By David W. Temple; photos from author’s collection and GM Media Archives
The tales related to the disappearances of the dream cars of the General Motors Motorama are not too unlike stories of mysterious disappearances within the Bermuda Triangle and of crashed flying saucers stashed at Area 51. The whereabouts of many of GM’s Motorama cars are well known (with the majority of survivors owned by the Bortz Auto Collection and the GM Heritage Center), but there are still several cars unaccounted for, which adds the captivating element of mystery to the subject. Detailed here are some of the more intriguing mysteries of missing Motorama cars.
1953 Oldsmobile Starfire
For 1953, GM held a six-city auto show extravaganza featuring so-called dream cars, as well as their current lineup of automobiles. Among the dream cars was the Regal Turquoise Oldsmobile Starfire, a four-passenger convertible. As was typical of many of the dream cars, the Starfire foretold various styling elements to be found on future GM cars. The Starfire’s wraparound windshield became the norm on GM’s cars by 1955, and its oval-shaped grille was seen on production Oldsmobiles for 1956.
What is not generally known about the 1953 Starfire is that more than one was built. According to an Oldsmobile Engineering Log Book originally belonging to the father of John Perkins (also retired from Oldsmobile), three Starfires were built. A GM employee in the early 1970s told Mr. Perkins that he personally cut up two 1953 Starfires. Incidentally, John’s father purchased two sets (front and back) of 1953 Starfire seats at an Oldsmobile salvage sale around 1955. The existence of these two sets of seats seems to corroborate the claim of two of them being scrapped. However, one Starfire cannot be accounted for, leaving open the possibility it has survived.
1953 Buick Wildcat
Another mystery from 1953 is the Buick Wildcat. The first one to appear in public was seen at the Waldorf-Astoria; this car was painted black. Afterward, it seemingly disappeared and a white car completed the GM Motorama show circuit. However, there was another Wildcat built with radiused rear wheel openings and a detachable hardtop. Furthermore, there are reports of a green Wildcat and confirmation of a Wildcat appearing in two-tone paint for shows in Canada. Collector Joe Bortz possesses the only one known to survive. One could logically suspect the black car was simply repainted, but there is a story of a black 1953 Wildcat being in the garage of a GM employee in the mid to late 1960s. Is it still there? Was it ever really there?
1953 Cadillac Orleans
The 1953 Cadillac Orleans was also a part of that year’s GM Motorama. That car, a four-door pillarless hardtop, was actually titled to Charles Wilson, GM’s president from 1941 until being appointed by President Eisenhower to serve as Secretary of Defense in 1953. The Orleans remains among the lost treasures of the GM Motorama.
1954 Chevrolet Corvette Nomad
A long-term mystery is the fate of the so-called Waldorf Nomad from the 1954 GM Motorama. This Corvette-styled two-door station wagon is probably the most well-known dream car ever built. An old rumor about the fate of the 1954 Nomad offers a glimmer of hope of one resurfacing someday. Supposedly, the car was stolen from GM long ago and stashed away in a warehouse in Newport Beach, Calif. I first saw this rumor printed in an article titled, “The Case of the Lost Albanita And Other Cars that have Mysteriously Disappeared,” published in the August 1976 issue of Motor Trend. Therefore, the rumor pre-dates 1976. Even if the Nomad was in a warehouse in Newport Beach, it likely left there many years ago. While researching my book “GM’s Motorama: The Glamorous Show Cars of a Cultural Phenomenon” 10 years ago, I was told of a rumor that the Nomad had been recently sold. But stories such as this seem to always be unverifiable.
Furthermore adding to the mysterious Nomad is more recent research conducted for my new book, “Motorama: GM’s Legendary Show & Concept Cars,” which strongly indicates that not just one example was built, as is commonly believed. In fact, there may have been as many as three Nomads with one of them being scrapped. I am reasonably convinced one 1954 Nomad was scrapped in early July 1955, but there is photography of a 1954 Nomad on display with new 1955 Chevrolets at the 1955 Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, held from late August to early September 1954 — about six weeks after “the” Nomad was reportedly scrapped. Until at least one 1954 Nomad surfaces, we are left only to speculate on what is fact and what is fiction.
