Each year, the month of January kicks off the official auto show season with some of the most innovative new car designs being showcased in cities around the globe. While these events remain a fascinating spectacle, they pale in comparison to the hyper-stylized “dream cars” showcased from 1949 until 1961 during General Motors “Motorama.” Some of these cars were preserved, some were destroyed and others simply disappeared under strange circumstances that today tantalize collectors in search of long-lost automotive treasure.
1954 Chevrolet Corvette Corvair
Debuting the year after the Corvette, the Corvette Corvair borrowed a number of components from its predecessor. Using a Corvette front end, chassis and power train, designers augmented the body with ribbed air intakes on the hood for in-car ventilation and fender vents that allowed heat to escape from the engine compartment.
While the bones of the car were clearly derived from the Corvette, the Corvette Corvair featured a wrap-around windshield and a fighter jet-inspired, fastback body. Originally painted a ruby red, the car was repainted light sea foam green before heading off to Los Angeles. From there, the trail runs cold, nothing but a collection of rumors and speculation: Was the car crushed? Did someone manage to save it and do they still have it locked away somewhere? Was there more than one built? No one knows for sure.
1955 GM L’Universelle
Not all of the so-called Motorama “dream cars” were the stuff of science fiction and radical design exercises. Unveiled in 1955 at the Astoria Hotel in New York as part of that year’s Motorama’s opening festivities, the GMC L’Universelle showed a number of Harley Earl-inspired styling cues in a versatile, functional sort of vehicle that was basically a front-wheel drive minivan. While most other “dream cars” of the era imagined a future that never was, the L’Universelle came much closer to predicting the functional reality of everyday life for many Americans. Like many dream machines of Motorama, however, the original L’Universelle disappeared without a trace.
1955 Pontiac Strato-Star
Like the L’Universelle, the Pontiac Strato-Star was designed with practical usage in mind. A six-passenger coupe powered by a modified V8, the Strato-Star design brought a sense of futurism to the masses. With its unique design, virtually non-existent door pillars and massive amounts of glass, the Strato-Star could have proved an ideal travel car for families on cross-country treks. Standing at approximately 53 inches, the car featured a set of hinged, 6-inch roof panels designed to open and close automatically when either door was opened. Strato-Star borrowed some design ideas and concepts from California customizers, several of which included “frenched” visor taillights and a rolled pan. Not much is known about the car’s ultimate fate.
1956 Oldsmobile Golden Rocket
Arguably one of the most radical designs of the Motorama era, the 1956 Oldsmobile Golden Rocket looked like something out of an alternately interstellar and underwater sci-fi epic. Designed to look like a rocket, the car’s fiberglass body featured built-in bumpers, a 275-horsepower Rocket V8 (naturally) and weighed around 2,500 pounds. And it wasn’t just the outside that had a futuristic quality. The interior of the car was done up in blue and gold leather with a dash adorned by a two-spoked steering wheel and a center-mounted speedometer. Perhaps the most unique feature was the car’s ability to raise its roof panel when either door was opened, while the seat rose some three inches to swivel allowing for easy in and out for both passengers and the driver. After making a handful of appearances at other auto shows over the next several years, the Golden Rocket blasted out of the pages of history and hasn’t been heard from since.
1956 Pontiac Club de Mer
Created to celebrate GM’s commitment to increasingly futuristic styling and design, the 1956 Pontiac Club de Mer was yet another of the many innovative designs by Harley Earl. Borrowing concepts from Bonneville salt-flat racers, the Club de Mer featured a sleekly styled, low profile body (under 39 inches) and housed the then new V-8 engine—the 287 OHV—under the hood. This two-door roadster, like many of its peers, drew inspiration from aircraft design, utilizing a stainless steel “monocoque” body and largely smooth exterior for maximum aerodynamic efficiency. Plans to produce the Club de Mer were allegedly scrapped in 1958, per GM’s orders. While the car itself may no longer exist, an original ¼-scale model of the car is still in circulation, having changed hands at auction several times within the last few years.