Joe Bortz, a retired entrepreneur from Highland Park, Ill., on his 1953 Buick Wildcat I concept car:
The idea of the concept car is generally credited to Harley Earl, head of General Motors design, who came up with it in the 1930's as a tool to lure spectators at auto shows and to try out new styling cues. Most of the time, only one of each model was made. Concept cars were so successful that other Detroit manufacturers made their own. It became a contest, resulting in some of the finest pieces of mobile sculpture that have ever existed.
It was understood that, because these cars weren’t tested for safety, they wouldn’t be sold to the public. Lawyers demanded that they be destroyed. For designers, it was like van Gogh having his finest work ripped up in front of him. As the story goes, executives let some designers take the cars home. They’d say, “Put it in your garage and don’t take it out until after I’m dead.” And so some of these cars are out there today.
The 1953 Buick Wildcat I, designed under Earl’s leadership, was part of GM’s Motorama show—a traveling exhibition that featured concept cars—and it was a wild success. Unlike some concept cars, it was fully operational, with working gauges, radio and power windows. In my opinion, it’s one of the top five concept cars of all time.
As a kid, I ogled concept cars at auto shows. As a collector, I’ve probably owned 40. It feels like a miracle.
We’ve only ever come across one post-Parade mention of the Streamliners, in Fred Crismon’s U.S. Military Wheeled Vehicles, which notes that the above Streamliner, photographed in 1941 at Fort Holabird, had been purchased by an unspecified Georgia community and donated to the Army, which converted it into a mobile stage “for use in putting on USO-type shows at Army camps.”
What ultimately happened to it and the other seven Streamliners at this point is anybody’s guess. A lot of metal went into the Streamliners, and they likely racked up plenty of miles in their three-year tour, so it’s conceivable they were all scrapped. However, as we can infer from the Fort Holabird Army Streamliner, GM tried to find buyers for the Streamliners, so it’s also conceivable some were repurposed, perhaps as moving vans or motorhomes, or possibly rebodied with stock GMC cabs. It’s unlikely, but perhaps one or two might still be out there, a half-rusted away reminder of a time when giants rolled the highways.
UPDATE (11.December 2014): Picked up this photo of one of the Streamliners in my online travels.