chaffeur-driven town car as “a neo-modern extension of the traditional landau town carriage, a nostalgic excursion into the future.” The car featured a high-gloss black exterior paint and a “Roulette Pink” cowhide. -- Dan Neil (General Motors)
1953 Buick Wildcat I
1953 Buick Wildcat I

Buick’s first Motorama car, the Buick Wildcat (named after a WWII) tank features a long, sculptural body made of Fiberglas, electric doors and Roto-static hubs. The wheels revolved around the hub, which was ventilated to cool the brakes. -- Dan Neil (General Motors)
1953 Buick Wildcat II
1954 Buick Wildcat II

" While sharing little in common with its predecessor, the Wildcat I, the Buick Wildcat II was recognized as the sportiest Buick build in the 1950s. Chief Designer Ned Nichols described the wildcat II as an “American adventure in tomorrow’s design”.

Enamored by two-seater fiberglass cars, Ned Nichols and Harley Earl originally created the 1954 Buick Wildcat II with two spotlights. Re-interpreting tradition, the Wildcat displays Buick‘s trademark porthole design is uniquely placed on the top of the hood. Originally displayed in blue and later refinished in gold, this dream car featured expanded front wheel wells with polished metal inner fenders finished off with wide white wall tires. The Wildcat II continues to travel and evade the rumored fate of the 1955 Wildcat III assumed to have been destroyed in a wrecking equipment test. " -- General Motors (General Motors)
1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special
1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special

The Pontiac division’s version of the Corvette (which had appeared as a Motorama car in 1953), the Bonneville Special features a Perspex canopy and an exotic Continental tire kit in the back. -- Dan Neil (General Motors)
1954 Firebird
1954 Firebird

“Harley Earl freely admitted the Firebird I’s rocket-like body was inspired by the Douglas Skyray delta wing fighter jet. One on the greatest drivers of the day, Mauri Rose, piloted the Firebird I well into triple digit miles per hour at GM’s Arizona Proving Grounds. This was one concept with performance to back up its space age styling. The sound of the jet turbine engine and the bubble canopy inspired a whole generation of future astronauts of the highway.” -- General Motors (General Motors)
1955 Cadillac LaSalle II Roadster
1955 Cadillac LaSalle II Roadster

LaSalle was a fine old marque that went away shortly before the beginning of World War II, but GM styling czar Harley Earl always hoped to bring it back. The LaSalle II Roadster (there was also a very different-looking sedan) was an effort to establish a new styling vocabulary for the resurrected LaSalle. -- Dan Neil (General Motors)
1955 Chevrolet Biscayne
1955 Chevrolet Biscayne

A first bash at a styling concept that would eventually see the light of day on the Corvair, the Biscayne was the only Motorama sedan with a pillarless roof. It also featured suicide rear doors, deep side coves and one of the stranger front end designs ever to come out of the styling works. -- Dan Neil (General Motors)
1956 Buick Centurion
1956 Buick Centurion

“In his first car design, a young Chuck Jordan entered Motorama with style. The Buick Centurion featured an electric razor-like front grill and deeply recessed headlight pods. Aside from the transparent roof, the most outstanding design feature was the television camera mounted in the rear, which relayed a picture to a screen on the dashboard to replace the rear view mirror. Another feature was a dial in the center of the steering wheel which controlled the gear selections for the transmission. The Buick Centurion with its two tone paint made a dashing entrance for a future V.P. of Design.” -- General Motors (General Motors)
1956 Firebrid II
1956 Firebrid II

“Firebird II was displayed on the opening day of the General Motors Technical Center in May 1956 and was the highlight of GM’s 1956 Motorama. This space age design featured an exotic all-titanium body which required heat application of 920 degrees Fahrenheit to simply work with. Rather than welding and burnishing the metal, Harley Earl and GM Research Laboratories developed an epoxy resin that could bond titanium to body framing without weld marks. Beyond the surface area, the Firebird II featured a fully automated guidance system to navigate the “superhighways of tomorrow.” -- General Motors (General Motors)
1959 Firebrid III
1959 Firebrid III

“The third in a series of gas turbine-powered experimentals, Harley Earl took his imagination to new places with his final dream car – the Firebird III. Harley Earl was quoted as saying “I envisioned an entirely different type of car which a person may drive to launching site of a rocket to the moon”. Under twin bubble tops, Mr. Early placed the first single stick vehicle control system which eliminated the conventional steering wheel, brake pedal, and accelerator. Utilizing an ultrasonic key, the Firebird’s large, butterfly doors opened via high frequency sound waves. With nine fins, the Firebird III remains the ultimate fin car.” -- General Motors (General Motors)
1959 Cadillac Cyclone
1959 Cadillac Cyclone

The last Motorama car and the final hurrah of Harley Earl, the Cadillac Cyclone was an outrageous convertible built around twin fuselages that were capped with ballistic-style bumpers. This was the ultimate expression of the era’s “Dagmars,” conical projections named after a certain well-endowed actress. -- Dan Neil (General Motors)
1/17