MOTORS DREAM CAR HISTORY
review on GENERAL MOTORS
More than any other car-maker in the world, GENERAL MOTORS
has embraced the dream-car theme with a vengeance. It was arguably the
creator of the world's first dream car in the sense of a car created purely
for advancing ideas rather than production realities: the Buick Y-Job
of 1939 was a world pioneer. It had long, sleek lines, concealed headlamps
and an electric top, which hid under a metal cover when lowered. The dream
car had been born.
Harley Earl and Motorama
From then on, GENERAL MOTORS was the spiritual home of dream car. The
architect of this style revolution was Harley Earl, and it was his 1951
Buick Le Sabre that launched the jet-plane era of car design in America.
Not only did it look fantastic, it bristled with innovation: cast-magnesium
panels, a hood (top) that raised itself automatically when a sensor detected
rain and heated seats. The Buick XP-300 of the same year was also ahead,
with sleek styling, seats and a methanol-powered engine.
Throughout the 1950s, GM laid on the flash, brash razzmattazz in giant
mobile shows called Motoramas. The centre-pieces of these showy extravaganzas
were always the latest creations of stylists obsessed with futuristic
visions of a brighter, faster, bigger age. In the peak Motorama year (1956),
GM spent £6 million (S10 million) on the shows and attracted two
By then Barley Laid was the General's styling supremo. It was lie who
introduced the very idea of ''style" into everyday motoring and the
yearly changes of model, which are pursued in America to this day. Earl
liked to introduce "concepts'' at Motoramas, which might one day
reach production. Some did, like the Corvette and Cadillac Eldorado Brougham,
but most were, of course, far too way-out.
Firebirds and the Bonneville Special
These were the crowd-pleasers. The 1 public swooned at the sight of cars
like the Buick Le Sabre and XP-300. Most drastic of all, the XP-21 Firebird
of 1954 was utterly sci-fi, its small jet-plane turbine propulsion being
taken to you took away the wheels it really looked like a single-seater
plane further generations.
The Firebird II of 1956 had a central joystick and was claimed to have
overcome the heat and noise-generation problems of a jet turbine engine.
Tile more down-to-earth bodywork was in titanium, while passengers entered
through a transparent canopy. The 1958 Firebird III returned to moon-rocket
influences, sprouting aero-fins all over and boasting double bubble tops,
a central lever for "electroluminescent" instruments.
One of the best 50s dream cars was the 1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special,
Tins was Earl's idea of a dreamy sports car, full of glitz like fat chrome
bonnet (hood) strips, chrome- mustachioed gaping grill, wrap-around screens,
gullwing bubble-top and aircraft-style interior. It was the rear- end
that was best, however: a Continental-style spare wheel cover with a turbine
trim, flanked by jet- style tail lights.
General Motor’s output was prolife. In just one year (1954) no less
than 12 different dream cars were paraded in front of the public.
In just one year (19.) 1) no less that 12 front of the public. This was
the golden '"innovation" less than the outlandish production
Shark and Stringway Roadster
Highlights of the 1950s included the Buick Centurion, the remarkably clean
Oldsmobile Golden Rocket, the 38in (96.5 cm) high Pontiac Club de Mer,
the 1957 Chevrolet Corvette SS (reminiscent of Jaguar’s D-Type in
many ways), and the jet-style Cadillac Cyclone.
GENERAL MOTORS lost none of its touch in the 1960s. Stylist Bill Mitchell
drew inspiration from sharks in his 1962 Corvette Shark study: inlets
for gills, exhaust pipes for fins, a pronounced snout and a graduated
blue color scheme. This followed the design of his own personal car, the
Sting Ray Roadster, which also did the show rounds.
Similar themes persisted in the 1963 Corvair Monza prototypes, transforming
the beleaguered rear-engine Corvair into lithe sports cars, which undoubtedly
influenced the next generation of sports shapes.
Runabout to Aerotech
GM pursued other ideas too. Its Runabout was a vision of tomorrow’s
shopping car, a threw-wheeler with two removable shopping trolleys (carts)
built into the rear. The XP511 was a hybrid commuter trike with a huge
clamshell canopy, and the Astro I incorporated a novel system of entry:
the whole rear bodywork rose upwards, lifting the two seats with it.
