After 55 Years, GM Futurliner Returns Food Lion AutoFair!
A GM Futurliner display bus that visited Charlotte in 1953 as part of General Motors' forward-looking Parade of Progress will make its return during the April 3-6 Food Lion AutoFair at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
One of only 12 built, GM Futurliner No. 10 has been meticulously restored and is the most authentic of the nine surviving buses that were crafted for the Parade of Progress under the guidance of legendary designer Harley Earl.
Now owned by the National Automotive and Truck Museum in Auburn, Ind., the Futurliner will be the most valuable vehicle ever shown at Food Lion AutoFair. As is the case with many antique automobiles, the Futurliner's exact value is unknown, but one of its sister vehicles, GM Futurliner No. 11, sold for $4 million during a Barrett-Jackson auction in 2006.
The GM Futurliner will be on display Saturday, April 5, as part of the Antique Automobile Club of America National Meet.
In 1936, to generate enthusiasm for science and technology, General Motors launched its Parade of Progress-a caravan of eight specially built Streamliner trucks, nine tractor-trailer rigs, six current GM-brand cars and numerous support vehicles.
The Streamliners' cargo holds were loaded with audience-thrilling demonstrations of photoelectric cells, oscilloscopes, strobe lighting and examples of fun with electricity that are today considered standard science projects for middle school students. Staff and vehicles would move from town to town on a fixed schedule, the Parade stretching more than two miles in length with a top speed of around 40 mph.
On arrival, the 50 men-all carefully selected college graduates from a cross-section of the population-put on overalls and spent two days erecting a huge, circus-like tent and parking each bus and car according to specific corporate guidelines. Once all displays were in place, most of the men dressed in suits and became lecturers.
Townspeople, alerted to the free shows by postcards and advertisements from their local Chevrolet, Cadillac, LaSalle, Buick, Oldsmobile and Pontiac dealers, attended these four- and five-day events by the thousands. Although its cars were not specifically promoted during the Parades, GM received so much positive publicity that the company re-tooled its tour in 1941.
After logging one million miles and visiting 250 cities in six years, the Streamliners were replaced by a dozen Futurliners that, at 33 feet bumper-to-bumper and a curb weight of 12.5 tons, made the earlier buses look like economy models.
For inspiration, Earl, GM's head automotive stylist, pointed his designers to the French Style Moderne (what we today call Art Deco), a philosophy that had run its course in Europe, but was on the cutting edge in America.
In keeping with the theme of progress, the red-and-white Futurliners had many futuristic features, such as bubble-top canopies that offered the center-seated drivers 180 degrees of visibility, 18-foot-long light bars that lifted from the roof for nighttime illumination and giant clamshell side doors that hinged upward to reveal individual displays.
GM's transformation to war production at the end of 1942 put the Futurliners into mothballs, where they remained for more than a decade. In April of 1953, GM kicked off a 148-city Parade in Lexington, Ky., with the Futurliners receiving basic maintenance, a few modifications-such as an opaque roof to reduce heat buildup in the cockpit-and new displays before hitting the road.
The Parade of Progress made its 25th stop for 1953 in Charlotte on Friday, Nov. 27, the day after Thanksgiving and at the tail end of the city's week-long Carolinas Carrousel celebration. According to The Charlotte Observer, 28 support vehicles and 10 Futurliners reached the city limits on highway 29 at 10 a.m. and received a police escort along Dalton Avenue, Graham Street, Morehead Street and Independence Boulevard before arriving at Independence Park.
The paper reports the Parade's advance crew was already at the park setting the Aerodome tent's framework in place, which trimmed setup time to a single day. Gates opened the next day at 2 p.m., as scheduled, to a "near-capacity crowd." The 54 men spent their nights at the high-rise William R. Barringer Hotel while in Charlotte, then pointed the big Futurliners toward Columbia, S.C., early Wednesday morning.
As it did with so many other quaint, early 20th century American traditions, television killed the Parade of Progress. GM's marketers realized they could reach potential customers for pennies a head through television, versus the much more expensive proposition of keeping a traveling show on the road for years at a time. The Parade made its final public appearance in Spokane, Wash., on June 28, 1956.
Most Parade staffers were absorbed into other GM departments. As for the Futurliners, there was no market for Art Deco buses with a million miles on their odometers and almost no spare parts. GM slowly gave away, or cheaply sold, the dozen Futurliners with No. 10 eventually finding its way to the National Automotive and Truck Museum.
Don Mayton, a 41-year GM veteran living in Beaverdam, Mich., coordinated a group of 100 volunteers over seven years to return No. 10 to its original condition. The restored Futurliner debuted in 2003 at the GM Tech Center in Detroit. True to its purpose, No. 10 has been touring the country ever since.
The spring Food Lion AutoFair annually attracts more than 160,000 visitors. It features more than 50 car club displays; more than 10,000 vendor spaces that offer a plethora of automotive parts and memorabilia; and a collector car auction conducted by Tom Mack. More than 1,500 collectible vehicles of all makes and models will be available for sale in the car corral that rings the 1.5-mile superspeedway.
Food Lion AutoFair hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., on Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults while children 12 and under are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Parking for the event is $5.
For information, contact the Lowe's Motor Speedway events department at (704) 455-3205 or visit us online.