Revisited: The GM Concept Cars
From radical... to more radical
Courtesy of GM
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This article was first published in 2009.
One of our most popular articles has been our coverage of some of the GM
Concept cars of the 1950s and 1960s. In this expanded and revised article, we
renew our acquaintance with some of those fantastic looking cars - and add a
whole lot more, some shown in rare colour pictures.
1938 Buick Y-Job Concept Car
The 1938 Buick Y-Job is generally considered the industry's first concept
car. Created by General Motors Styling and Buick Engineering, it was designed by
Harley J. Earl, GM's first design chief, and built on a production Buick chassis
modified by Charlie Chayne, then Buick's chief engineer.
Buick called it "Y" because so many makers dubbed experimental cars "X."
Styling and mechanical features of the "Y Job" showed up on GM products,
particularly Buick and Cadillac, throughout the '40s.
The LeSabre combined functional styling and advanced engineering.
Reflecting Harley Earl's fascination with sleek jets, the LeSabre adapted many
of the design and engineering features found in high-performance aircraft.
Lightweight materials are used throughout the car, including cast magnesium for
the decklid, front fender valance and inner door panels. The hood, fenders and
outer door panels are sheet aluminium. The supercharged V-8 engine was
constructed entirely of aluminium. Rubberized 20-gallon fuel tanks are located
in each tail fin - one for gasoline, the other for methyl alcohol for additional
power bursts when the accelerator was depressed past the mid-position.
1954 Firebird I
The idea of the Firebird originated with Harley Earl who also designed
its fibreglass, reinforced plastic body. The car's Whirlfire Turbo-Power engine
and the chassis were developed under the direction of GM Vice President Charles
McCuen, general manager of GM Research Laboratories Division. The aircraft motif
is evident in the car's "needle" nose, delta wings swept back over the rear of
the body, a vertical tail fin and a plastic bubble over the driver's cockpit.
Mechanically, the gas turbine of the Firebird is the reverse of conventional
automobiles. In the nose, ahead of the driver is a 35-gallon glass fibre-plastic
fuel tank. Behind the driver is an integrated power "package" with an engine
consisting of two mechanically independent parts - the gasifier section and the
1954 El Camino Dream Car
The Cadillac El Camino, first displayed in 1954 as part of GM's Motorama
show, had a fibreglass body and a brushed stainless steel top which was a
preview of Cadillac styling later that decade. The passenger compartment used a
curved glass, aircraft-type bubble canopy.
1955 GMC L'Universelle Truck
The GMC L'Universelle concept truck was unveiled in 1955 to show forward
thinking in the area of delivery vehicles.
The futuristic styling of L'Universelle influenced design in the '60s with
the first compact passenger van from Chevrolet, which was built on a Corvair
1956 Firebird II
The Firebird II represented a progress report on the feasibility of gas
turbine powered vehicles. Unlike the original, single-seat Firebird I that
developed exhaust temperatures of more than 1250 degrees F, the four-passenger
Firebird II featured a regenerative gas turbine engine that operated nearly 1000
degrees cooler. Other innovations included the first use of wheel disc brakes,
fully independent four-wheel suspension and the sophisticated electronic
guidance system for use on the "electronic highway of the future."
1956 Golden Rocket Dream Car
Oldsmobile's 1956 Golden Rocket featured a seating system in which a roof
panel was raised and the seat was elevated and rotated toward the entering
occupant when the door was opened. Buttons on the steering wheel allowed the
column to tilt downward, providing the driver with easier
1956 Centurion Dream Car
The 1956 Buick Centurian was an aerodynamic four-seat coupe with a
patented rear-mounted television camera to provide a rear view to the driver.
Front seats automatically slid back when the doors were opened for easier entry
and also moved forward to provide entry and exit to the back seats. A
cantilevered steering wheel positioned the steering shaft down the centre of the
car, allowing more legroom for the driver.
1958 Firebird III
The Firebird III was the first space age inspired car by General Motors.
The Firebird III has an aerodynamic fibreglass body and is pearlescent
silver-gold in colour. It has a wide, tapered nose, twin plastic bubble canopies
over the passengers and a high dorsal fin at the tail. The car's most
significant single feature, its control system, features combined and improved
versions of "no-hands" steering and the single-stick Unicontrol introduced
separately by GM Research Laboratories.
