Vintage Ad: 1955 GMC L’Universelle – Did I Just Dream That?

One of the more ambitious creations of GM’s fertile 1950s Motorama Era was the GMC L’Universelle. Most of them were roadsters or futuristic sedans, but the L’Universelle was something all together different: a multi-purpose cargo mover, with FWD, no less. Of course, Citroen had been building very practical FWD vans for some time, but in GM’s predictable way, they were going to notch it up considerably, with jet-age styling, “Dagmar” bumpers, A V8 engine, and flip up side and rear doors.

So much for the dreamy stuff. In the bright light of day, a number of painful realities made themselves known, such as the fact that GM had no FWD transaxle, so it had to cobble up a crude V-drive affair which actually never worked; this was strictly a “roller” that could not move under its own power. The radiator tucked under a vent in the roof was not viable. And oddly, there was no passenger version, which could have been a proto-minivan. But then these GM dream cars weren’t really made to be real functioning vehicles; their purpose was to show that GM could dream.

Here’s an X-ray view. The Pontiac V8 with its ouptut running forward is mounted midship, allowing a full front bench seat.

Here’s a view of the frame and other innards. Looks like the radiator sort of surrounds the engine.

The side and rear doors flipped up like this. The L’Universelle here is being the flower car in its own funeral.

Here’s another view from the front. It seemed like a good idea at the time, right?

Obviously some of the L’Universelle’s design elements made it into the Corvan/Greenbrier.

And the side flip-up door looks a bit like the Corvair Rampside’s ramp flipped upside down. So the dreaming wasn’t all totally wasted. Unfortunately, the Corvan/Rampside’s non-flat cargo floor due to the rear engine turned out to be not what most folks wanted in a cargo van or pickup. But GM caught on eventually.

Now if GM had brought out a 1966 L’Universelle II with the Toronado’s UPP, updated styling and made it primarily a people hauler, that might have been a lot closer to something that could both actually work and be a viable product. Instead we get a four-passenger luxury coupe. Oh well…