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The GM Futurliners were a group of custom vehicles, styled in the 1940s by Harley Earl for General Motors, and integral to the company’s Parade of Progress—a North American traveling exhibition promoting future cars and technologies. Having earlier used eight custom Streamliners from 1936 to 1940, GM sponsored the Parade of Progress and the Futurliners from 1940 to 1941 and again from 1953 to 1956.
At 33 feet long, 8 feet wide, more than 11 feet tall, and weighing more than 12 tons, each Futurliner featured heavily stylized art deco, streamlined bodywork, deep red side and white roof paint, large articulated chrome side panels, a military-grade 302 ci GMC straight-six gasoline engine and automatic transmission, whitewall tires and a prominent, high-mounted, centrally located driver command position with a panoramic windshield.
Twelve Futurliners were manufactured, with nine still known to exist as of 2007. In 2014, Futurliner #10 was nominated for inclusion in the National Historic Vehicle Register.
Originally manufactured for the 1939 New York World’s Fair, the Futurliners were later featured in GM’s Parade of Progress, a promotional caravan travelling a 150-stop route across the United States and Canada. The Futurliners, along with 32 support vehicles, were driven by 50 college graduates, who also staffed the exhibitions along the route.
Typically arranged at each stop around a large tent and an information kiosk, each Futurliner featured a self-contained stage as well as a prominent deployable light tower, and each vehicle featured a particular subject. The mobile exhibition covered such topics as jet engine technology, agriculture, traffic engineering, stereophonic sound, microwave ovens, television and other innovations. In 1955 a miniature automobile assembly line display named A Car Is Born was constructed for one of the Futurliners. A display titled Our American Crossroads was also used in 1955. This display was narrated by Parker Fennelly and featured a complicated animated diorama that transformed to show progress in road and infrastructure improvements from 1902 to 1953.
Interrupted by World War II, the vehicles were refurbished by GM and the Parade of Progress resumed in 1953. The reborn parade was discontinued in 1956 for the last time, displaced by increasing popularity of network television—one of the very technologies the Futurliners themselves had once promoted.
Following the Parade of Progress, General Motors sold the Futurliners and donated two to the Michigan State Police. Rechristened as “Safetyliners”, the latter were used to promote road safety.
At least one Futurliner was purchased by Oral Roberts and used as a portable stage during evangelical crusades of the 1960s. This vehicle may have been taken to Central or South America.
Of the remaining nine Futurliners, one was wrecked (considered totaled) during the 1956 parade year and was not replaced. Futurliner Bus #11 sold for a record US,000,000 (plus premium) to Arizona-based real estate developer Ron Pratte on January 21, 2006 at a Barrett-Jackson auction in Arizona and was driven to its new home in Chandler. Mr. Pratte sold the same bus on January 17, 2015 at Barrett-Jackson auction in Arizona. The selling price was again US,000,000 (plus premium), the proceeds from the sale benefiting the Armed Forces Foundation, a charity that assists military members and their families. Bus #10 was restored and is in the NATMUS museum in Auburn, IN. Bus #9 was restored and in use as a motorhome. In 2008, Futurliner #8 was delivered to its new home in Sweden. The new owner plans to restore it over a 10-year period; it was the first and, to date, only Futurliner to be relocated to Europe.
As of late 2013, Peter Pan Bus Lines in Massachusetts has Futurliner #7 painted to original livery and has Futurliner #6 in storage.
Futurliner #5 was rebuilt and restored from leftover parts as a Flatbed Hauler.
The restoration of Futurliner #3 was the subject of two episodes of the Velocity Channel show Bitchin’ Rides. Number 3 underwent a 19-month restoration in 2013–2014, intended to be the most complete and period-correct restoration of all that have been attempted so far. Bitchin’ Rides is a reality show about the activities at Kindig-It Design in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Futurliner #4 is currently being restored or has plans in place for a restoration in Maine. There are still two Futurliners unaccounted for.