Futurliner: Vehicle from the Parade of Progress

Copyright© Kevin Hulsey Illustration, Photo used by Permission (click on the photo to visit http://www.khulsey.com)

I love the designs from older eras. I love the rounded lines, chrome accents, art deco touches, and space age inspirational appearance. When you look at an older vehicle (anything 1963 and earlier) you really get some great lines and wonderful designs that can be classified as a artistic masterpiece. You look at a newer vehicle of today and even though most are curved and rounded in styling, they will never measure up to their predecessors. Here is a perfect example of a this. This vehicle is called the Futurliner, produced by General Motors for a caravan show that would  travel and present the “Parade of Progress”. The first generations started in 1940-1952 the second and last generations were produced from 1953 – 1956.  Here is some information about the different generations.


In 1940, 12 first-generation Futurliners were built to replace the original eight Streamliners. The Futurliner caravan consisted of 24 trucks, 11 passenger cars and three station wagons. The old Streamliner caravan consisted of 25 trucks and 19 different passenger car-units. The early show had five major exhibits, while the latter had 15, plus two Army trucks which formed part of the Defense Exhibit. The most spectacular of the new pieces of equipment was the Aer-O-Dome tent. It seated 1,500 people and was built like an inverted umbrella with ribs exposed. In 1946, after a WWII hiatus, several of the Futurliners were in a Detroit parade to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the invention of the automobile.


In 1953, the Futurliners were rebuilt into their second-generation form. In 1956, just three years after their rebuild, the popularity of the show waned and the Futurliners were either sold or donated. Approximately 13 million people in nearly 300 cities nation-wide saw the 12 vehicles roll into their town and enjoyed a free show that provided them with a glimpse into the future.

Twelve Futurliners were built and used by GM to transport the GM Parade of Progress show throughout the United States from 1941 to 1956.
The Futurliners transported dioramas and exhibits, featuring futuristic things such as: a microwave that fried an egg without burning a newspaper; a Ping-Pong game in stereophonic sound and; sound traveling over a beam of light produced by a flashlight.
The Futurliner is a massive bus like vehicle, 33’ long, 8’ wide, 11’-7″ tall vehicle with a whopping 248″ wheelbase. An unusual feature of the Futurliner is its dual (side by side) front wheels. Each wheel has its own set of brakes, brake drums and bearings. Nearly all of the Futurliners had problems with their power steering pumps failing, presumably because of the tremendous force required to turn the wheels.
The pre-1953 Futurliners were powered by 4-cylinder diesel engines and 4×4 mechanical transmissions. The 1953 version, however, is powered by a 302 inline 6 cylinder OHV GMC engine. The engine is coupled to a Korean War vintage four speed Hydramatic automatic transmission that is bolted to the backside of another two speed gearbox. This gives the driver the option of selecting from 8 forward speeds. Complicating this a bit more is another 3-speed PTO gearbox. To shift this gearbox, the driver must leave the cockpit (presumably with the vehicle stopped) and travel to the rear quarter of the vehicle and manually select one of the three gears. With this combination, the driver now has 24 selections to choose from. The restoration crew reports that the rear-end has yet another gear reduction, but they haven’t figured out quite how that works yet. In spite of the gearing ratios, some of the original “Paraders,” as they referred to themselves, recall attainable speeds of not much more than 40 mph! The Futurliners packed two 45-gallon gasoline tanks!
The original Futurliners, prior to their 1953 refurbishing, had bubble canopies over the cockpit (driver’s compartment), similar to a fighter plane of the era. This arrangement was brutally hot for the drivers and the vehicles were not air-conditioned! The cockpit is reached by climbing a stairway to the top of the 11’-7″ vehicle. This positions the driver’s head at about the 11’ level and makes for a terrifying first time experience when going under an overpass!

The vehicle has an incredible 19 access and display doors on it. Two massive 16×5’ doors open to expose the display housed within the vehicle. A 16’ lighting panel is attached to the top of the overhead doors and a large light bar rises from the roof another 7’ up above the Futurliner for additional illumination. To provide electricity for all this lighting, a massive twin 6-71 200KW Detroit Diesel generator was used.

Because the brakes were so poor, one Futurliner rear-ended another and consequently they were instructed to stay 300 feet apart. They all had radio receivers but only the lead and tail vehicle had transmitters. The Futurliners were nicknamed the “Red Elephants.”
The name “FUTURLINER” was spelled without the “E” in FUTURE so GM could copyright or trademark the name.

Futurliner on Barrett Jackson Auction Televised on SPEED Network

On January 14, 2006 a 1953 Futurliner sold for a whopping $4.3 million. The sellers were hoping for about $600,000, a figure roughly double their investment to restore it. They were no doubt happy to say the least!

I wonder what it would sell for today, not that it matters to the owner. If they could pay that much for it just to add to their collection of vehicles, I’m sure they are not concerned with any drop in value with todays economy.

Of the 12 vehicles built in 1939-1940, 9 have been located. Two are beyond restoration and are being used to restore another Futurliners.

Here are more photos of the future liner.  I hope to see one someday and enjoy its beauty the same as so many others have. You can view more info and these and see more photos at: www.futurliner.org

Thanks for reading,


Published in: on September 21, 2010 at 8:43 AM  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Hello, I grew up around Detroit, and I remember as a kid at a GM car lot off of 7 mile and Grandriver, Rd. There were these two giant airplane looking trucks that were parked behind their lot. I wanted my parents to stop and see what they were. But all I got was shut up and sit back, so I never did get to see what they were, and has haunted me all this time in the back of my mind. Until I was online looking at old bus’s, and came across one that I was sure was the ones I remember as a kid. Thank you for coming a cross these photos. Are there any still on the road or had they all been scraped? Sure would like to see one up close and in person. Thank you for your time. Ken Hough, Palmetto, Fl

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