Like several other automakers, General Motors maintains a collection of some of its most historic vehicles, however, GM’s collection is not open to the public. The location of this collection is known as the General Motors Heritage Center and it was established in 2004 as the result of a decision by GM to consolidate all the historic vehicles that existed throughout the company into a single collection. Prior to developing this corporate heritage fleet, each vehicle division maintained its own history. The total collection comprises more than 600 vehicles, each one representing an important GM milestone or innovation. Each one is special in some way. The Heritage Center showroom features up to about 165 vehicles at a time, and the rest are on show elsewhere, in storage or undergoing maintenance.
While I can not post about all 600 cars I can tell you about several of them that I know about. So, I will start of with the first car you see when you walk into the Heritage Center which is a 1963 Chevrolet II Nova SS. I have seen this car in its original condition as well as various modified versions and I am always impressed every time I see one.
Behind the closed doors of the GM Heritage Center there is a vast display of iconic GM production and concept vehicles, such as the 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible, which featured the highest fins of any car during the be-finned 1950s. This car represents the epitome of a classic ’50’s cruiser that made you feel like you were riding on a cloud going down the road.
Mixed in with all the production cars at the GM Heritage Center is an exceptional assortment of concept cars spanning more than six decades. One of these concept automobiles is the 1962 Corvair Monza GT.
Was this to have been the car that would be utilized to create a mid-engine Corvette? No one will ever know but you can definitely see hints of what was to come for the Corvette starting in 1968.
One of the most popular vehicles from GM is the Corvette. Every generation of this sports car can be seen from a mile away due to it’s styling. This 1969 Manta Ray concept (from the GM Heritage Center) took the styling theme of the third-generation Corvette to an artistic extreme. I admit that this particular car took a while for me to like it, since I focus upon performance more than anything, but I will admit that this version of the Corvette is very unique. Did you notice some of the styling cues on this car that came from the 1962 Corvair Monza GT concept car?
There are several Corvettes on display at the GM Heritage Center but can you believe that the 1953 Corvette’s engine was a 6-cylinder? Yes, it is true that the first year for the Corvette had an engine that had just enough power to make the car feel fast when in reality, the focus for this car was on the fiberglass body and it’s styling. Powerful engines would develop in later models but Chevrolet delivered an eye catching automobile with this 1953 Corvette.
There were only 300 of these cars manufactured for this year and while this may not be a powerful car, it’s extremely limited production has made it very desirable for any car collector to own.
There are also a couple of the original Sting Rays at the GM Heritage Center. This is the second-generation Corvette which was introduced in 1963. The C2 Sting Ray not only established a styling theme that would last for decades but it was the first Corvette model to feature independent rear suspension.
As you may have noticed by now, the past few posts have been about Corvettes. While there are many reasons to post about a Corvette, I promise that I will only post a couple more tid-bits about them. With that said, the 1961 Mako Shark concept car gave indications of the styling that was to come for the C-2 generation of Sting Rays. The Mako Corvette was arguably the most desired Corvette of its time and it’s styling influenced both C-2 (1963 to 1967) and C-3 (1968 to 1982) Corvettes.
You may have been able to determine that the C-2 generation of the Corvette is my favorite and it is clear to see how the essentials of that iconic styling theme can be seen almost 50 years later in this 2009 Chevrolet Stingray concept.
Look at those rounded fenders along with the crisp body lines and you can’t miss the similarities as shown in the third image below. I am glad that GM continues to show C-2 generation influence in later models as well as in the current Corvette C7 production models. I am anxious to see what the next generation of Corvette will look like and I also know that the engine may find a new location on this American Sports car.
I will let you know more about that in tomorrow’s post.
From what I have read and seen the next generation of Corvette could be mid-engined in it’s design. This technology is not new to GM as this design was explored several times in experimental Corvettes as far back as the 1960’s. The 1973 Chevrolet Aerovette Experimental Concept is yet another example of how GM utilized this technology. This particular concept featured a steel and aluminum structure with fiberglass skin and bi-fold gull-wing doors. Not only was the Aerovette’s small-block V-8 engine located mid-ship, it was also mounted transversely.