1959 Corvette Stingray
The Corvette Stingray was built in 1959 to explore the limits of handling
and performance of the future Chevrolet Corvettes. This Experimental concept car
was designed and built in 1959 by then vice president of General Motors Styling,
William L. Mitchell. Mr. Mitchell designed this unique thin shelled, fibreglass
body for the minimum racing weight possible. The vehicle has an advanced
multi-tubular chassis with de Dion rear suspension and inboard rear brakes.
Powered by a fuel injected, high performance Chevrolet V-8 engine, this
vehicle was campaigned as an independent on the sports car club circuit in 1959
and 1960. After its racing days were complete, the vehicle was retired and is
now part of the vintage concept car collection, owned and cared for by the
General Motors Design Center.
1959 Cadillac Cyclone
The 1959 Cadillac Cyclone was designed to test new styling and
engineering ideas. The two-passenger automobile has a clear plastic cover that
fits snugly against the panoramic windshield to give the driver true 360 degree
vision. When not in use, the power-operated canopy folds backward beneath the
surface of the trunk deck. It automatically lifts out of the way when either
door is opened. At a touch of a button, Cyclone's doors move outward from the
car three inches. Moving smoothly on ball bearings, they can be slid back for
easy entrance. Among its advanced engineering features is a radar device which
scans the highway, and warns the driver electronically of objects in its path.
Large, twin nose cones in the front of the car house the proximity-sensing
They electronically alert the driver with both an audible signal and a
warning light if an object is in its path. The Cyclone is powered by a 325 hp
engine that is positioned in the nose of the car. It features a low profile
carburettor, cross flow aluminium radiator and twin fans. The muffler and
exhaust are located in the front engine compartment with the exhaust outlets
just ahead of the front wheels. Inside, instruments are clustered like an
aircraft dashboard before, and between, the two passengers. An
intercommunication system allows passengers to converse with persons outside the
automobile without raising the canopy.
1961 Corvette Mako Shark
The basic lines of the 1961 experimental Mako Shark Corvette concept car were
inspired by a mako shark caught off the coast of Florida by Williams L.
Mitchell. Mr. Mitchell was at the time, Vice President of General Motors Styling
Staff now known as General Design Center.
The Mako Shark concept car is
finished in a varicolored paint scheme based on an iridescent blue upper surface
that blends into a white side and lower body, like the natural colouring of the
shark Bill Mitchell landed.
The present engine is a production 1961 427
cubic inch ZL-1 Chevrolet V-8. This engine has an all aluminium block, heads and
intake manifold. It is equipped with a single four-barrel carburettor that
produces upwards of 425 horsepower. The Mako Shark is presently part of the
Vintage Concept Car Collection owned and cared for by the General Motors Design
1964/65 Runabout & GM-X Stiletto
The experimental small commuter car Runabout was unveiled at GM's Futurama at
the New York World's Fair in 1964. A three-wheel hatchback, Runabout carried two
passengers and had ample storage room.
The GM-X Stiletto was an advanced, high-performance car with styling strongly
influenced by aerospace design. It featured aircraft-type steering, a
maintenance monitoring system with toggle switch controls, and a three-way
speaker system for inside/ outside communications. It also debuted at the 1964
New York World's Fair.
Back in the 70's, it became apparent to General Motors that their Corvette
Stingray would have to be replaced after almost twenty years in production on
the same chassis. GM is aware that Corvette drivers are a very demanding group,
and did not want any next-generation designs that would alienate their existing
customers. Chevrolet built a variety of concept cars to test owner reactions,
showcasing advanced technology ideas.
One of these concept cars was the Aerovette. It began life as the XP-882, a mid-engined prototype using a 400 CID
V8 mated to an Oldsmobile Toronado transaxle. For the 1973 Paris motor show, an
XP-882 chassis was repowered with an experimental four rotor Wankel engine,
which looked very promising until it was cancelled due to concerns about the
rotary engine's typically poor fuel economy with an impending oil crisis just on
the horizon. The Bill Mitchell, the ardent Corvette styling department magnate,
gave the car a new life by reinstalling a small-block Chevrolet V8 and
christening it the Areovette. A stunningly dramatic looking car, it was promoted
as the new sixth generation Corvette for 1980, but never saw series
Charles Jordan oversaw the Aerovette design, which included radical
bifold gullwing doors, and deformable plastic body-coloured nose and tail
sections which are common today, but revolutionary in the mid-1970's. The
sterling silver paint, with silver leather interior and forged alloy turbine
wheels later seen on the 1978 Corvette Indy Pace Car, gave the Aerovette a space
craft like appearance unmatched by any other advanced sports
1982 Aero 2000
The GM Aero 2000, one of the most aerodynamic automobiles ever developed,
was unveiled in 1982 at the Epcot Center World of Design display. The
experimental four-seater featured sliding doors, front wheel skirts top-hinged
for access to wheels and tires, and a speed-regulated rear foil to reduce
fuel-costly air turbulence. Many of the design concepts are evident in GM's
electric car, EV1.
