As mid-century America grew, so did its appetite for shiny new things. Today, we’re going to look at a car that, while it wasn’t a driver, drove the look of its brand for years to come.
A Future Full of Potential
World War II put consumer consumption on hold. When the darkest days of the 20th Century finally ended, there was an explosion in buying due to the pent up demand. One sector that enjoyed the fruits of this was the auto makers, who brought out newer and flashier cars seemingly every October. The largest contributor to this design and engineering paroxysm was General Motors, who staged their traveling Motorama exhibitions from 1949 until 1961, showcasing their wild dream cars. With features like turbine engines, joystick steering, and bubble canopies that no A/C unit could compensate for, many of the cars were whimsical looks at a future full of potential. Having just entered the Jet Age, the styling attributes of many of the Motorama cars could have been pulled directly off of an air force base. One Motorama car that wasn’t an example of this avian flu was the 1955 Chevrolet Biscayne. Despite eschewing the fins and rocket exhaust memes, it still resembled nothing on the road at the time.
The Biscayne was designed, like a Buff and Hensmen home, with a minimalist’s eye. The car is low, the “stratospheric” windshield and pillar-less greenhouse provide uncompromised visibility and an airy cabin, and a subtlety that was lacking in many of its Motorama brethren.
Corvette influence is evident in the Biscayne’s styling, however not ’55 Vette, but ’61, with four round lights and under a wrap-around accent line. The nose also presages a number of later Corvette styling cues, but there are also elements of Corvair in the design. In fact, the styling of the Biscayne stands as one the most prescient of GM’s Motorama show cars.
While the styling of the Biscayne was fully realized, it was but a facade, because though the car had some unique features, such as swiveling front seats and suicide rear doors, most of it just isn’t there. The car lacks side windows, as well as their mechanisms. The instruments are dummies, and the structure is nothing more than a fiberglass shell on a roller chassis, lacking such essentials as a fuel tank and conventional battery.
Despite its lack of full development, the Biscayne was an important contributor to the Chevrolet styling dialog for the next decade following its debut. But that’s not to say it was treated with the respect it deserved after it service on the auto show circuit was over.
An Ignominious Fate and a Last Reprieve
Near the end of 1956, the Biscayne, along with three other Motorama show cars that had out-lived their usefulness, were delivered to a suburban Detroit junkyard for cutting and crushing. The Warhoops yard received the Chevy, two La Salle show cars, and the Cadillac Eldorado Brougham for disposal. The GM rep who was to oversee the cars’ destruction was eager to get home for the holidays and only stayed long enough to watch the Biscayne lose its doors- figuring the yard would finish the job under his orders to “crush ‘em”. But the yard’s owner felt that the cars were too special to destroy and squirreled them away at Warhoops, where they all sat for the next 30 or so years.
In the late ‘80s car collector Joe Bortz came across the Biscayne after his son showed him a picture taken of it in the ‘70s, and posited the question as to whether it still might be there. Bortz’s reputation preceded him and he struck a deal with Warhoop to buy all four of the GM Motorama cars.
For the next 16 years, the Biscayne sat untouched, but in 2005 Bortz began a restoration. The original frame had long ago rotted away and required replacement. Also, much of the car had been disassembled at Warhoops and required reassembly.
The Past is Preserved for the Future
The shots on the lawn are from the 2008 Pebble Beach Concours d’ Elegance, where the work-in-progress Biscayne shared the stage with Motorama cars from all years, including two of its brothers from its days at Warhoops. There’s still lots to be done, but it’s good to know that such an important piece of American automotive history was recognized as such all those years ago, and is now in the hands of someone with the knowledge and passion that will make sure it stays so for years to come.