We shall soon discover how the many years of concept Corvettes influence the soon to be released 8th generation of the Chevrolet Corvette.
Did you know that General Motors actually made concept cars that had wings? Well, it is true, and among the crown jewels of the Heritage Center collection are the three futuristic Firebird ‘dream cars’ that GM unveiled in the 1950s. These cars were powered by gas turbine engines and had huge vertical fins and vestigial wings.
Firebird 1(first picture below) was the first of the trilogy and was virtually a jet aircraft on wheels that was designed to evaluate both aerodynamic design features and the feasibility of using a gas turbine engine in an automobile. Did you notice the Firebird emblem on the hood of this car? I wonder where I have seen something like that before.
Firebird II (second and third pictures below) was introduced at the 1956 GM Motorama and was slightly more practical in design with four seats, mostly enclosed wheels, and significantly reduced exhaust temperatures as compared with Firebird I. Among its advanced features was the ability to follow the path of a wire embedded in the road, enabling hands-free operation by the driver.
Firebird III (fourth picture below) was displayed at GM’s Motoramas in 1959 and is arguably the most extravagantly designed concept car ever. This concept had seven wings and fins plus its space-age innovations included air-drag brakes that were like airplane flaps and an early form of anti-lock brakes. Adding to its aircraft persona, the driver controlled it with a joystick and a drive-by-wire system rather than a steering wheel.
There are plenty of famous cars at the GM Heritage Center and one of the most famous is the 1977 Pontiac Trans Am. This car became very popular when it had a starring role in the “Smokey and the Bandit” movie. This movie made the black version of this car the most popular vehicle for it’s time. I had a silver one of these cars because the black ones were selling for a premium at that time and I did not want to pay more just because it was black. While these cars were far from fast they more than made up for it with it’s styling and cool factor. Those Firebird concept cars (mentioned in prior posts) contributed their name to the production Pontiac sport cars introduced in 1967 but later, the ‘screaming chicken’ emblem from those concept cars also adorned the hoods of Trans Am. The “Screaming Chicken” emblem on the hood let everyone know that you had the best “Bird” that money could buy back then.
The collection also features several key Oldsmobile models which is now a defunct brand since 2004. While Cadillac was the luxury flagship of the General Motors line of automobiles, it was Oldsmobile that was the oldest in the GM portfolio. Among its most significant models was this distinctively designed 1966 Toronado, which was the first American front-wheel-drive production car since the demise of Cord in 1937.
This particular Toronado was a favorite of mine because it was powerful and had a look like no other vehicle on the road. It also took me some time, as a child, to get used to a car that did not have a huge transmission hump in the middle of the interior and that additional interior room was a bonus as I got older. Hint…..think about it and you will figure it out.
The 1911 Oldsmobile Limited was one of the largest as well as luxurious cars ever produced in America. This automobile was large enough to require 42-inch wheels. Its sheer size is apparent when you stand next to one of these huge cars as shown in the second picture below. This Oldsmobile would compare to the size of a narrow pickup truck by today’s standards.
While I am primarily a Ford and Porsche man there are several other cars that catch my eye for one reason or another. The 1962 Oldsmobile Starfire is a car that is seldom seen on the collector-car circuit but it is a stunning example of the full-size personal coupes that began to appear in that era. The front end design is what always catches my attention when ever I see this particular model and the Starfire was (to a degree) a predecessor to the Toronado. This particular model of car is yet another fine example of the many cars on display at the GM Heritage Center.
The 1963 Jetfire, which was a variant of Oldsmobile’s mid-size F-85 model, was the first production vehicle to feature a turbocharged engine when it was introduced as a 1962 model.
Now the engine in this car was very small but it had a 10.25:1 compression ratio with 5 psi that produced 215 horsepower and 300 foot pounds of torque.
By offering first turbocharged car to be mass produced Oldsmobile made it’s mark by making the first car with this option but this particular engine set up did have many design flaws which has limited its appeal to collectors.
