5. Pontiac Bonneville Special (1954)
The Pontiac Bonneville Special was a purpose-built concept car unveiled at the General Motors Motorama in 1954, the first 2-seater sports car Pontiac ever produced. Designed by renowned designer Harley J. Earl and hand built by Hommer LaGassey and Paul Gilland, the Special was an experimental car, a two door, grand touring sport coupé that incorporated innovative breakthrough styling like an all-plexi canopy with gull-wing panels on a sleek fiberglass body. Two Special prototypes, one painted metallic bronze and one emerald green, were built with the intention of unveiling them simultaneously at the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf in New York and the Pan Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles in 1954.
The design of the Special drew its visual impetus from America’s fascination with aeronautic and rocket design in the 1950s, employing a wind-tunnel inspired profile and high-tech bright work throughout the body, hood and grill. Glass covered recessed headlights, like those on the 1953 Corvette, two rows of louvers on the fenders and twin “silver-streaks” on the hood that lead to functional air scoops were it’s most distinguishing features. The rear end styling was its most over-the-top visual cue. Featured between two rather bold fender fins were ultramodern twin exhaust chrome-ports, similar to today’s Porsches, and a custom spare tire enclosure with space-age wheel disc that gave the car a jet-powered appearance.
Interior styling in the Special was state of the art for its time, and indeed would pass muster against today’s computer-designed automobiles. The dashboard was a sleek, wing like design that incorporated a clean horizontal layout of working instruments that gave the interior a futuristic cockpit look. Even underneath the dash, the gauges were sealed in by a contoured metal facia with brushed finish, assuring by Earl that no detail would go unnoticed. Between unique, parabolic shaped, leather bucket seats lay a matching metal, center console with functionally modest gear shift handle, twin vent-control levers, and ignition key slot. Centered over the three spoke, Corvette-style steering wheel was a single, large speedometer that read a top speed of 120 mph.
As of 2006, both cars still exist, belonging to Joseph Bortz of Highland Park, IL. One of the 2 existing 1954 Bonneville Specials was last seen in 2006 Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction, selling for $2,800,000 (+8% commission).
4. De Lorean DMC-12 (1981)
The De Lorean DMC-12 is a sports car which was manufactured by the De Lorean Motor Company from 1981 through 1982. It is most commonly known as the De Lorean, as it was the only model ever produced by the company. The DMC-12 featured gull-wing doors with a brushed stainless steel body. It was famously featured in the Back to the Future trilogy.
The first prototype appeared in March 1977, and production officially began in 1981 at the DMC factory in Dunmurry, Northern Ireland. During its production, several aspects of the car were changed, such as the hood (bonnet) style, wheels and interior. At least 8,500 DMC-12s were made before production ended in 1982, and as of 2006, 6,000 are estimated to still exist.
Despite being produced in Northern Ireland, DMC-12s were primarily intended for the American market. Therefore, all of the production models were left-hand drive (designed to be driven on the right side of the road). Some of them were converted to right-hand drive by specialist mechanics in the United Kingdom, but no right-hand drive De Lorean was ever put into production, thus limiting the vehicle’s popularity in the United Kingdom.
3. Chrysler Thunderbolt (1941)
The year was 1941. Chrysler was a growing company and wanted to show the world that their technology and styling was up to date. Only six of these wild new cars were made and spread across the country for various shows. All of which had different trim and color schemes. It was nicknamed the “pushbutton car” because of its push button feature. A simple push of a button opened up the rear deck lid, doors, and windows without effort. The actual name “Thunderbolt” came from a land speed record car named the Thunderbolt. In 1938 at the Bonneville Salt Flats the twin Rolls-Royce 12 cylinder went an amazing 357.53 M.P.H.! It was then that Captain George Eyston granted Chrysler permission to use the name.
One of the most distinct things you will notice about the Thunderbolt is the slab sides, or smooth sides if you will. It does not have creases or bubbled out fenders. Aerodynamics was somewhat of a factor as much as looks itself. By designing and installing working “hide away” headlights, this car was definitely ahead of it’s time!! Lack of body molding and enclosed wheels from the fender skirts also aid in the aerodynamic appearance. Nothing special under the hood for the show cars is known. A 143 horsepower Chrysler 323.5 cubic inch inline eight cylinder engine mated to the Chrysler Fluid Drive transmission powered the vehicle. The actual platform used for this project was a 1940 Crown Imperial. It had very strong structural integrity as you can see from the lack of A pillars. There are only 4 of the original 6 known to still exist.
2. GM Futurliner Parade of Progress (1950)
One of 12 built by GM, a self-contained display and transport vehicle created by the GM design staff under Harley Earl’s direction. Opening side, lighting, retractable stage, distinctive center “cupola” cockpit driving position and dual wheel front axle. Used in the “Parade of Progress” touring exhibit created by “Boss” Kettering that complemented the GM “Motoramas” from 1940 through 1956.
One of only three survivors restored in their original “Parade of Progress” configuration (the others are in long term ownership by NATMUS and Peter Pan Bus Lines), this Futurliner is fully functional and has toured Canada in corporate promotions. Recently returned to its original “Parade of Progress” configuration and colors. Powered by a 400ci GM truck engine and fully equipped including an onboard motor-generator and updated air conditioning for the driver’s compartment. A matchless symbol of the American auto industry at the height of its power and influence. One of them was restored in Montreal, Quebec Canada and sold for $4.1 million us at the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction in Jan, 2006.
1. Chevrolet Corvette (1953)
The Corvette was America’s first two-seat sports car. The outer body was made out of a revolutionary new composite material called fiberglass, selected in part because of steel quotas left over from the war. Underneath that radical new body were standard Chevrolet components, including the “Blue Flame” inline six-cylinder truck engine, two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission, and drum brakes from Chevrolet’s regular car line. Though the engine’s output was increased somewhat, thanks to a triple-carburetor intake exclusive to the Corvette, performance of the car was decidedly lackluster.
In 1954, sales were still low, and GM was seriously considering shelving the project, but the influence of a Soviet emigré in GM’s engineering department, Zora Arkus-Duntov, changed all. Arkus-Duntov simply took the new V8 and backed it with a three-speed manual transmission. That modification, probably the single most important in the car’s history, helped turn the Corvette from a two-seat curiosity into a genuine performer. It also earned Arkus-Duntov the rather inaccurate nickname “Father of the Corvette.”