1983 Buick Questor
The Buick Questor was unveiled in 1983, GM's 75th anniversary year. The
Questor demonstrated state-of-the-art electronic systems for future cars,
including a laser key entry system and a voice-actuated radio
1988 Oldsmobile Aerotech
The 1988 Oldsmobile Aerotech, an experimental high-speed vehicle
incorporating the latest in performance technology, was driven by three-time
Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt to a world closed-course speed record of 257mph (413
km/h). It was powered by a specially-prepared turbo-charged version of the Quad
4 engine. The Aerotech body was designed by GM Design staff and is one of the
sleekest vehicles yet developed for a GM car division. The design of the
Aerotech includes the capability of adjusting underbody sections to control the
distribution of downforce, front to rear.
1988 Pontiac Banshee
The Pontiac Banshee was introduced in 1988 to provide a glimpse at the
high-performance sports car of the future. The Banshee name first appeared in
the '60s as a code name for the forthcoming '67 Pontiac Firebird, companion to
the '67 Chevrolet Camaro.
1989 Pontiac Stinger Concept
The Pontiac Stinger concept introduced in 1989, featured all-wheel drive,
carbon fibre body panels and, with the exception of the windshield, removable
glass panels. The distinctive aerodynamic grey-and-green body could be
transformed from two-door enclosed transportation to an open-air vehicle for
all-season fun, utility and convenience.
1991 HX3 Hybrid Van
Designed as a low-emissions, high-fuel-economy alternative to the
traditional family sedan, the HX3 utilizes a powertrain that can be switched
between gasoline or electric power. The monocab design seats five passengers
comfortably in a compact package, and redefines the look and function of a
traditional passenger car. Inspired by jet aircraft, the vehicle's tapered shape
achieves a 0.258 drag co-efficient.
Developed jointly by General Motors Design Center and Research
Laboratories, the Ultralite concept was created to be the ultimate test-platform
for fuel economy. The four-passenger vehicle features a carbon fibre monocoque
structure that combines high-strength with exceptional weight savings. Due to
efficient packaging techniques and use of lightweight materials throughout,
Ultralite's curb weight is a mere 1,400 pounds. The concept also incorporates
low rolling resistance tires and a 1.5-litre, three cylinder, two-stroke engine
that delivers 111 bhp at 4500 rpm. Fuel economy is EPA rated at 80 mpg
1997 Oldsmobile Alero Concept
The 1997 Oldsmobile Alero concept car was a popular attraction at auto
shows and many of these styling cues were evident in the production model that
2000 Cadillac Imaj
The Cadillac Imaj, a high-tech concept car revealed at the 2000 Geneva
Auto Show, extends Cadillac's philosophy of blending art and science to its
logical next step: an all-wheel-drive ultra-luxury sedan with exhilarating
performance and unprecedented technological applications. With its crisp lines
and sharp angles, Imaj is a direct descendant of Evoq, the concept roadster
introduced in 1999 and the first embodiment of Cadillac's vision of art and
science. Imaj takes its lead from Evoq in giving further tangible form to
Cadillac's vision to be a uniquely American, global automotive leader in both
design and ingenious technology. Underneath the hood, Imaj features an updated
version of the supercharged Northstar V8 engine that debuted on the Evoq.
Featuring a liquid-to-air intercooler and continuously variable valve timing,
the enhanced Northstar delivers 425 horsepower. The power is fed to all four
wheels through an all-new five-speed automatic transmission. Imaj also features
Cadillac's Night Vision system with obstacle alert signals work both in front
and the rear. Adjustable pedals, seating, steering and head-up display combine
with steering wheel mounted controls and shift-by-wire gear selection to create
the quintessential driver-in-control environment. Adaptive cruise control
manages following distances at highway speeds, while front- and rear-facing
radar ease parking in close quarters.
