General Motor’s Motorama from 1949-61 is a famous footnote of Harley Earl’s reign of showing the public GM’s style and technology in post-war America. However, GM did create some futuristic vehicles before the war too thanks to the Parade of Progress, which was somewhat of a precursor to Motorama. Transporting the cars on parade was a vehicle equally as progressive as the Parade itself: the 1940 Futurliner.
A dozen of them were built, each at a cost of $100,000. The chassis was handled by GM’s Yellow Truck & Coach division while Fisher Body handled the coachwork. Despite appearances, this bus was not designed to haul people from place to place – there’s only seating for the driver and two passengers, all sitting 10 feet from the ground. According to restorer Don Mayton, “The driver is way up there, front and center. But because of the seating position and height, you can’t see a full-size car parked next to the Futurliner, nor can you see a smaller car immediately in front of it.”
The uniqueness of the Futurliner extends under the skin: at least eight tires – including four up front – are used to move the 15-ton behemoth. At the time, U.S. Royal was commissioned to make the unique 10 x 20-inch tires − they even say “General Motors Parade of Progress” on the whitewall. Powering the Futurliner was a two-stroke, four-cylinder diesel paired to a four-speed manual. Can you say underpowered?
After World War II, the Futurliner was updated with a new two-tone paint job and a roof replacing the canopy. Another makeover came in 1953 with an engine transplant, this one being a Detroit Diesel 4-71 4.9L six-cylinder gasoline motor paired with GM’s famous Hydramatic automatic with a two-speed “splitter,” which effectively gave the Futurliner eight forward speeds.
Nine still exist, but few are in restored condition. The latter will appear at Barrett-Jackson’s 2015 Scottsdale auction in January. Past sales have been $247,500 for an original-condition one, to $4.1 million for the one at Barrett-Jackson’s 2006 auction. If you want to see one in the flesh, the restored one will make an appearance at the National Automotive and Truck Museum in Auburn, Indiana, on August 30 and the GM Powertrain Park ‘N Shine Car Show in Sylvania, Ohio, on September 7.