Uncovering artifacts from the 1956 GMC
'Bluegrass Runabout' pickup truck show vehicle
There aren’t many concepts cars and show cars left to rediscover. Most were well-photographed and documented in newspaper articles of the day, and then in books and magazines of today. Yet we found one more.
While cruising old GM Motorama brochures in Walter Miller’s inventory, I stumbled across a non-descript bi-fold brochure with “Introducing GMC’s Bluegrass Runabout” and the profile of a horse on the cover. Copywriters must have thought a thousand words were better than a photo, because there were no images of the truck inside. From the text, it appears the brochure was handed out at 1956 GM Motorama shows alongside the Bluegrass Runabout pickup truck.
To find out what the truck looked like, we scoured the Old Cars archives, our own “GMC: The First 100 Years” book, miscellaneous image services and even General Motors Media Archives. So little-known is the truck that staff members of the GM archives hadn’t even heard of it, and when they searched for GMC Bluegrass Runabout, the staff came up dry. When we asked them to instead search for images of the GMC display at the 1956 GM Motorama, that’s when we struck gold.
Hidden within a few images from the Los Angeles and Boston stops of the GM Motorama is a 1956 GMC Suburban pickup behind stanchions with a couple unusual features: 1955 Oldsmobile “spinner” wheelcovers and an unusual emblem at the leading edge of the fiberglass bed. When one of the images is blown up, “GMC Bluegrass Runabout” can be read on the front license plate. Bingo!
Most of the details mentioned in the brochure aren’t visible in the surviving black-and-white images that picture the truck. Oddly enough, the brochure doesn’t mention those unique features that are visible (the Oldsmobile full wheel covers and special bed emblem.) Those features include the following mix of GMC options, aftermarket accessories and unique features:
- 316-cid Pontiac V-8 and Hydra-Matic drive
- Lexington blue and white exterior (Bluegrass Runabout only)
- GMC Road Shock Dampers and Kudu stabilizing bar
- Honduras mahogany bed floor (Bluegrass Runabout only)
- Stabilized synthetic sailcloth bed cover that could wound up on a reel (Bluegrass Runabout only)
- Two-way radio on the dash (Bluegrass Runabout only)
- Ultronic electric door opener (Bluegrass Runabout only)
- A deep package tray mounted beneath the rear window (Bluegrass Runabout only)
- A concealed tool compartment built into the left rear corner of the cab (Bluegrass Runabout only)
- Deep-pile blue floor carpet (Bluegrass Runabout only)
- Blue and white seat upholstery and door and roof trim (Bluegrass Runabout only)
- GMC radio, spotlight, clock, deluxe heater, cigarette lighter, right armrest, trouble light, tilting rear-view mirror
- Textured metal covering the inside steps behind both doors (Bluegrass Runabout only)
- Copper-plated grille (Bluegrass Runabout only)
- Special brake pedal (Bluegrass Runabout only)
The next year, GMC displayed a different show truck at select auto shows. That truck was the gold-and-white 1957 Palomino, and it, too, was based on the fiberglass-bed GMC Suburban pickup truck (the GMC counterpart to the Chevrolet Cameo). Like the Bluegrass Runabout, the Palomino was loaded with GMC options and unique trim components. The Palomino is known to survive.
GM sometimes updated its show vehicles with different features for the next show season and it’s possible the 1956 Bluegrass Runabout became the 1957 Palomino. However, there’s no evidence to confirm that possibility at this time.
Now that we’ve confirmed that the Bluegrass Runabout was built and shown, we’d like to know if it still exists. If not, perhaps there are other photos out there that better capture the truck’s unique features. (If you can add to the story, email us at email@example.com)
Watch for a feature story on this truck in an upcoming issue of Old Cars.