Historic GM Futurliner Offered For Sale
Historians will credit the GM Futurliner among Harley Earl’s greatest designs. After all, would the Buick Y-Job or the 1953 Buick Skylark Convertible be worth $4 million? But a GM Futurliner from the Parade of Progress has already set that mark at the Barrett-Jackson Auction. It happened twice, in 2006 and 2015.
American Classics & Hot Rods has posted this 1939 GM Futurliner for sale for their client. (Tap this link to see their ad page and more photos.) It is Futurliner No. 3 for those collectors who follow these rare GM exhibition vehicles. One of only twelve such GM Futurliners built, it became an exhibition bus for GM’s Parade of Progress. The Parade of Progress was a traveling show promoting future cars and technologies. Currently there are only nine of the GM Futurliner display buses known to exist. This one may be the most complete example.
Some of our readers will remember when this 1939 GM Futurliner was restored by Kindig-It Designs on the reality TV show “Bitchin Rides.” Many of the TV episodes can be found on YouTube today. Kindig-It Designs believes it is the most authentically complete restoration of a GM Futurliner. It comes highly documented.
The 1939 GM Futurliner is one of the five Futurliners once owned by Joe Bortz, a car collector extraordinaire and night club owner from the Chicago area. Bortz said he bought all five of the Futurliners from a restaurateur who had saved them for posterity. No. 3 was offered at the Worldwide Auction in Auburn, Indiana during the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Festival in 2011.
The current owner approached Kindig-It Designs, a restoration shop in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2013 to do the restoration on this 1939 GM Futurliner. They estimate it took about 14 months to complete with delivery in 2014.
GM Futurliner Promotes Space Age Technologies
General Motors Corporation introduced the GM Futurliner at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. From 1940 to 1941 before the war, and again in 1953-1956, GM’s Parade of Progress featured the Futurliners in a promotional caravan across the United States and Canada. They made 150 stops along the way. A team of newly graduated college students drove the Futurliners, along with 32 support vehicles. They also manned the exhibitions along the route.
The side panel on each of the Futurliners opens outward revealing a stage. Each one also had a light tower which would elevate over the vehicle. Exhibits covered topics such as jet engine technology, agriculture, traffic engineering, stereo sound, microwave ovens, television and other innovations. In 1955, GM built a miniature automobile assembly line display named “A Car is Born.” That became the diorama display inside one of the Futurliners.
The early versions of the GM Futurliner came with a Detroit Diesel 4-71 four-cylinder engine, four-speed manual transmission, and dual wheels front and rear. That configuration was used in 1940 and 1941. Then GM’s preparation for World War II temporarily brought the Parade of Progress to an end. When the Parade of Progress resumed in 1953, GM equipped the Futurliners with a new military grade 302 ci straight six cylinder engine and an automatic transmission.
The fascination with which the collector car community regards the GM Futurliner is facade of that time in history. It was a time before the TV set brought instant video news into your living room. It combined the hurly burly of a circus with the promise of an amazing space age future. That kind of magic will always be forever connected to the “amazing” GM Futurliner.
I saw the Ron Pratte Futurliner in 2006 at the Barrett-Jackson Auction when Pratte first bought the big cyclops eye bus. Saw it again in 2015 when he sold it for charity. Barrett-Jackson pulled out all the stops on both of those sales. It was an exciting thing to watch inside the auction tent.
There was a GM Motorama Futurliner at the NATMUS museum in Auburn, Indiana. I also saw one at Iola quite a few years ago. Incredible vehicle.