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GM and Chrysler “Cars of the Future at Savannah” in Kodachrome

Today’s post features three “Atlanta Journal-Constitution” images which accompanied an article in the newspaper titled “Cars of the Future at Savannah” in 1952 or ’53. Included are the 1951 LeSabre in the lead image and the expandable version (below), a 1953 Oldsmobile Starfire show car, and the 1952 Chrysler C-200 convertible.

  • 1951 General Motors LeSabre

The LeSabre is best described by Michael Lamm in our earlier “A Brief History of Concept Cars, 1929-51”:

“The most significant concept car from that era, at least in my view, was one of the earliest: the 1951 LeSabre. Often wrongly called the “Buick” LeSabre, this car again became Earl’s daily driver, but its true significance was that it launched so many styling advances that no other concept car even comes close. The lowness, the fins, and other aircraft-inspired touches, the wraparound windshield plus a host of mechanical marvels made the LeSabre a concept car without equal. Nothing before or since has influenced the automotive industry—nor impressed the public—in the way the LeSabre did for years after its December 1950 unveiling.”

“Harley Earl drove the LeSabre as his personal car after giving up the Y-Job. The LeSabre was powered by a supercharged, nitro-burning, aluminum, 215-cid V8, and its other technical innovations were very much in keeping with its radically futuristic appearance.”

  • 1953 Oldsmobile Starfire pre-production show car that either postdated or was shown at about the same time as the 1953 Starfire X-P Skyrocket concept car.

  • 1952 Chrysler C-200 concept car

The 1952 Chrysler C-200 concept car was designed by Virgil Exner and constructed by Ghia in Turin, Italy. The show car was painted light green and black, and featured seventeen-inch wire wheels, and was powered by a Chrysler Hemi V-8 engine. The C-200 followed the 1951 K-310 coupe also bodied by Ghia, both cars are reported to have been built on Chrysler Saratoga Chassis’.

Share with us what you find of interest in the photographs courtesy of the Georgia State University Library. 

33 responses to “GM and Chrysler “Cars of the Future at Savannah” in Kodachrome

  1. Very nice color images, given the time frame! However, one correction: the Olds Starfire 98 ‘show car’ is a 1954; it may be a pre-production model, but looks every bit of what came out that year. Looking at it, it appears this particular car was built on the shorter 88 wheelbase, rather than that of the 98 for some reason. Very few color images of the `52 Chrysler C-200 concept exist, so its nice to see this image. Many never knew it was a very light pale seafoam green & black since most photos of it were B&W.

      • For the Olds picture I first noticed the rusty old freighter. You’d think they’d pick something in better shape.

        • Mike, the shot may be along E. River Street and the freighter is just passing by. We were there recently with the MARC tour and that street will knock out all your fillings.

          • That ship is tied up. You can see two bow lines leading aft and a spring line leading forward, just above the drivers head. There appears to be another line amidships as well. Why they would pick such a background is puzzling.

          • The freighter can’t possibly be just passing by with so many mooring ropes hanging over the side. Interesting contrast anyway.

            As for pre-production cars, it is a very, very, very common thing for slightly different trim , features, or accessories, etc.etc. to be on such a vehicle. The 1955 Packard pre-production Patrician had no ribbed side trim and abbreviated side chrome spears (early publications had to airbrush the normal trim in). Pre-production 1966 Mustangs had six tail lights with sequential turn signals (they even took press photos of these), but withdrawn at the last minute in favor of continuing with the cheaper 1965 single units. Pre-production 1986 Maszda RX-7s hsad completely different wheels. Pre-production Mazda Miatas had different hub covers, top latches and other things. This Oldsmobile is obviously pointing toward 1954 rather than 1953. The thing I find most odd about it for the time is the lack of a 2-tone paint job.

  2. Item 2 of 3 looks like a production ’54 Olds 98 Starfire convertible with ’55 Olds 98 “spinner” wheelcovers.
    Not to diminish the technical sophistication of the LeSabre, to my eye, the timeless beauty of this trio is the Chrysler C-200

      • The 1954 Oldsmobile 98 sedan lacked that side trim but all the 98 Holiday coupes and 98 Starfire convertibles had it. I agree the pictured car is a standard 1954 Starfire, not a 1953 or a show car.

          • There are three pieces of side trim in the instant picture. 1) The long slash like piece running from the front fender to a point just short of the rear wheel. That trim was the boundary for two tone paint when present. It was also unique to 98s of 54. 2) The chrome trim covering the rocker panels. 3) The relatively short horizontal piece extending from just to the left of the rear wheel to a point blending into the back up light. A Google search of pictures of 54 98s reveals such trim on all of them, except the four door sedan.
            Perhaps you could clarify exactly what trim you reference.

          • I think the photo angle may be contributing to confusion. The horizontal side trim connects to the circular chrome trim that surrounds the backup light but neither of them touches the bumper. The bumper has two “bumperettes”, one on either side of the license plate holder, that rise a couple of inches above the top of the bumper. In the photo it may appear that the bottom of the horizontal rear fender trim/backup light surround is in contact with the top of the bumperette but it is not. Numerous rear view photos can be found on the internet to confirm that.

