General Motors Motorama 1950s
They weren’t concept cars or show cars. They were dream cars. That was what Harley Earl, General Motors’ styling chief, called these blindingly bright visions of the future. That vision and its reflection, realized at GM’s Motorama, still fires the imagination. In essence, the Motorama was an all-GM car show with an emphasis on “show.” The signature setting was New York’s Waldorf-Astoria, although it traveled the country with stops in Boston, Miami, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. The Motorama tour of 1956, with five days of shows in each of five cities over the course of four months, was the work of hundreds of stage hands, actors, singers, musicians, technicians, and producers, the matériel packed onto 125 tractor trailers. The cost to mount the ’56 edition of Motorama was estimated at $10 million ($79 million in today’s dollars), which is no small investment, even for the biggest, most successful company in the world.The value of the endeavor was realized in the huge throngs who waited hours to get a glimpse of the dream cars and the production models that Earl and his minions had created. With more than two million in attendance, this was an elemental exercise in viral marketing. Earl’s own larger-than-life theatrical style was reflected in the Motorama productions, films, and displays, but those dream cars were the real draw. The Motorama was memorable for most who attended, and life-changing for at least one. Zora Arkus-Duntov went to the Waldorf in January of 1953, and so taken was he with the Corvette prototype that he wrote a letter to chevrolets’s R&D director, Maurice Olley, lauding the design and suggesting improvements. Soon thereafter, Olley hired him, and Arkus-Duntov moved to Detroit. He would spend nearly twenty years fostering the Corvette’s performance.Ultimately, the Motoramas outlived their usefulness. Television advertising proved to be more cost-effective, and there also were nagging concerns about the competition. Admission to the Motorama was free, and picture taking was encouraged – a sweet deal for ford and chryslers operatives who only had to wait in line to get the skinny on GM’s future offerings. By 1961, the idea had run its course. The last Motoramas displayed no dream cars; the focus was on glitzed-up production models, the designs for many of which had been influenced by Motorama dream cars of earlier years.