While Oldsmobile may have been the first to offer a turbocharged engine, the Chevrolet Corvair Monza Spyder was soon to offer the same option to market a few weeks after Oldsmobile did.
Based on that first turbocharged Corvair Monza Spyder, the 1962 Super Spyder concept made the rounds of the show circuit to generate excitement for Chevrolet’s rear-engined compact, which became more successful as a sporty car than as the economy car it was intended to be. It is no wonder why the Corvair was seen as a sporty car when something like this was seen out and about. You can still see this car if you ever get the chance to visit the GM Heritage Center.
The second-generation of Corvair Monza coupe – arguably one of the prettiest GM designs of the 1960s – was one of the last models built before Corvair production ceased in 1969. There was also the Corvair ’95 Greenbrier van and the Rampside pickup both of which were produced from 1961 to 1964.
Pictured below is a 1969 Corvair Monza coupe and a 1964 95 Greenbrier van as well as a 1964 Rampside pickup.
Say what you will about these cars as there is both good and bad to be said but one thing that everyone can agree upon is that it is good to be Car Savvy.
While it was not a direct replacement for the Corvair, the sub-compact Vega became Chevrolet’s entry-level model in 1971. The first Vega produced off the Lordstown, Ohio assembly line is pictured below and while it was an attractive car that featured some novel engineering, including a linerless aluminum engine, it was fraught with reliability issues and it lasted only seven years before being discontinued.
Most of the Vega’s (or baby Camaros as I used to call them) wound up like the copper one pictured below. We ripped the engine and transmission out of many of these cars (since they were not any good) and dropped in a 350 block that was either injected or blown and once that was done you had a real drag car on your hands.
How could I ever neglect one of Chevrolet’s more successful models? The 1957 Nomad wagon is the last of the classic tri-five (1955 to 1957) two-door sports wagons to carry the name and still one of the most attractive station wagons ever!
Yes, I never thought that a station wagon could be cool but this one defines the word cool in every way.
While the 1957 Chevy Nomad offered styling that is still very popular today the 1959 El Camino offered the other extreme of the Chevrolet styling spectrum with the ‘bat-wing’ rear end (pictured below). Now, you may remember a post that I did on the first bat wing cars which were offered by Alfa Romeo and while the Italians were the first to utilize this “winged” concept, it was Chevrolet that brought this styling to the main stream.
I have seen several of these El Caminos in my days and most of them were modified from their original appearance to something similar to the fourth image posted below.
Another unique model in the Chevrolet lineup at the General Motors Heritage Center is the SSR, which is a retro-styled pickup truck with a retractable hardtop roof. It was introduced as a concept vehicle in 2000 and morphed into a series of production models from 2003 to 2006. Pictured below are 2003 models and while they are attractive vehicles they were far from performance based. If you wanted a vehicle to drive around in and turn some heads then this would be a good choice but I would not try to race anyone from traffic light to traffic light because you will surely loose that sprint.
The GM Heritage Center shows many of the automobiles that this organization offered over the years but what is a car collection without some recognition for some of the famous engines offered by the GM brand? A huge factor in Chevrolet’s success over the years has been its small-block V-8 engine that was introduced in 1955 and continually evolved through several generations right up to the LS series of today. Surprisingly enough, that wasn’t Chevrolet’s first V-8 engine as the Chumy V-8 was first introduced in 1918. The 288 cubic inch Chevrolet V-8 had overhead valves and was still relatively uncommon during this time. It was designed by Chevrolet engineers before the company merged with General Motors in 1918 but it didn’t suit Chevrolet’s entry level position within the larger corporation, or the brand’s cost-conscious buyers, and lasted only one year. Both the 1918 Chevrolet and it’s Chumy V-8 are pictured below.
The “Muscle Car” era, in my opinion, began in 1964 but by the end of the 1960s V-8s ruled and muscle cars were kings. The term muscle car can be simply defined as a two door version of a sedan with a big block in it. Few were more representative of the breed, or more popular, than this 1970 Chevelle SS. Most of the ones that I remember had the 396 cubic inch big block under the hood but the engine to have was the 454 as back then the more cubic inches you had under the hood meant the more bragging rights you had.