          • David, notice the shorter overhang past the rear wheel opening; it doesn’t have the extra length the 98’s had–hence my comment about this particular car being a pre-production model built on the 88 wheelbase. 98’s where a couple inches longer in the rear quarters. If I’m wrong, then it’s some sort of optical illusion.

          • There were two different side trim patterns on the ’54 Olds, as Joel True described: the one we see pictured that was on the 98 Holiday Coupe and Starfire convertible and one with a straight piece of chrome trim on the front fender that continued on to the rear part of the door or front door (depending on whether two or four door) and a second piece that began at the beltline dip, ran diagonally downward and to the rear, turned and then continued onward to the backup light housing. Ninety Eight models with that pattern added a third piece of trim that extended maybe 15” forward from the taillight.
            Further, as Joel wrote, an examination of online brochures and both period and less-trustworthy current online photos confirms that.

  3. I guess at one time there was a Air Force base near Savannah where you could also see Sabre jets along with the LeSabre car.

    • The LeSabre bowled me over when I saw it at the GM Motorama at age 10. IMO it’s the most significant concept car because it premiered the major styling themes of the 50s. Dated…yes, for sure but it’s got 1950s Detroit Iron written all over it. It also signalled the era of GM’s dominance in sales (50% of the US market by the end of the decade IIRC).

      The resemblance to an F-86 Sabre was quite deliberate. The Korean War was still on and it was the Sabre jet that ruled the skies.

      • I agree, Andy. Seeing this car on a “Wheels” bubble gum card when I was about 10 kickstarted my lifelong interest in cars .
        I have the card now, and a pic of myself with the Le Sabre when it was at the Blackhawk Museum in California in 2017.

  4. David, way to go. Another great story and love seeing the Sabre-in-Savannah photo. Le Sabre was no doubt there visiting the head of SAC, General Curtis LeMay. My father told me how he and my mother once had dinner with General Le May and Harley at Hunter Air Field, when it was a SAC base there. Funny thing, I was just in Savannah two weeks ago.

  5. I don’t think the LeSabre burned Nitro! It did however run on either alcohol or gasoline. There are two fuel gauges on the dashboard, one for each. The photo is of the modified LeSabre. It initially did not have the vwnts behind the front wheels and the rear wheel openings were smaller.

  6. OK, guys, what’s the white sedan behind the Le Sabre? My first (and last) guess is Renault. The non-vertical wind-wing pillar is unusual.

    • That is a bit of a puzzler. Not a Renault tho, filler strip between front and rear doors, chrome trim around windows and non-vertical vent window divider rule that out. Probably too big as well, altho comparing to a non-typical car like the LeSabre is problematic.

      An online search for “cars with slanted vent window dividers” was not useful. Somebody needs to come up with something more helpful for us car folks.

      • Upon further cogitation I will venture it is a Rover P4. Why and what the heck it’s doing there is another question.

    • To me it looks very much like a Rover 75. The quarter light is one giveaway – the way it pivoted prevented rain dripping on to the driver’s knee. In addition, there are separate lower panels at the rear, behind the wheels. If it is a Rover, the colour is Ivory.

  7. 215 c.i. aluminum V8? egads, that is pretty far into the future. Did that engine have piston sealing problems as well. Wonder what the cylinder treatment was, sleeves? Is this the basis for or the same engine that came out much later and evolved into the Rover powerplant and later the REPCO/Brabham 3 liter F1 engine! The specs really suggest the GM engineers were up to a lot of fun things at that time. The info I have seen suggest development began in 1958, so was this a precursor?

    • All of the aluminum V8s have iron sleeves. GM took the “technologically advanced” but less expensive route of casting the blocks with the sleeves in place which led to production issues. The Brits took the traditional route and sand cast the blocks then bored and pressed the sleeves resulting in better results.

      • Thanks Jay, but my question really focuses on the roots of this engine, i.e. is it the same one that supposedly was developed from 1958 or another earlier version. I also read that the sleeves were centrifugally cast into the bores, i.e. not casting the bores around the sleeves. Also, I found out that the REPCO engine was based on the Olds, not the Buick version with more head studs as they were planning to use a turbo.

  8. The ship is a Liberty. I could not find one by that name but many were sold to merchant service and renamed. Looks to be on River street accross form the Georgia Kaolin International dock, now a boondoggle hotel and racetrack. The LeSabre appears to be at Hunter Field and the C200 at Fort Pulaski.

  9. Although Exner would probably throw something at me if I mentioned it to him, I think there’s something very Darrinish about the C-200.

    As for the old freighter, it’s not impossible that the photographer of the prototype Chrysler wanted to imbue his photo with the “mood” of the old Liberty Ship; perhaps as a nod toward the Humphrey Bogart mystique as expressed in Bogart’s movie, “The African Queen”; keeping in mind ,that the blockbuster movie debuted in 1951, just the year before.

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