More radical concept and dream cars would come along with exotic drivetrains, impossible bubbletops, technology out of sci-fi comic books, and outer-space styling, but few showed a more precise vision of the immediate future than the 1953 Buick Wildcat dream car. While that future has long since passed, the Wildcat remains around today and will go on display at next year’s Buick Nationals.
Perhaps because it was designed and built under the supervision of Buick chief engineer Ned Nickles and not under the supervision of an advanced styling studio, the two-seater Wildcat – which Buick introduced at the inaugural 1953 Motorama show at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City alongside the Chevrolet Corvette, Pontiac Parisienne, Oldsmobile Starfire X-P Rocket, and Cadillac Le Mans – showcased a little more restraint in its styling. Its wraparound windshield had already seen limited production on the Cadillac Eldorado and Oldsmobile Fiesta; its proto-tailfins hardly rose any higher than those introduced by Cadillac four years prior; its 188hp 322-cu.in. V-8 was new for 1953, but no more powerful than that in the production Buick Skylark; and its general styling would go on to appear on 1954 Buicks.
The big advancement on the Wildcat – the one that Buick made so much ado about in its press materials and Motorama brochures – was its fiberglass body, but even that was shared with the Corvette and Starfire X-P. Buick noted that the use of fiberglass shortened the amount of time it took for a car design to progress from sketch to production and “afford(ed) an opportunity to ‘pre-test’ the motorists’ reaction to various styling features.” Indeed, as David W. Temple wrote in his book GM’s Motorama, styling studios were just beginning to make use of fiberglass at about that time, and Chevrolet executives had intended to put the Corvette into production with a steel body until the demand created by showing it at the Motorama led them to scratch that next step and go ahead with a fiberglass body.
And perhaps because the concept seemed so grounded, not only did Buick appear to build two Wildcats, executives in Lansing also considered putting the Wildcat into production. The first Wildcat – which debuted at the Waldorf-Astoria painted black, but then appeared a month later in Miami and thereafter painted white – used covered rear wheels and a convertible top that disappeared under a hinged lid behind the seats; but photos of a second white-painted Wildcat show it with a hardtop and Skylark-style rear wheel openings. Then, as Temple noted, Motor Trend reported that – after the Corvette, which had already been slated for production before the Motorama – the Wildcat would be the next 1953 Motorama car to reach production, though bodied in steel. One can only presume that, when it came to halo cars, the Skylark sufficed for Buick customers and executives.
Buick would follow up the Wildcat with the Wildcat II and Wildcat III show cars (leading many to refer to the original as the Wildcat I) and, according to collector Joe Bortz, put the 1953 Wildcat out to pasture by either selling or giving it to one of the designers who worked on it. That designer then sold it to a collector in Detroit, “who never did anything with it,” Bortz said. “It was very rough. The windshield was off the car and twisted like a pretzel, and it was all apart.”
Still, almost everything unique to the car – including the heavily chromed, porcelainized, and smoothed V-8 engine, its original interior, and much of its trim- remained with it, so Bortz bought it in about 1985 or 1986 and commissioned a full restoration, which wrapped up later in the 1980s.
As for the second Wildcat, Bortz noted that one theory holds that Buick only made one Wildcat and that the open-wheel hardtop version preceded the closed-wheel convertible version. However, he said that during the restoration he never saw any evidence that the skirted area over the rear wheels wasn’t original to his car. In addition, while he only had one of the two Roto-Static stationary hubcaps unique to the Wildcats when the restoration on his began (he had a second replicated), several years later another enthusiast approached him with a matching pair of Roto-Static hubcaps, reportedly found in the 1960s in a Detroit-area junkyard.
Since restoring the Wildcat I, Bortz has showed it at a number of events, including the 2008 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the 2010 Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance and the 2013 Geneva Concours d’Elegance. Next year, he plans to show it once more at the 2015 Buick Club of America National Meet, which will take place June 10-14 at the Ramada Plaza Hotel in Springfield, Missouri. For more information on the BCA National Meet, visit BuickClub.org.
In addition, Bortz said that he will display his two Motorama La Salles and the Brooks Stevens-designed Valkyrie at the Cadillac and LaSalle Club’s Grand National, which is scheduled to take place June 24-27 in Brookfield, Wisconsin. For more information on the CLC Grand National, visit CadillacLaSalleClub.org.
Article courtesy of Hemmings Daily, written by Daniel Strohl.