Biscayne escaped the crusher, but only just

Back when what was good for General Motors was also good for the old US of A, the organisation decided to demonstrate to rivals and consumers an unparalleled display of its technical, engineering and styling capabilities and leadership.

From 1950 through to 1961 GM staged eight extravagant car shows, called Motoramas, and they became one of the top public attractions in the USA.

It was at the Motoramas that GM revealed its ‘dream cars’, one for each division: Cadillac, Buick, Oldsmobile, Pontiac and Chevrolet — and positioned them along side of upcoming production models.

The Motorama was Harley Earl’s idea and he channelled millions of corporate dollars into the multi-city events. 

Being the boss of GM’s styling, he had the power and the money to make it happen.

The show began with a two-week engagement at the up-market Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York. 

Then, up to 1000 GM employees would pack the show into 125 semi-trailers and haul it across America to cities including Boston, Miami and Los Angeles.

Teams of stylists and engineers would spend 18 hour days preparing cars and competing with each other to see who could style the ‘best of the best’. 

It was Mr Earl’s way of ensuring creative tension.

The dream cars were GM’s way of assessing the impact of new design and technical ideas on consumers.

The 1955 Motorama is considered GM’s best effort and over the next few weeks we will review each of that year’s dream cars: the Chevrolet Biscayne, La Salle Roadster and Sedan, Pontiac Strato Star, Buick Wildcat III, Oldsmobile Delta 88, Cadillac Eldorado Brougham and the GMC LÚniverselle. 

We start with the svelte Chevrolet Biscayne.

This low-slung automobile is painted in Atlantic Green. 

The four-door, four-seat pillarless hardtop sedan is only 1330mm high and made of fibreglass.

Although a non-runner, it had the new 4.3-litre (265 cubic inch) OHV V8 under the bonnet.

The car was styled in the Chevrolet studio which was headed by Clare MacKichan. 

It was unusual in that it avoided the excess chrome and fins of the era. 

It is more a car of the 1960s and many of its styling motifs ended up on the 1960-62 Corvette, 1959-65 Corvair and 1963 Buick Riviera — such was its design impact.

In fact, it appears strikingly 21st Century.

What a shame today’s cars do not have its design élan!

The front end is the most distinctive feature with long fairings that stretch down the bonnet and end in the headlights. 

The turn indicator lights are enclosed in vertical V-shaped nacelles.

The driver’s seat pivots and the rear doors are hinged at the rear and lock into the floor when closed.

After its Motorama duties were completed the Biscayne was stored at GM until 1959 when it was ordered to be destroyed at Warhoops Salvage yard — just down the road from GM’s Technical Centre in Sterling Heights, Michigan. 

It was not the only concept car that went to Warhoops around that time. The 1955 Cadillac La Salle roadster and sedan ended up there too.

Many reasons have been given why none of these cars were ever actually crushed as per GM’s instructions. 

Suffice to say they survived, just.

The Biscayne and La Salle Roadster were partially cut up while the sedan was left largely intact. 

All languished in the wrecking yard for almost 30 years, until 1988.

They were discovered, bought and restored to running order by dream car collector Joe Bortz, and are now displayed regularly.

David Burrell is the editor of

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