Unlike the other US car manufacturers, GM never gave up its show car program,
pursuing dream themes into the 1970s with projects like the quad-rotor
Chevrolet Aerovette and Pontiac Phantom.
The next major GM activity occurred from the mid-1980s on. GM concentrated
on exceptionally exotic super car projects like the Buick Wildcat of 1985,
the Corvette Indy, the Pontiac Pursuit, and possibly the most extreme
of all, the Oldsmobile Aerotech, with an amazing top speed in excess of
250 mph (400 kph).
Cadillac pursued a theme of luxury express transport. Following the 1988
Voyage, the more accomplished Solitaire of the following year was “one
of the world’s most aerodynamic vehicles” with a Cd of 0.28,
the result of such wind-cheating additions as wheel spats (skirts) and
faired- in headlamps. It was powered by a 6.6 liter V-twelve engine developed
by GM and Lotus and featured electronic articulated doors.
Stinger, Sunfire, and Camaro
In 1989 came the Pontiac Stinger, an aggressively styled sports-utility
vehicle. Adaptability was the name of the game here: all of its carbonfibre
panels could lay removed, as could the glass roof and the lower glass
door panels (which could be replaced by a cool box and storage unit).
Inside, foul-scats were adjustable six ways, while the rear passengers
could elevate themselves by 15in (38cm) for a grandstand view over the
roll-bar. Also supplied were a compass, phone, vacuum cleaner, stove,
picnic table, umbrella and dustpan!
Pontiac's 1990 two-liter turbocharged Sunfire concept, stole a page from
Chrysler's cab-forward school of design in a two-plus-two coupe shape.
One unusual feature was a set of '"suicide'' doors for the rear occupants,
an idea dropped two decades earlier by every car-maker. The main point
of interest, however, was the instrument binnacle: it was located in the
centre of the steering wheel but was mounted to remain upright whichever
way the steering wheel was turned.
The Camaro was always a badge that GM liked interpreting for the future.
The California Camaro was typical: a far-sighted "running sketch
in metal". A flamboyant use of glass, gull wing doors and a sharp-nosed
treatment were notable features, while such fripperies as a vacuum cleaner
in the console undermined its seriousness.
Experimental and Rageous
Chevrolet's CERV (Corporate Experimental Research Vehicle) projects stretched
from the cigar-shaped 1960 single-seater to the 1990 CEKV III, which built
on the 1986 Corvette Indy. The CERV III was created with assistance from
GM's newly acquired Lotus wing and used a heavily modified Corvette ZR1
engine producing no less than 650bhp, mounted centrally. Drive was to
all four wheels through an automatic gearbox with six speeds, and the
top speed was ([noted as 186inpli (299kph), with 0-60mpli (0-96kph) coming
up in 4.2 seconds. Active suspension, carbonfibre brakes and a Cd figure
of just 0.274 were also something CM wanted to shout about.
For the 1992 Ultralite, the claims were different: 100mpg (100kpg) economy
and a top speed of 135 mph (217kph). This was possible thanks to a carbonfibre
body weighing just 4-2011) (190kg) and a Cd figure of 0.192. Yet it could
still fit four adults.
The Sting Ray III (also 1992) pointed a little toward a new Corvette,
with its longer wheelbase and shorter length. Some regarded this concept
car as superior to the C5 Corvette of 1997.
GM pioneered the productionization of a ground-up electric vehicle: the
EV1 was launched in 1996. It all started life as the Impact concept car,
an innovative and very sleek (Cd 0.19) coupe. Unlike any oilier electric
car then developed, the Impact was a performance car, capable of accelerating
to 0-60mph (0-96kph) from a standing start in under nine seconds. Its
bonded aluminum space frame and composite body helped in keeping overall
With its Rageous concept car (1997), GM's Pontiac division created a Batman-style
car described as a "sports coupe with the practicality of a sports-utility".
Clearly an answer to Ford's edge-design, thinking, it was a striking but
not entirely happy mix of bold, folded edges and colliding shapes. Space
inside was far better than in most sport coupes.