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1954 GM Motorama Concept Cars – Corvette Wannabees

Dateline: 4.24.12

Corvette’s Motorama Kiss’n Cousins

In 2009 when GM was getting negative publicity because of its financial troubles, I received a few emails with images of the 1954 GM Motorama Concept Pontiac Bonneville Special, Buick Wildcat II, and Oldsmobile F-88. For 1954, these are very cool-looking cars and you can’t miss the Corvette connection. The basic message in the email was, “Look at what the Corvette could have been if GM hadn’t let Chevy have the design. These cars had bigger engines and were nicer cars. GM got it wrong.” To which I say, “Ah, no.”

To begin with, the Corvette came first. Harley Earl started his small sports car design in 1951. By the end of ‘52 the hand made XP-112 Corvette was ready for its debut at the ‘53 Motorama Show on January 17, 1953. The concept was a completely unproven and much to Earl’s delight, was very enthusiastically received. So the car was rushed into production with almost zero development. By June ‘53 the first of only 300 Corvettes was released. Compared to the 332,497 Chevy 210 Deluxe 4-door sedans sold in ‘53, 300 Corvettes almost doesn’t qualify as “production.”

But before the numbers came in, Pontiac, Buick, and Olds wanted to take their shots at the 2-seater sports car concept. But unlike the spartan Corvette, the other divisions went in the direction of the ‘50s – big and bold. All three cars were typical concept cars – over festooned, and not produceable at a reasonable cost. The Corvette, also a concept car, was much more realistic for production.

The Bonneville connection to Corvette was in the front end, even though it had tall front and rear fender humps. The gull wing bubble top was pure razzle-dazzle and power came from a flathead straight-8 Pontiac engine. Two cars were built, one brilliant bronze and the other bright green. In 2006 the green car sold for $3,024,000.

The Corvette relationship on the Buick Wildcat-II is the basic shape of the rear fenders and deck. The front end was completely unique with exposed fender undersides and bumper -mounted headlights. The tall hood extends off the leading edge of the windshield base and is decorated with Buick port holes. The grille-bumper looked quite heavy with classic ‘50s “Dagmar” bosom bumpers. Power came from a modified 322 CID V8 with 220-hp. Wire wheels and wide whitewalls gave the car an almost classic ‘30s look. This handsome little car resides in the Alfred P. Sloan Museum.

Like the Buick, the Olds F-88’s Corvette connection to the Corvette was in the rear fenders. This was the “Jet Age” so the taillights picked up the jet theme. All three cars shared the Corvette’s basic windshield shape, although the Pontiac and Olds were closest to the Corvette’s low profile hood. The three cars were essentially the same size as the Corvette, so the F-88’s large chrome bumper and over done rear bumper look heavy on the small car. Overall, it’s still a handsome car for the early ‘50s.

All three cars were shown in 1954 as concept cars and just like the 2009 Stingray Concept Corvette, were platforms for stylists to try out design ideas. Of the three, the Olds F-88 came the closest to being considered for production, but was axed because of the dismal sales of the ‘53 Corvette. Would a more refined, more powerful F-88 performed well against the ‘55 Thunderbird? Possibly. Being more upscale than the Corvette, would the F-88 have morphed into a 4-seater like the ‘58 T-Bird? Probably.

The Corvette’s ultimate ace in the sleeve was a the wile Russian engineer, Zora Arkus-Duntov that fell for the ‘53 Motorama Corvette such that he perused a job at GM specifically to work on the Corvette. Were it not for this man’s passion for racing and taking the new lightweight small-block Chevy to the max, the Corvette or the F-88 would have likely chased Ford’s much better-selling Thunderbird. If the Corvette had become a 4-seater car would have been raced and still around today? Most likely, no. So, did GM make a mistake by letting Chevy keep the Corvette? Doesn’t look like it to me. – Scott

Related: The 1954 “Could-Have-Been” Motorama Dream  Corvettes, CLICK HERE.

Vette Videos: The Life & Times of The Father of the Corvette, Harley Earl, CLICK HERE.


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The above 11×17 Parchment Paper Print is available for just $24.95 + $6.95 S&H. Each print is signed and numbered by the artist. You can order your with the secure PayPal button below, or by calling 1-800-858-6670, Monday through Saturday 10AM to 9PM Eastern Standard Time.


The above 11×17 Laser-Etched Print is available for just $49.95 + $8.00 S&H.  You can order your with the secure PayPal button below, or by calling 1-800-858-6670, Monday through Saturday 10AM to 9PM Eastern Standard Time.


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