In our continuing series taking a look at General Motors “Dream Cars” of the 1950s, we turn the spotlight on the first Cadillac with fins, a one-of-a-kind, chauffer driven Pontiac and the Oldsmobile that many believe would have crushed Corvette in the marketplace.
1954 Oldsmobile F-88
Facts And Legends: A car with a little conspiracy and myth built into its fascinating history, the F-88 was built on the chassis of an early Chevrolet Corvette and shared the Corvette’s 102-inch wheelbase. Also like the Corvette, the Oldsmobile F-88 body was made of fiberglass. Under the hood the F-88 was powered by a 324-cubic-inch V-8 from the 1954 Oldsmobile Super 88.
GM only created a handful (some say only two) complete examples of the F-88: one, painted gold and widely considered to be the original, was initially displayed at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City in 1954 before going on tour with GM’s Motorama show; a second, painted blue and also pictured above, appeared in the Parade of Progress painted blue; and a rumored third, ordered up by design chief Harley Earl, was painted red and reportedly became his daily driver until—according to legend—the car was irreparably damaged in an accident or lost in a fire.
Claim To Fame: Considered by many to be a car that could have “killed” the 6-cylinder Corvette in 1954, the more powerful and stylish F-88 two-seater was reportedly scuttled by GM executives who wanted Chevrolet to remain the company’s main profit division.
Where To See It: After being disassembled and packed away in crates, the only remaining F-88 was purchased in 2007 at auction for over $3 million dollars by Discovery Communications founder John S. Hendricks. Some experts still debate the authenticity of the car’s body, a subject author David W. Temple devoted several pages to in his new book Motorama: GM’s Legendary Show & Concept Cars. Regardless of the vehicle’s standing as a true “original,” it’s definitely one-of-a-kind and now stands as the “cornerstone” exhibit at the Gateway Colorado Automobile Museum.
1954 Cadillac La Espada
Facts and Legends: A two-seat, fiberglass roadster and companion car to the Cadillac El Camino at the 1954 GM Motorama, La Espada (Spanish for “the sword”) featured a 115-inch wheelbase, a 200-inch overall length and was powered by a Cadillac 230 horsepower overhead valve V8 engine. With a specially engineered convertible top—ribbed to create a perfectly curved surface when closed—La Espada also sported a host of stylish and technical advancements including: a recessed front grille air guarded by massive and sweeping front bumpers; slotted aluminum fender sides that admitted air for the air conditioning system; and dual headlights controlled with an “Autronic Eye.”
Claim To Fame: Considered to be the car that predicted the future of Cadillac design, according to chicagoautoshow.com, La Espada helped pave the way for quad headlights, wraparound windshields, big V-shaped hoods, dual taillights and tall tailfins that eventually became common.
Where To See It: Only a handful of GM’s “Dream Cars” survived the company’s mandate that called for all concept cars to be destroyed and never personally owned. Sadly, only pictures remain of the original La Espada.
1953 Pontiac Parisienne
Facts And Legends: Designed to be the two-door, chauffer driven town car of the future, the original landau-style Pontiac Parisienne (not to be confused with the full-size, rear-wheel drive version sold under the Parisienne name in Canada from 1958 to 1986 and in the U.S. from 1983 to 1986) was based on a production Pontiac Star Chief. Powered by a 122-horsepower, 268 cubic-inch straight-8 engine and automatic, two-speed “Dual-range Hydramatic Drive, ” the Parisienne sat just seven inches off the group and stood 56-inches high. For its 1953 debut, the Parisienne was painted jet black and featured a pleated pink, roulette leather interior.
Claim To Fame: Created to test the desirability of a car style from a more romantic era, the Parisienne was styled like old town cars of the 1930s but with some futuristic advancements including: pushbutton door entry; front seats that automatically moved back to allow passengers easier access to the backseat; painted French-visored headlights and then-rarely-seen wraparound windshield.
Where To See It: The 1953 Pontiac Parisienne was a favorite of designer Harley Earl who reportedly rescued the car from the crusher by giving it to a relative for safekeeping after conclusion of the 1950s Motorama show circuit. Rediscovered in New Jersey by Chicago businessman Joe Bortz, a collector of Motorama-era Dream Cars, the Parisienne occasionally makes appearances at major concours events such as Amelia Island.