’50s concept cars to become tools for future automotive design

Thomas Roney (left) and Mark West (back) of the College for Creative Studies in Detroit study the engine compartment of the 1955 Chevrolet Biscayne concept car owned by Joe Bortz (right).

Story and photos by Angelo Van Bogart

In the 1950s, General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp. concept cars predicted the future of the production cars Americans would be seeing at their local new-car dealership. Some of those same 1950s cars may go back to work again, forecasting the future of automobile design.

On Oct. 4, Mark West and Thomas Roney of the College for Creative Studies in Detroit toured the concept car collection of Joe Bortz in Illinois. West is the Paul and Helen Farago chair of Transportation Design at the college; Roney is an associate professor of Transportation Design.

“They came down to see the possibility of using cars for educational purposes in the studio, and perhaps in seminars at the college,” Bortz said.

The trio looks on the 1953 Buick Wildcat concept car owned by Joe Bortz. The fiberglass-bodied car uses a shortened version of the chassis used by production 1953 Buicks.

During the educators’ tour, Bortz walked them through his garage of concept vehicles, which includes the newly restored 1955 LaSalle II roadster, the 1955 Chevrolet Biscayne, the 1953 Buick Wildcat, the 1953 Pontiac Parisienne, the 1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special and the 1956-’57 Chrysler Diablo, which Bortz will offer at the Barrett-Jackson collector car auction on Jan. 19. Bortz explained the cars’ innovative features and those specific features each concept car inspired on the production cars that followed it.

Bortz also explained the theory behind concept cars during the 1950s, and the difference between concept cars. For example, some concept cars were built completely from scratch (Biscayne), some were built on the modified chassis of a production car (Wildcat) and some of those were based on a production car (Parisienne).

According to Bortz, concept cars were originally called dream cars until the phrase was corrupted into use by some who used the term to describe other types of cars.

The visitors snuck a peek at the recently restored 1955 LaSalle II roadster, which will debut March 10 at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in Amelia Island, Fla.

The College of Creative Studies is located in the building that formerly housed Harley Earl’s first General Motors design studio, and is also the spot where engineering was conducted on the Hydra-Matic automatic transmission. When the concept cars are expected to be displayed there for educational purposes sometime in early 2013, they will be right at home. Again.



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One thought on “’50s concept cars to become tools for future automotive design

  1. Charles C. Barnett III

    Maybe Joe wants it that way – but in my mind he is at the Jay Leno level in our automotive accomplishments.
    I love Jay but Joe realy seems to be overlooked by all buff publications. Kinda like Bill Harrah who built ‘Americas Collection’ and never received the appreciation he deserves.

    Speed or Velocity would do very well to build a couple of programs featuring Joe and his work.

    Charlie Barnett III
    Oldsmar Florida


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