The 2023 Cadillac Fall Festival celebration of GM’s Fifties Motorama is pleased to display several unique cars that GM produced during this decade to highlight its design leadership and innovation.
1951 Buick LeSabre
Arguably the most important concept car, it introduced Harley Earl’s fascination with and incorporation of jet aircraft design elements into automotive design. The LeSabre was
designed to be driven and was Earl’s personal car for several years. It was powered by a supercharged 215 CID V-8 that ran on either gas or methanol delivering its power to the ground through an unusually placed rear-mounted transmission. The fuels were stored in separate tanks mounted in the rear fenders. In addition to its jet inspired
design, it featured many advanced features including a 12-volt electrical system, heated seats, center-mounted headlights concealed by the oval jet intake, front bumper
dagmars, rain-sensing activated power top and chassis-mounted electric lifting jacks. The unique body used aluminum, magnesium and fiberglass.
General Motors Firebirds
GM began studying the feasibility of gas turbine engine power in the 1940s. Harley Earl’s fascination with aircraft design led to creation of three concept cars identified with
the logo of General Motors Air Transport Section to showcase GM’s technology and design innovations in the 1950s.
Firebird I was essentially a jet airplane on wheels. It was the first gas turbine-powered operable car in the United States. The design features a bubble canopy over a single-seat cockpit, a bullet-shaped fiberglass fuselage, short wings, and a vertical tail fin. It is powered by a 370 hp Whirlfire Turbo Power gas turbine engine, which has two speeds.
The 100-inch wheelbase car weighs just 2,500 pounds. Slowing the car is accomplished using drums outside the wheels and flaps on the wings. It has been driven at speeds up to 100mph and more including on the Indianapolis Speedway.
The 1956 Firebird II is a low and wide four-seat, family car with two large air intakes at the front, a high bubble canopy top, and a vertical tail fin. Its exterior bodywork is made entirely of titanium. The engine output is 200 hp and feeds it exhaust through a regenerative system to control the engine’s extreme exhaust heat and to power the car’s accessories. This car was the first use of four-wheel disc brakes by GM. The car rode on a fully independent suspension and featured a non-operational guidance system intended for use with "the highway of the future," where an electrical wire embedded in the roadway would send signals to help guide cars and avoid accidents.
The Firebird III debuted at the 1959 Motorama. The two-seat concept car featured a fiberglass body with a double-bubble canopy, seven short wings and tail fins. It is powered by a 225 hp Whirlfire GT-305 gas turbine engine, with a two-cylinder 10 hp gasoline engine to power all the accessories. Its special features included air conditioning, cruise control, anti-lock brakes and air drag brakes like those found on aircraft to slow the car from high speeds. Futuristic features included an "ultra-sonic" key that signaled the doors to open, an automated guidance system to help avoid accidents, and a "no hold" steering system. The driver steered the car using a joystick positioned between the two seats.
1956 Buick Century X
This special Buick was ordered by Bill Mitchell who succeeded Harley Earl as head of GM Design was customized with 225 modifications under GM Shop Order # 90022. The nailhead V-8 was fitted with one of three special manifolds mounting 4 Carter sidedraft carburetors also used on Buick’s 1954 Wildcat II and 1955 Wildcat III. Mounted on Mitchell’s signature red chassis with red wheel wells with Skylark wire wheels, the engine’s dual exhaust exited through the rocker panels. Highlighting the many modifications was a custom interior with 8-way power swivel bucket seats, power head rests, and a Corvette tachometer. Special lighting included ground effects lighting when the doors opened and driving lights in the bumperettes. The car also had a tonneau cover and modified Eldorado parade boot.
1959 Cadillac Cyclone
The Cyclone was among the last cars designed under the direction of GM Design Vice President Harley Earl. Featuring Cadillac-style tailfins, sliding doors and a one-piece clear plastic coated with vaporized silver to deflect the sun’s rays canopy top. The top opened to enter and disappeared into the rear deck for storage. It featured a front-mounted 390 CID engine with exhaust exiting just ahead of the front wheels, rear-mounted automatic transaxle, and an all-wheel
independent suspension. The car was a testbed for futuristic styling and advanced technology including a Doppler-based
proximity warning system that warned the driver with both an audible signal and warning light of objects in its path. Bill Mitchell updated the design in 1964 by reducing the fin size for a more streamlined look.
2022 Cadillac CELESTIQ Prototype
The CELESTIQ show car compliments this year’s celebration of GM’s Fifties Motorama as it harks back to the 1957-58 limited production Eldorado Brougham. The limited production CELESTIQ will be available to purchase beginning in 2024. Hand built at GM’s Tech Center, the car is all wheel drive powered by two electric motors supplied by GM’s Ultium battery with a combined output of 600 hp and 640 lb-ft of torque enabling 0-60 mph in 3.8 seconds.
The CELESTIQ’s extroverted styling builds on the CIEL, ELMIRAJ, and ESCALA concept cars that have appeared at previous Fall Festivals. It features a smart-glass roof, dash-width touchscreen, multilink adaptive air suspension and steerable rear wheels. Supported by a cast aluminum chassis, body panels are a mix of carbon fiber and sheet molded composite. The front design mirrors that of the Cadillac LYRIQ with headlamps that display a startup sequence to welcome the driver. Each car will be customized for the customer’s wishes for exterior and interior colors, trim materials, and finishes.