Key to the Future

Published by The Bee News

August 15, 2023

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The 1956 GM Motorama had a theme of “Key to the Future”, which depicted a family’s journey through time and space to see how cars would evolve. The legacy of that vision is on display today at Findlay Chevrolet and GMC in Bullhead City, Arizona. It is also made manifest in the futuristic Detroit-Hamtramck Factory ZERO assembly plant for Chevrolet Silverado trucks.

And as with the Motorama of the 1950s, Chevrolet is providing a glimpse of the future. The company, working with technology partners like EVgo and Qmerit, which provides home EV charger installation services, is currently developing the largest public EV fast-charging network in the nation. .

The General Motors Motorama was the foundation for the company’s innovation and marketing in the mid 20th century. It was a series of spectacular auto shows that showcased the latest innovations and designs from GM. But the Motorama was no mere car show. It became a cultural phenomenon that captured the imagination and aspirations of millions of Americans.

The GM Motorama was the brainchild of Harley Earl, the legendary head of GM’s styling department. Earl was a visionary who understood the power of design in generating sales. He wanted to create a show that would dazzle the public with futuristic concept cars and glamorous production models, and also demonstrate GM’s technological leadership and diversity.

The first Motorama was held in 1949 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, under the name “Transportation Unlimited Autorama”. It featured seven special Cadillacs, including the stylish Fleetwood Coupe de Ville, which would become a production model in 1950. The show was a huge success, attracting nearly 600,000 visitors in New York and at the Boston show.

And that led to the Motorama becoming an annual event that traveled to different cities across the country. Each year the show featured new and exciting concept cars, such as the Buick Wildcat, the Chevrolet Corvette, the Oldsmobile F-88, the Pontiac Strato Star, and the Cadillac Cyclone. These cars were designed to showcase advanced technologies, such as fiberglass bodies, gas turbine engines, electronic controls, bubble canopies, and radar sensors. Some of these technologies would later find their way into production models or influence future designs.

The Motorama also featured production models from each of GM’s divisions: Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, and Cadillac. These cars were displayed in elaborate settings that reflected their personalities and target markets. For example, the 1953 Chevrolet Bel Air was shown in a suburban garden with a barbecue grill and a picnic table. The 1956 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham was shown in a Parisian street scene with a sidewalk cafe and a fashion show. The Motorama aimed to create a lifestyle image for each car and appeal to different segments of customers.

The Motorama was also a theatrical production that involved music, dance, and drama. Each show had a theme and a storyline that connected the cars and the settings. For example, the 1954 Motorama had a theme of “Design for Dreaming”, which followed the dreams of a young woman who traveled to different places and saw different cars. The Motorama shows were designed to entertain and inspire the audience with a vision of progress and possibility.

The Motorama had a huge impact on automotive marketing and culture. It created a buzz around GM’s products and generated millions of leads for dealers. It stimulated public interest in new technologies and trends, such as jet propulsion, space exploration, and atomic energy. It reflected the optimism and prosperity of postwar America, as well as its challenges and anxieties. But most importantly for the company, the Motorama was a symbol of GM’s dominance and innovation in the automotive industry.

The last Motorama was held in 1961, as GM decided to focus on more cost-effective and mass-media advertising methods. However, the legacy of the Motorama lives on in the memories of those who attended, the cars that it showcased, and in the vehicles on dispaly at Findlay Chevrolet and GMC. The Motorama dream cars that have survived into the 21st century are still admired by collectors and enthusiasts today, as they represent some of the most creative and visionary designs ever produced by GM.

Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America

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