All GM A-bodies were completely restyled in 1968 and the 400 cubic inch engine limit remained but in 1970 the 400 cubic inch limit was removed. This decision led each of the four GM divisions to offer their largest engines: Chevrolet’s 454 cubic inch block in the Chevelle SS-454, Pontiac’s 455 cubic inch block in the GTO, Oldsmobile’s 455 cubic inch block in the 442, and Buick’s 455 cubic inch block in the GSX. My favorite GM Muscle Car from this era is the 1970 Buick GSX. The GSX only came in two color options which were Polar White and Solar Yellow and when one of these bad boys pulled up next to you at a traffic light, you knew there was going to be trouble.
By the mid-70s the original muscle-car era was dead due to being scuttled by rising fuel prices, fuel-economy standards and insurance rates. There was a brief resurrection of this era by Buick in the mid-80s with its turbocharged-V-6-powered Regal GN line. There were two types of the Grand National coupe but the one to have was the further-boosted edition which only had 547 produced. The McLaren-modified GNX models were capable of 13-second quarter-mile times right off the truck and were faster than the Corvette of the same year. I remember when I first drove one of these cars and while I expected it to be fast, I was pleasantly surprised when my head snapped back once I stood on the gas. This car was something special then and it still holds its allure today.
While Buick was the brand on which General Motors was built, it is not always well represented in the rotating stock of automobiles at the GM Heritage Center. This is because the Heritage Center will loan it’s collection for car shows or museum purposes elsewhere. Since Buick was the foundation for GM it seems that this line of automobiles is displayed the most. It may also interest you to know that Buick created the world’s first concept car which was the 1938 Buick Y Job. This car is claimed by GM to be the most valuable car in the entire collection. I remember when I first saw this beautiful Buick at the AACA Museum in Hershey, Pa (I lived about 3 miles from that museum for several years and I loved it!) the paint on this car was so deep that I thought I could go swimming in it. If possible, you have to see this car in person in order to appreciate all of it’s beauty.
While there are several other Buick models that I could write about at the GM Heritage Center one of the most interesting is the 1972 Buick Silver Arrow III concept car. This concept was actually based on a production Riviera (4th image below) with a lowered roof line and added features. If you look closely, you will see some Chevrolet, Cadillac and Oldsmobile influences as well. For instance, look at the rear window and what famous Chevrolet comes to mind? Also note the front headlights and then look at the red inner fender colors. Those red inner fenders used to be one of the signs that you were racing an original Oldsmobile 442 with the 455 cubic inch engine. I always look to find ways that one particular car or, in this case, several different cars can influence another vehicle.
One of the many Caddies that I saw from this collection was the 1957 Eldorado Brougham. Now, I will admit, that this is a car that you either love or hate but in my case I love this ride because I still find it to be very eye appealing from any angle. This is a car that was designed for one purpose and that purpose was to make a statement when you were driving it around town.
Did you know that Cadillac was one of only two automakers, along with Marmon, to offer V-16 engines? While the Bugatti Veyron also utilizes a 16 piston motor block it is a “W” block and not a “V” block.
The Cadillac V-16 was introduced in 1930 and had a very narrow-angle of 45 degrees and it also offered an overhead-valve design displacing 452 cubic inches. The 1931 Cadillac V-16 Dual-Cowl Phaeton (pictured below) is the Cadillac most known for utilizing this engine and it is also one of the prettiest and elegant automobiles that I have ever seen.
By now you have probably figured out that the GM Heritage Center has a large number of automobiles that GM offered over the years. Now, when you think of a Cadillac you probably think of luxury and, in some cases, speed. So, why is the 1912 Cadillac Touring Sedan special?
Well, the reason that this particular automobile is special is because it featured the industry’s first electric self-starter that was developed by GM’s Dayton Electric Laboratories. The concept was quickly utilized throughout the industry and eliminated the need for hand cranking in order to start the engine.