1954 Chevrolet Corvette Corvair
The Nomad was not the only Corvette-styled show car for 1954. Another was the Corvair — and this model also comes with an equally or at least nearly mysterious tale. Like the Nomad, the Corvair is generally believed to have first appeared in a deep red paint color, then changed to a light blue-green after its appearance at the Waldorf Astoria hotel. Supposedly, the deep red color did not show as well as expected, thus the change in color. However, there is now convincing evidence to prove the red Corvair was simply the first one shown and others were built — as many as five! I have spoken to two people who said they saw “an early red Corvette fastback” at the famed Warhoops Auto & Truck Parts salvage yard in Sterling Heights, Mich., during the 1970s, and that it disappeared from there around 1978 or 1979. Neither person knew the other. Furthermore, I have been told a third-person account of this same story. This means at least two Corvairs were built.
However, Roger Roberts, who built an amazing replica of the 1954 Corvair from a 1954 Corvette, states he has documentation indicating one more Seafoam Green Corvair was constructed as well as two more in other colors — one Pennant Blue and the other Harvest Gold — for a total of five! According to Roberts, the latter two were not publicly shown, but served as internal prototypes for evaluation. This suggests to Roberts that GM was strongly considering putting the Corvair into production until Corvette sales were clearly failing to achieve projected sales expectations. Reportedly, one of the seafoam green cars was scrapped. What were the fates of the others?
Other missing 1954 concept cars
Other lost cars from GM’s 1954 show circuit include the Oldsmobile Cutlass, a Cadillac convertible dubbed La Espada of which two were built, as well as the Cadillac Park Avenue (a forerunner of the Eldorado Brougham of 1957-58) and the Cadillac El Camino (a version of the La Espada, but with a brushed aluminum roof). The latter was reportedly crushed.
Unconfirmed crushes from ’55 and ’56
Several cars from GM’s 1955 and 1956 line of dream cars — the Pontiac Strato-Star, Oldsmobile 88 Delta, the Eldorado Brougham and the GMC L’Universelle (a front-wheel-drive panel van) — also have unconfirmed fates.
The L’Universelle show vehicle (above) was likely scrapped once the decision was made to proceed with placing it into production. That plan was indeed scrapped after production costs soared beyond expectations.
1956 Pontiac Club de Mer
Those dream cars of 1956 which may or may not exist include the Pontiac Club de Mer, an exotic two-passenger sports car which might have been developed into a serious racer to compete with the likes of Ferrari, Jaguar and Mercedes. This non-functional dream car was only a little more than 38 inches tall and barely more than 180 inches long. Its outer body panels were made of clear anodized, brushed aluminum painted with translucent Cerulean Blue. Other than its diminutive size, the Club de Mer’s most apparent features were its twin bubble windscreens and shark-like dorsal fin. Not so visible was its advanced suspension and trans-axle. A Pontiac V-8 rated at 300 hp was said to power the experimental sports car. What of the fate of the Club de Mer? It is rumored to have been obtained by a GM executive before it could be destroyed. There is also a rumor that places the car in Salt Lake City, and another that says the car is somewhere in California.
1956 Oldsmobile Golden Rocket
Oldsmobile’s 1956 Golden Rocket was certainly one of the most radically styled dream cars of the GM Motorama. In profile, it resembled a rocket laid on its side due to its twin-torpedo, pontoon-shaped fenders and tapering quarters. The rear portion of its tapering roof featured a split rear backlight very similar in appearance to that of the split-window 1963 Corvette.
Many years ago, the Golden Rocket was reported to be in New Jersey, but this has not been confirmed even after extensive investigation by those who would like to own it.
Unfortunately, these common and not-so-common rumors and facts haven’t produced a “found” GM Motorama car in many years. Therefore, it’s likely these GM Motorama cars have disappeared into the “Twilight Zone” of lost show cars. Until any of them appear — if they ever appear — their mysterious tales will continue to be as intriguing and captivating as a good mystery novel. By the way, have you heard the rumor about the 27 show and dream cars allegedly placed in steel storage containers, buried throughout the arid southwest?
David Temple is author of “GM’s Motorama” (MBI, 2006) and the forthcoming book “Motorama: GM’s Legendary Show & Concept Cars,” to be released by CarTech Books (www.cartechbooks.com) in January 2015.