Only 12 were built.
December 21, 2002 12:45 PM   Subscribe

The GM Futureliner It began with the Streamliner and GM’s 1936 Parade of Progress, the brainchild of inventor Charles F. Kettering. The show was a tremendous success. Redesigned in 1941 and again in 1953, the 12 Futureliners and its band of Paraders were ready to hit the road, set up shop in a town near you, and showcase the marvels of science. Of the original 12 built, 9 have been found, 2 are being used for parts, 1 is for sale, and 1 is being lovingly restored by a group of volunteers. [more inside]
posted by snez (11 comments total)
You can see photos of the work done so far, support the cause by buying a hat, and read about the reunion of the original Paraders. I find this entire site fascinating. Every link goes to wonderful photos or interesting historical tidbits. One of my favorite is how two Futureliners were given to the Michigan State Police and renamed “Safetyliners” when the Parade of Progress disbanded in 1954 due to the advent of television.

On a related note is the equally fascinating Antarctic Snow Cruiser. Joel Dirnberger (he also has some nice pages on the Futureliner) provides excellent statistics, photos and fantastic archival footage of the Snow Cruiser in action. “The $150,000, diesel-powered cruiser, heralded as ‘one of the most daring scientific dreams conceived by man,” was built for Adm. Richard E. Byrd’s U.S. Antarctic Service expedition.” What happened to it? No one knows. Incidentally the Spruce Goose was also conceived and constructed during the same time period as the Futureliner and Antarctic Snow Cruiser. For additional archival footage of transportation oddities such as the Auto-Gyro, check here.
posted by snez at 12:47 PM on December 21, 2002

What a great post. Thanks, snez; this is wonderful.
posted by mediareport at 2:00 PM on December 21, 2002

Very cool. Some font freak must get to work on the Futureliner font based on the "GM" on the nose, easiest to see in the '1941' link.
posted by planetkyoto at 2:40 PM on December 21, 2002

There is one of these, beautifully restored, that is lives in my neighborhood of Sherman Oaks, California. Quite a site whether it is moving or parked. It has also been a segment on one of the HGTV shows, possibly Extreme Homes.
posted by dewelch at 2:54 PM on December 21, 2002

*cough* Futurliner.

Another unique vehicle is the Crawler Transporter used by NASA to bring the Space Shuttle from the Vehicle Assembly Building to the launch facility. Two were built in the 1960s for the Apollo missions to earth orbit and the moon, with their enormous Saturn V boosters; the same crawlers were later modified for the shuttle program. Recently, both were found to have bearing problems and repaired.

Then there's Terex, fka Unit Rig, who make surface mining trucks with capacities up to 360 tons -- the trucks themselves can way nearly half a million pounds. Not so much unique as huge, I guess.

So for your unique, abandoned vehicle fix, you can't do much better than WWII ice ships in the Canadian Rockies. A prototype for an enormous aircraft carrier, it was made of a frozen slurry of wood pulp and water, and proved remarkably resilient. But the project was abandoned due to cost, and the victory of the Allies in the Atlantic.
posted by dhartung at 3:16 PM on December 21, 2002

God I love this kind of retro-futurist transport stuff!

We've already spoken of Seattle's streamlined ferryboat, the Kalakala here.

Railways were streamlining too in the 1930's, like the Coronation Scot. In retrospect it was mainly a visual "look" rather than a practical requirement, but Mallard had a better reason than most - a record speed of 126 m.p.h.

For wild, but ultimately unsuccessful technical innovations, see the Bennie Railplane and its distant successor the Bertin Aerotrain.
posted by gdav at 3:21 PM on December 21, 2002

What a wonderful post! The sight of those unrestored Futurliners is sad and somehow moving -- maybe because they were built as a testament to the future, and we're no longer so niave or optimistic.

I read once about a railroad constructed by a rubber baron in remote amazonian Peru (I think). When the market for natural rubber was overtaken by synthetics, construction on the railroad stopped. Apparently, you can still see a locomotive on a stretch of overgrown track deep in the jungle...
posted by at 3:50 PM on December 21, 2002

Aargh! I followed and read every link. I can't believe I misspelled it. Thanks Dhartung for correcting my goof. Oh and nice links too. And gdav, the Coronation Scot is cool. Thanks.
posted by snez at 8:04 PM on December 21, 2002

Fabulous and very enjoyable post on many levels, snez! The vehicle and its restoration would be fascinating enough, but the concept of the traveling road show adds an interesting historic and cultural dimension. And as a business PR story, it's just great - "during the six years to December, 1941, the caravan played to audiences of more than 12 million people in 251 cities."

Being one of the Paraders must have been an enviable job. The excitement of these vehicles pulling into a town and setting up tents - that's a thrill and a wonder lost to us since the dawn of tv, those traveling shows.
posted by madamjujujive at 10:26 PM on December 21, 2002


Thanks for that link to the Bertin; I've seen that track in France a few times (going by on either some other train or autoroute, I've forgotten which) and always wondered what on earth it was.

Nice post. Wacky stuff.
posted by Dick Paris at 6:01 AM on December 22, 2002

These vehicles remind me of William Gibson's short story "The Gernsback Continuum." It's in his Burning Chrome collection and is worth tracking down.
posted by hyperizer at 9:26 PM on December 23, 2002

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