MOTORAMA – GM's Legendary Show and Concept Cars

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Review Author(s)
Book Author(s)
David Temple
Other Publication Information
hardbvack, 208 pages
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Provided by: Specialty Press
Box Art

GM's Motorama was a 12-year (1949-1961) marketing extravaganza designed to showcase the current line of GM products while dazzling the target audience with some amazing prototype and dream car exercises. Ultimately curtailed due to rising costs, Motorama was nonetheless a major “hit” for The General,

29 domestic and 23 GM-Canada Motoramas took place, at venues ranging from NY, Los Angeles. San Francisco, Boston and Miami domestically and Montreal, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Calgary and London, Ontario in the North. GM used the Motorama show not only to woo customers for the latest model year in each participating division, but also to gauge consumer reaction to a wide range of concept cars incorporating mild to wild styling and design features (rain-sensing automatic convertible tops, hydraulically operated doors, jet-fighter styling cues, and an odd little fiberglass car called a Corvette, which you may have heard of).

Under the leadership of GM's Harley J. Earl, initially hired by GM President Alfred P. Sloan as head of the “Art and Colour Section” and later VP of Design, Motorama evolved into a sophisticated marketing system drawing tens of thousands at each event – among them, designers from GM's chief competitors. I found it interesting to learn that Ford went so far as to photograph and measure the nascent Corvette prototype displayed at the 1953 NY show, creating a leather-bound book of industrial espionage material then provided to the Thunderbird design team!

Author David Temple gives us an overview of how Earl and company went about creating the Motorama event and then dives into exquisite detail on each year's show and concept cars. Period color photos along with current images of restored (or sadly, derelict) dream cars are presented in each chapter. He also includes posters and displays from many of the Motorama shows as appropriate.

As a modeler, I was immediately drawn to the numerous detail B&W and color photos for each vehicle, as well as the accompanying text describing how each car was modified from a base production car – or in many cases such as the famous Firebird series, built from scratch. Harley Earl is reported to have read an article about the Douglas F4D Skyray while on a flight, and that iconic aircraft greatly influenced the design cues of the first Firebird. Powered by a GM-designed GT-302 gas turbine delivering 370hp (at 26,000 rpm!) proved nonviable as a race car (let alone a street vehicle) but amazed show attendees. This reviewer had the pleasure of seeing the Firebird 1 at a museum exhibition last year and I can assure you, it still has that effect.

Mr. Temple's love for these vehicles is apparent throughout the 200+ pages of “Motorama”. Wherever possible, he provides the history – conception to fabrication to ultimate disposition – of each car. While a fair number of the Motorama cars still exist (and surprisingly, some are still being found and restored), some were scrapped after serving their immediate purpose. Eyewitness accounts of these sad events are peppered throughout the book.

Temple wraps up with a look at modern day GM concept cars (which, while certainly interesting, pale in comparison to some of the earlier design exercises you'll read about). Appendix A lists all of the 60+ Motorama Show Cars and, where known, their final fate.

Car modelers will find “Motorama” to be an excellent reference resource on several levels. The most obvious is as a detailing reference when building or restoring a show car model (I immediately recognized several kits including the Pontiac Club de Mer, the Buick Centurion, and of course, the Firebird Series). Secondly, you'll find many conversion opportunities to create a one-of-a-kind show car – for example, this modified Buick Roadmaster outfitted with a drivers' door rifle!

In summary, highly recommended for the auto modeler, the automotive history buff, and any fan of 40's and 50's Detroit “Heavy Metal”.

My thanks to our good friends and supporters at Specialty Press for providing this review copy!

Reviewer Bio

John Noack

Modeler since my Dad and I built Aurora biplane box scale kits at the kitchen table. Joined IPMS in the early 1980's and I've held a variety of leadership positions on the Board. I'm a retired VP of Aerospace Engineering, living in the Centerville (Dayton) OH area. I am a Docent at the USAF Museum, a musician in several bands, member of IPMS/WFSM, and a widower.

My tastes are eclectic. When I build aircraft it's usually in 1/72, but I also dabble in submarines, autos, and scratchbuilt Steampunk vehicles.

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