the view through the windshield
1954 Buick Wildcat II - Fifties Dream

In the early postwar years, General Motors was an unstoppable force. In those days, GM had over 50% automotive market share in the U.S. Its Electro-Motive Division was the foremost producer of diesel locomotives. Its Frigidare Division was a household name and its washers, dryers and refrigerators could be found in homes across the U.S.

To showcase its automotive might, General Motors presented Transportation Unlimited in 1949. It was the precursor to the famous Motorama extravaganzas and was open to the public.

The Motoramas began in 1950, ending in 1961. They were spectacular product showcases and usually included GM's latest Dream Cars. Typical sites for these public shows were the ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York and the Pan Pacific auditorium in Los Angeles. The displays were elaborate, with animated displays and cutaways, elegant female models and, sometimes, song & dance routines.

Public interest in GM's offerings was so great that, from 11:30 am to 1:00 pm on January 21, 1953, over 12,000 visitors passed through the Waldorf Motorama exhibit, totally ignoring the televised swearing-in of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Ike rode in a white '53 Cadillac Eldorado convertible in Washington's post-inaugural parade.

The 1954 General Motors' Motorama exhibit opened in New York City in January and later did a four-city tour (Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago). In addition to GM's production models, ten concept cars were on exhibition. These 'dream cars' included two-seater sporty concepts such as the Cadillac La Espada, Oldsmobile F-88, Buick Wildcat II, Pontiac Bonneville Special and the Chevrolet Corvair (a fastback Corvette hardtop). Also debuting at the 1954 Motorama was the Corvette-based Chevrolet Nomad.

The Buick Wildcat II was a fiberglass-bodied, one-off, two seat concept car with a wheelbase of 100 inches, an overall length of 171 inches and a height -with top up - of less and 41 inches. Power came from a 322 cubic-inch Buick V8 engine which made 220 horsepower.

The radical front fender design of the Wildcat II makes it one of the most unusual of the General Motors concept vehicles. Buick described it as "a revolutionary front-end design with flying-wing fenders that flare straight out from the body, exposing the entire front wheel and part of the front-end suspension." Three of Buick's trademark VentiPorts were found on each side of the front hood. The Wildcat II weighed 3,770 pounds.

General Motors has always obtained spectacular publicity for its concept cars. The traveling Motorama put these dreams in front of a wide audience. In addition, GM's dream cars would be exhibited at major U.S. auto shows. The following year, the vehicles would be seen at smaller shows. Sometimes, GM would loan aging concept cars to key dealers as perks to build showroom traffic. During the entire life cycle of a particular concept, GM's well-oiled publicity machine would be at work getting national - and later, local - press for the vehicle, whenever it made an appearance.

Here's an example: By 1953, the '51 Buick XP-300 show car, having done yeoman's service in the Motorama and auto show circuit, could be found - on the boardwalk - in front window of the permanent General Motors exhibit at Atlantic City's Steel Pier. The sleek Buick had a velvet rope separating it from the public but, if you asked nicely, an attendant would open the door and let you sit behind the wheel of this dream car. Our family's old 8mm home movies show my aunt and grandmother standing on the boardwalk with the GM exhibit and Buick XP-300 in the background.

The Wildcat II was painted a bright blue (Electric Blue) with a white leather interior but later was repainted dark tan with a two-tone tan leather interior. The restored 'dream car' now resides at the Alfred P. Sloan Museum in Flint, Michigan as part of the Buick collection. (7/31/15)

Remember When: 1954
auto blogIn 1954, a polio vaccine was developed; children in Pittsburgh were received the first shots. A U.S. atomic test on Bikini Atoll in the Pacific went awry, producing a far stronger blast than expected. Prevailing winds spread radiation afar exposing many. One Japanese fisherman died. Further west, the French surrendered Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam.

The Army-McCarthy hearings began and were carried live on TV by ABC and DuMont. In September, Hurricane Hazel, the most severe storm in North American history, killed an estimated 600 to 1,200 people including 95 in the U.S. The B-52 flew for the first time. The first nuclear submarine, the USS Nautilus, was launched.