The Cadillac Imaj offers
"first-class" seating for all four passengers, including infotainment systems,
state-of-the-art night vision, and rear seat display screens. Ventilated front
and rear seats can be individually controlled. Rear seats recline with
articulating footrests. Pedals and steering wheel are adjustable for optimum
control and unsurpassed comfort. Rear-hinged rear doors ease entry and exit. The
Imaj Concept showcases GM's finest safety and security technology with finger
print based, keyless Biometric Security; active suspension/aerodynamics with the
next generation Stabilitrak; adaptive cruise control with alert; dual function,
reconfigurable head up display; accident avoidance technology; and run-flat
The Precept concept demonstrates an ultra-high-efficiency,
environmentally friendly architecture from GM. The parallel-hybrid Precept
concept employs the most aerodynamically efficient design known, with a drag
co-efficient of 0.163. Its four-wheel drive, dual-axle configuration features a
35 kilowatt three-phase electric motor driving the front wheels, and a lean-burn
compression-ignition, direct-injection heat engine driving the rear
2000 Buick Lacrosse
LaCrosse's most notable feature is its ability to be quickly
transformed-with a single voice command-from a luxury car to a light cargo
carrier with an open bed. The tailgate electronically slides downward and under
the vehicle, and the rear window and rear portion of the roof slide forward to
reveal the cargo area. During this operation, the front section of roof moves
slightly downward to accommodate the sliding panels. LaCrosse's four doors are
power-operated and hinged at the front and rear pillars, opening at the centre
pillar for easy access.
The interior showcases consumer-friendly advanced technology such as
voice-activated controls in place of the switches and displays usually mounted
in the instrument panel. The only visible controller is a single trackball-like
device installed in a console. The driver uses the controller in conjunction
with voice commands to operate all systems except throttle, brakes and steering.
Features selected by the driver are projected on the windshield in
reconfigurable colour head-up displays for both the driver and front
2001 Chevy Borrego
The segment-busting Borrego concept from Chevrolet combines the
road-taming agility of a rally car with the traditional rock-hard toughness of a
Chevy. The all-wheel drive vehicle can commute very comfortably during the
weekdays and then let off a little steam on the weekends. The interior continues
Chevy's traditional dual-cockpit design, and gives a sense of protection for
rough riding. Rugged analog gauges finish the rally appearance. Borrego's sturdy
roll bar not only harkens to durable pre-runners and rally cars, it also
accommodates an innovative reconfigurable mid-gate at the rear of the passenger
cab that allows seating for two more passengers.
Self-inflating seals keep the compartment watertight regardless of its
configuration. With the seating expanded, the cargo bed changes from 6 feet to
about 3 feet to provide more room for passengers. The Convert-a-Cab system
allows one person to reconfigure the cargo area in seconds without tools to
create a 4' x 8' cargo area to transport large items. The Borrego's sturdy
all-wheel-drive powertrain is based on Subaru's longitudinal all-wheel-drive
system. The turbocharged 2.5-liter horizontally opposed 4-cylinder engine keeps
the vehicle's centre of gravity low for improved handling and a better sight
line down the hood.
2001 Hummer H2 SUT
The 2001 concept HUMMER H2 sport utility truck (SUT) is the next
evolution of the HUMMER brand - a daring look at what this unstoppable sport
utility truck might be like on the road and in the woods. Derived from the
production intent 2003 H2, the SUT concept vehicle is functional, versatile and
almost endlessly reconfigurable. It blends a superior off-road capability and
versatile rear cargo bed with an adjustable bulkhead and a no-nonsense interior
of polished metal, leather and fabric, and state-of-the-art telematics. The
17-inch wheels and heavy-duty independent front suspension and 5-link rear
suspension provide superior handling, carrying and towing capability.
Powering the H2 SUT concept vehicle is GM's 6.0-liter, Vortec 6000 V8. It's
mounted longitudinally and mated to a heavy-duty five-speed automatic
transmission with full-time all-wheel drive. The SUT concept vehicle is packaged
with state-of-the-art technological advancements, including roof-mounted,
360-degree infrared night vision, Global Positioning Satellite navigation, the
OnStar system, and 110V power outlets galore. Pop open the largest skyroof in
GM's history, lower the rear window and you have a truly open-air vehicle.
Vertical side windows create an enormous roof area for carrying still more
cargo, and give the interior a spacious feel.
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