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SNAPSHOT 310: 1955 Chevrolet Biscayne Concept Car

The 1955 Chevrolet Biscayne began life as a showcase for the new Chevrolet 265 cubic-inch V-8 engine. It was shown at the 1955 General Motors Motorama, where it delighted the crowd with its futuristic styling. Design elements of the Biscayne would influence General Motors for many years to come.

It displayed a conservative but sporting theme that bypassed the outrageous fins of the mid- to late-50s and looked forward to the 60s and cars such as the Corvair. Not all the design cues of the Biscayne would have to wait that long: the side scoops (although turned round) became a Chevrolet feature in the Corvette from 1956 right through to 1962. The leading edge of the front wing would be seen later on Bill Mitchell’s 1963 Buick Riviera. The dramatically curved windscreen with its reversed A-pillar would be seen, somewhat toned down, in all of GM’s 1959 and 1960 range. The Biscayne’s wheel covers, just visible here, were copied for the 1957 Chevrolet cars. The door handles of the four centre-opening doors, with no B-pillar, can just be detected; this design was incorporated into the 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham.

The show career of the Biscayne came to an ignominious end in 1958 when it was sent to be cut up at Warhoops Junkyard in Sterling Heights, Minnesota. Fortunately for the car, the GM employee tasked with ensuring its destruction was in a rush to get home to his family for Christmas and he did not stay to witness the proper crushing of the Bisayne. Harry Warholak, Sr., the owner of Warhoops, dismantled the car but could not bring himself to finish the job. The Biscayne was scattered in pieces around the yard – and it stayed there neglected for almost 25 years.

The collector Joe Bortz had been searching out lost General Motors, Chrysler and Ford concept and dream cars. He heard about the yard, rang the owner, and made the journey to see what he could find. He dug out not one but four concept cars in various stages of decay. The Biscayne was in a bad way, and Joe put the bits aside to concentrate on easier projects.

Evantually, he commissioned a skilled friend to glue the fibreglass body pieces back together, but there was no chassis. The final miraculous event, however, occurred when GM sent him the original blueprints of the car’s chassis. With a lot of work, but not a full restoration, it was put back into a good enough state to be shown at a reunion of concept cars at the GM Tech Center in 2008 and, amazingly, at Pebble Beach in the same year. Joe finally gave it the restoration it deserved, and the Biscayne was shown at the Concours d’Elegance of America in 2010.

Our Snapshot is of the car back in the 1950s in a GM wind tunnel with a 100-mph airflow and a 200-hp dynamometer to measure wind resistance. Two sturdy chains can be seen in the foreground – no doubt to ensure that the car did not destroy itself on the back wall. So GM engineers, a scrapyard owner and a collector have been quietly looking after the car for all these years.

Photo courtesy of The Richard Roberts Archive.

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