In auto news, Nash-Kelvinator Corp. and Hudson Motor Car Co. merged to form American Motors. Studebaker and Packard also merged. Ford debuted its Y-block engine, its first overhead-valve V-8 for passenger automobiles. First offered on a few specialty, limited-production vehicles, in 1954 General Motors offered panoramic wraparound windshields on many of its models, including all Cadillacs, Buicks and Oldsmobiles:

Plymouths could now be had a with an optional two-speed Powerflite automatic transmission. Ford offered a Skyliner model with a green-tinted transparent Plexiglas roof panel; a corresponding Mercury Sun Valley also debuted as a '54 model. Regular gas was priced at less than 30¢ per gallon in 1954.

New products included M&M Peanuts, Con-Tact Paper, Sports Illustrated magazine, chlorpromazine (the first antipsychotic drug) and Muzak.

Little Matchbox cars arrived in America; they had been introduced in England the previous year. Priced at 25¢ and packaged in distinctive boxes, the upstart faced tough competition from traditional 10¢ diecasts from Tootsietoy, Midgetoy and Goodee.

But the detailing on the little Matchboxes won America over and the brand became a '50s and '60s mainstay in the toy field.

Polypropylene plastic was invented in 1954. The same year, Bell Telephone Labs developed a solar battery. Swanson TV dinners debuted - frozen, assembly-line-prepared, mostly tasteless dinners in compartmentalized aluminum trays.

Heat and eat. Quickly. The first Shakey's Pizza Parlor opened in Sacramento, CA.

Comic strip 'Hi & Lois' debuted in '54; so did 'Marmaduke'. New words included desegregation, do-it-yourself, dragster, fallout and sci-fi.

New songs for 1954: 'Shake, Rattle & Roll' (Bill Haley and His Comets), Rosemary Clooney's 'Hey There', 'Stranger In Paradise' (Tony Bennett), 'Mr. Sandman' (The Chordettes), Perry Como's 'Wanted' and 'Oh Mein Papa' (Eddie Fisher). The first Newport Jazz Festival was held that year and, in July, a young singer with the unlikely name of Elvis Presley cut his first commercial record at Sun Studios in Memphis.

Top '54 movies: 'The Caine Mutiny', 'The Glenn Miller Story', 'On the Waterfront', Alfred Hitchcock's 'Rear Window', horror classic 'Them!', '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea' and 'Dial 'M' For Murder'. Movie star Marilyn Monroe married baseball legend Joe DiMaggio in January. In 1954, a movie ticket cost 55¢.

New television shows included 'The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin', 'Lassie' and 'Father Knows Best'. 'The 'Miss America Pageant' was televised for the first time in '54. Ronald Reagan began hosting 'General Electric Theater', now in its second television season. In 1954, a classic, well-remembered live commercial blooper caught everyone's attention when spokesmodel June Graham was unable to open the door of a Westinghouse refrigerator to show its interior features.

Deaths included quintuplet Emilie Dionne, Jacques Brandenberger (he invented cellophane in 1908), Samuel Crumbine (inventor of the flyswatter), actor Lionel Barrymore and football legend Glenn 'Pops' Warner.

The New York Giants win the World Series defeating the Cleveland Indians 4-0. Bill Vukovich won the Indianapolis 500 for the second year in a row, driving a Kurtis Kraft-Offenhauser. Vukovich died the following year attempting to win his third consecutive Indy 500.


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Disclaimer

The facts presented in this blog are based on my best guesses and my substantially faulty geezer memory. The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and are protected by the U.S. Constitution. Probably.

Spelling, punctuation and syntax errors are cheerfully repaired when I find them; grudgingly fixed when you do.

If I have slandered any brands of automobiles, either expressly or inadvertently, they're most likely crap cars and deserve it. Automobile manufacturers should be aware that they always have the option of trying to change my mind by providing me with vehicles to test drive.

If I have slandered any people or corporations in this blog, either expressly or inadvertently, they should buy me strong drinks (and an expensive meal) and try to prove to me that they're not the jerks I've portrayed them to be. If you're buying, I'm willing to listen.

Don't be shy - try a bribe. It might help.


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