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Cars You Should Know: 1955 Chevy Biscayne Motorama Showcar

Robert Emslie October 23, 2009 Cars You Should Know, Nostalgia 16 Comments

BiscayneAs 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.

Biscane2
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.

Images: [Andre LE ROUX Site, www.autoweteran.gower.pl via carstyling.ru]

  • Brian

    Wow! I see Corvette/vair AND suicide doors! So. Much. Win. …

  • Man, you’re right. This reminds me of so many of it’s descendants, I doubt I could list them all. It’s a good thing it wasn’t crushed, love the fact that it ended up being preserved and is still around. Nice article.

  • bzr

    I really wish cool, multi-curved windshields would make a comeback.

    Also, the front end looks like a Frogeye Sprite with a Hannibal Lector mask.

  • Charles_Barrett

    “Introducing the 1955 Corvette Panamera…”

    • Charles_Barrett

      Oh come on…! Like none of you see a stretch, four-seat mid-fifties Corvette in this baby? Just like Porsche, Chevy figured that two seats were market limiting. So here comes a 2+2 to broaden appeal.

  • Number_Six

    Corvair butt seems to originate here.

  • TexanIdiot25

    Good thing the design as a whole was never used, only it’s elements. It looks like a Sprite

  • joshuman

    I just found a very unsettling corner of the Intertubes. It’s tangentially related to the massive grill on the Biscayne. The first post even sports a Florida Gators theme.

    http://www.seemygrill.com/Louisiana/New_Orleans/

    • Bwahahahahaha.

      “Top Hoods:
      6. Toronto.”

      Toronto is not a “hood”, anymore than Vancouver or Edmonton. It’s like a small child who’s pretending to be Snoop Dogg.

      A comedian once said that Montreal and Toronto are like two brothers. They love each other, but one is a hard-drinking, hard-partying, womanizing, food-loving, music-loving socialite… and the other is an accountant. When Toronto tries to say it’s a “hood”, it reminds me of Weird Al’s “White ‘n’ Nerdy”.

  • iheartstiggie

    I love this car. I would love it more if the horn said, “Arg Nar Nom nom nom!” instead of nothing.

    Great article. I’m a huge fan of amazing finds like this. Too bad so many others DID get mashed.

  • superbadd75 haz not mastered teh interwebz.

    You can definitely see multiple cars in the design of this concept. Obviously the Bugeye (or Frogeye, WTF ever) Sprite, Corvair, and ’62 ‘Vette are all evident. One other thing stands out to me when I look at the grill though. What do you think?

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