(first posted 10/21/2017) GM’s 1950s Motorama-mobiles were mostly pretty out-there, with flamboyant fins, rocket-inspired skegs and cockpits, and other flights of wild imagination. Frankly, many of them were a bit absurd and even childish. But there were a few that were somewhat down to earth, even rather brilliant, like this 1955 Chevrolet Biscayne. Yes, its frog-eye front end is a bit of an acquired taste, but the rest of it, especially its tail end, is delightfully restrained, compact and clean, certainly more so than the production 1958 Chevrolet. The only production car that did reflect its restraint and clean lines is the 1960 Corvair, as will be seen best from a look at its other end.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any really good pictures of its rear end; this is the best that Google could do. But this is about as antithetical to a mid-50s GM rear end as it gets. Because it’s so good, it was put to use on both the 1960 Corvair as well as the 1961 Corvette, with some minor modifications, of course. And of course on the big Chevrolets too, starting in 1961. Its influence would be seen at least through 1964.
And who gets credit for such a rather radical rear end in 1955, along with the rest of the Biscayne?
28 year-old Chuck Jordan, Harley Earl’s star designer, whom Earl hired at the tender age of 22, having won the first post war Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild competition and a $4000 scholarship, with which he went to MIT. Here he is pictured with the GM Aerotrain, which he also designed in 1955.
The Biscayne was built on a 115″ wheebase, with a frame custom built to support its fiberglass body. Under its hood was a 215 hp version of Chevrolet’s new 265 CID V8, backed by a Powerglide transmission. Like many Motorama cars, these were not meant to be driven, and the Biscayne lacked a battery, operable side windows, and other aspects of what appeared to be electrical gadgets were dummies.
The suicide doors were a popular item at GM back then, although they only showed up in production on the Eldorado Brougham, although that was more like a Motorama vehicle built on a small scale.
Here’s the original Motorama brochure:
The Biscayne was scrapped, but its body cut up into four pieces was “found” by Joe Bortz’s son in 1990 in a junkyard in Detroit. It was purchased along with three other GM show cars, and eventually restored, on a chassis that had to be made from scratch, thanks to detailed drawings found in the GM archives. The full story can be found here at bortzautocollection.com. although the omission of Chuck Jordan’s name and attribution is a painful omission in Joe Bortz’s tale of the miraculous resurrection of the Biscayne. Hooniverse’s post on the Biscayne also omits Jordan’s name. Time to set the record straight.
And here is Chuck (middle) reunited with the restored Biscayne. That must have been sweet.
Jordan went on to have a stellar career at GM (and Opel), but that’s a long story for another time.