I can tell you that once you experience a hand crank kick back on you, you will appreciate an electric starter even more. Those hand cranks can pack a punch when they kick back! Thank you Cadillac!
Here is another industry first by Cadillac.
Did you know that during the post-WWII era the 1949 Cadillac Coupe De Ville became the first production car to offer a pillarless “hardtop-convertible” body style? This design became the premium style of choice for more than two decades.
Do you remember as to how one particular car can influence another? In 1967, Cadillac introduced its front-wheel-drive Eldorado coupe, the sharp-edged styling of which established a distinctive brand look that continues through today.
Now, some may say that the 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado influenced Cadillac or maybe even that the 1966 Buick Riviera influenced the Eldorado but both Oldsmobile and Buick experienced engineering flaws with the front-wheel-drive differential bearings during the 1966 model year. So, while it was Buick and Oldsmobile to offer this body style with front wheel drive first, it was Cadillac that pulled it all together correctly by waiting a year to work the bugs out.
Every car manufacturer creates concept cars in order to obtain feedback on new styling or technological advances. Cadillac is no different than any other manufacturer and on occasion they created a concept that should never left the drawing board. Such an example of this type of disaster is the 1988 Voyage Concept (picture 1 and 2 below). I can honestly say that I have nothing positive to say about this car other than I am glad that Cadillac never produced such a car.
Cadillac was able to redirect it’s creative juices in 2002 with the Cien concept. This car was also created in order to celebrate Cadillac’s 100th anniversary. You can also see some of the racing inspired design as well as a midship-mounted experimental V-12 engine that never made it to actual production. (pictures 3 and 4).
The Cien concept eventually evolved into the 2011 Cadillac Ciel concept and I have to tell you that out of all of the concept cars I have ever seen, this is the car that I wished had actually become a production automobile. I just love this car (pictures 5 and 6).
The Cadillac Cien and Ciel concept cars brought Cadillac back to the forefront of the American Luxury Car marketplace and because of that I wrote about these cars in prior posts.
The GM Heritage Center collection also has many race cars from over the years. The “General” has an impressive racing pedigree but I will only show just a few of the many race cars available. First, is the Cadillac 2002 LMP 02 that was designed to compete at Le Mans but it had limited success. This racer continues to perform at IMSA endurance events (picture 1 & 2). Next is one of the many INDY cars that are powered by Chevrolet as well as the Chevrolets that lead the pack before the start of the INDY 500 (picture 3 & 4). The INDY race car shown in picture 3 utilized a twin turbo V-6 as it’s racing power-plant. Just as you would expect, Corvettes have been at the core of GM’s racing programs almost from their inception. The 2001 purpose-built Corvette CR-5 racer was driven by Ron Fellows, both in the North American ALMS series and Le Mans, where it won it’s class. What would a collection of automobiles be without a collection of engines? Well, fear not my friends as this collection shows a multitude of the engines that made General Motors famous.
Even a Ford/Porsche fan can appreciate all that the GM Heritage Center has to offer.
Electric cars have become popular as of the past few years but did you know that the “General” started to experiment with this concept back in the mid 1960’s? The Corvair-based Electrovair II (pictures 1 and 2) featured a trunk full of silver-zinc batteries, while the Electrovan (pictures 3 and 4) is said to be the first experimental fuel-cell powered automobile built. Another example of General Motors initial electric vehicles would be the 512 Experimental concept (picture 5). Yes, this is a very small car and I have gasoline powertrains (engine and transmission) that are bigger than this thing but this was cutting edge back in 1969. Moving forward to 2002 the GM AUTOnomy concept car was one of the most dramatic concept cars ever. While its fuel-cell powertrain has yet to become reality in any significant numbers, its ‘skateboard’ chassis configuration has become a near-norm for electric vehicle battery placement and many of its drive-by-wire features are now being used in production cars (picture 6).
As time moves on it will be electric cars that will be in every garage but I hope that the high torque big horsepower gasoline “Muscle Cars” of yesterday and today never fade away.