GM’s Futurliner: Taking the promise of tomorrow to 1950s America
One look is all it takes to see that General Motors Futurliner No. 10 matters. This immensely impressive “Parade of Progress” veteran also meets all of the historical criteria for listing on the National Historic Vehicle Register (NHVR). On January 22, 2015, it became just the sixth vehicle so honored, and it will become the first truck to be recorded under the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Heritage Documentation. The documentation will be part of the NHVR and the Historic American Engineering Record that is permanently archived in the Library of Congress.
Legendary GM research guru Charles F. Kettering first suggested a motorized tour of World’s Fair-like scientific and futuristic exhibits in 1933. His vision became a reality in 1936, when GM launched a traveling “circus of science” that demonstrated how industrial research improved the American way of life “through better products and processes.”
In 1941, GM debuted an expanded “Parade of Progress.” At its core were 12 new custom haulers called “Futurliners,” with design overseen by Harley Earl and body assembly by the Fleetwood Fisher Body division. Each Futurliner rode on a 248-inch wheelbase chassis built by Yellow Truck & Coach Manufacturing.
Eight feet wide and 33 feet long, the Futurliners weighed nearly 12 tons each. They had dual wheels front and rear, and the driver sat high above the ground in a central “cockpit” accessed by a stairway. Massive side doors opened to reveal portable stages and displays.
Two months after the 1941 tour ended, Pearl Harbor sidelined the Parade of Progress. It remained on hiatus until 1952, when GM President Harlow Curtice recomissioned the caravan.
Refurbished, slightly modified in appearance and converted from diesel to gasoline power, the Futurliners took to the road anew in 1953. For three years, they toured the U.S. and Canada. By July 1956, however, the crowds had dwindled, and the caravan put on its last show. Soon after, the Futurliners were sold off.
Post-GM, Futurliner No. 10 served as a promotional vehicle for several businesses. In the late 1980s, it was one of five ragged Futurliners obtained as a group by Chicago dream car collector Joe Bortz. In 1992, the Bortz Auto Collection donated Futurliner No. 10 to the National Automotive and Truck Museum of the United States (NATMUS) in Auburn, Indiana.
A volunteer group headed by Michigander Don Mayton restored No. 10 for NATMUS. Since its completion in 2005, the spectacular Futurliner has been exhibited extensively and is always a crowd favorite. (NATMUS has recently modified its facility to display No. 10 inside the museum when it is not touring.)
Ahead of the Futurliner’s NHVR induction, Bortz said, “The Futurliners represented the sky’s-the-limit optimism of the post-war American dream. It’s wonderful that the Register is making it possible for vehicles like this to be officially recognized as the national treasures they truly are.”