The museum’s new “History of the Future Gallery” looks at mid-century concept cars and designs with an amazing collection of concept cars. Concept cars are merely prototype cars that are built to showcase new styling or technology and presented at prestigious car shows to elicit the public’s reaction.
The cars may eventually be built, with some changes, or not built at all. The ones that do make it to the production line seldom resemble the original concept. In fact, most production vehicles are radically different than the concept cars that were presented to the enthusiasts in the beginning.
The Petersen’s “History of the Future Gallery” displays three of the most exciting and unique concept cars, each from a major American Manufacturer, that allows us to take a look back at what the big three automakers thought the future would look like. Here are the three concept vehicles currently on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum:
1955 Chevrolet Biscayne XP-37:
The 1955 Biscayne was built by Chevrolet to showcase its new “Turbo-Fire” 265 cubic-inch V-8 engine and innovative features such as a panoramic windshield, rear suicide doors and swiveling front seats. Its futuristic styling cues would influence subsequent General Motors vehicles, including the Corvette, Corvair and Riviera.
This four-door, pillarless hardtop was billed as an “exploration in elegance” by GM and toured the nation in Chevy’s Motorama dream car for 1955. The Biscayne incorporated many of the Corvette design ideas, including featuring side covers on the rear quarters that appeared on the front fenders of the 1956 Corvette.
This concept car was long thought to be destroyed until noted car collector Joe Bortz’s son spotted the car in a photo printed in the Automobile Quarterly magazine. The photo was a shot of an auto scrap yard in Sterling Heights, Michigan. Bortz bought the car and began to retrieve all the pieces. With no drivetrain or chassis, he managed to find and assemble the car’s body parts that were scattered around the wrecking yard.
The concept car underwent a twenty-two year ground-up restoration by Bortz with help from the GM Technical Center, and was reintroduced to the public at the 2010 Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance. Needless to say, it was one of the highlights of the show.
1954 Plymouth Explorer by Ghia:
Like a majority of other Chrysler Corporation “dream cars” of the period, the sporty Plymouth Explorer was bodied by Carrozzeria Ghia in Turin, Italy. Its hand-formed coachwork was distinguished by carefully sculpted contours and accentuated by horizontal spears on the sides that were painted white to contrast with the striking metallic green body color. Interior features included leather upholstery, fitted luggage and concealed radio controls.
A 114-inch wheelbase Plymouth chassis that stood a mere 54-inches tall, the Plymouth Explorer was powered by a 230 cubic-inch Plymouth L-head (flathead) six-cylinder engine that pumped out a modest 110 horsepower. A Plymouth semi-automatic transmission completed the powertrain combination.
Debuting in the May 1954 Motor Trend magazine, the Explorer was also discovered by Joe Bortz in the late 1980’s. Located in Sweden, Bortz bought the car and shipped it back to the United States where Bortz Auto Collection had the restoration work completed back to original status.
1955 Mercury D-528 “Beldone”:
The D-528 was built to test advanced concepts in safety, lighting, air conditioning, and front frame design. The oddly designed hinged rear fender bulges were functional, concealing a spare tire on one side and a gas tank on the other.
Originally fitted with an experimental Y-block V8 with a two barrel carburetor, the two speed automatic – with overdrive – featured a separate frame with coil sprung suspension and four wheel drum brakes. The Beldone was built with a 120-inch wheelbase.
The extraordinary luggage capacity is obvious, and probably would have fit in well in the mid-fifties larger family car lifestyle. The large trunk also fit the large air conditioning evaporators required for the air conditioning system.
The hollow roof was shaped like a “T” that allowed the cold air from the evaporators to flow through the C-pliiars into the roof and exit through perforations in the headliner panels. The car also Featured a Pillarless windshield and reverse-sloping retractable rear window, it would likely have been well received, but the D-528 was an in-house research vehicle that was never seen publicly until its appearances in the Outer Limits television series and the 1964 Jerry Lewis movie The Patsy.
Article courtesy of Street Legal TV, written by Bobby Kimbrough.