With their futuristic styling offering a glimpse into the minds of some of the auto industry’s most forward-thinking designers, dream cars often proved truly awesome. Sadly they were often just that, dreams, and not intended to live much beyond their originally intended use. But fortunately, insiders who saw the benefit in preserving these sterling examples of design and innovation managed to squirrel a few away. Here we take a look at a few that still manage to draw crowds of awe-struck onlookers.
1953 Chevrolet Corvette EX-122
One car that made the leap from dream to driveway, the experimental vehicle dubbed “Project Opel,” began as a pet project for famed GM design chief Harley Earl. Earl believed that postwar American car buyers were ready for a racy, and affordable two-seater that could compete with European rivals MG and Jaguar.
Earl made a convincing pitch to GM. But the budget the company allowed for the project was reportedly so small that Earl’s engineers found themselves scrounging through GM parts bin to come up with the EX-122’s engine and powertrain components: a modified 235 C.I.D. Chevy straight-six (eventually replaced with a V-8 in 1955); Powerglide two-speed automatic gearbox; and leaf-sprung rear axle on a solid box-section frame.
Over this solid performing yet unremarkable hodgepodge of parts, a fiberglass body was used instead of steel. This move not only decreased the overall weight of the car but also allowed for easier tooling and engineering freedom when creating the sleek curves and racy profile that drew crowds so deep that Chevrolet immediately decided to begin mass-production of the Corvette.
1954 Buick Wildcat II
Debuting in January 1954, the Buick Wildcat II bore a striking resemblance to a certain other sporty American car that drew its fair share of attention upon release. While the Chevrolet Corvette did see production, the Buick Wildcat II remained just that: a dream car. With only one built, this design study is simply breathtaking.
Described in its original press release as, “the only sports car with truly American styling,” the Wildcat II featured radical front fenders, complete with Dagmars, and cutouts that exposed the chromed underside of the fender and frontend suspension. Under its bright blue hood sat a standard Buick V-8, allegedly capable of 220hp. With its sleek, sporty styling and fiberglass body, the Buick Wildcat II is a marvel of its age and, as evidenced by its attendance at this year’s Washington Auto Show, still capable of drawing a crowd more than 60 years later.
1954 Bonneville Special
Built as one of two for the 1954 edition of the Pontiac Motorama, the Bonneville Special found itself showcased alongside the massive Futurliners as they made their way across the country as part of the Parade of Progress. Said to be the result of famed design chief Harley Earl’s viewing of world speed records set at the Bonneville Salt Flats, the Bonneville Special concept cars were built by Hommer LaGassey and Paul Gilland under the direction of Earl himself.
Again taking cues from the Corvette, the fiberglass bodied Bonneville Specials featured a bubble top and a 268 cubic inch flathead straight eight engine capable of 220hp. Both Bonneville Specials survive: One is in a private collection and the green example sold at the Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale in 2015 for over $3.3 million.