By on May 5, 2013


Autopalooza, the umbrella PR campaign for sixteen top shelf automotive events in southeast Michigan, including races, cruises and car shows, had a kick off press event this past week. As a Detroit booster, I urge you to check out the schedule of events and try to attend as many of them as you can. While I haven’t been to all of them, I’ve attended most and if you get to check any of them out, you’ll find out why car events around Detroit are special.


That’s not what I’m here to talk about, though. The press conference was held at the General Motors Heritage Center, where GM displays some of the corporation’s large collection of cars and trucks. Even if I wasn’t a Detroit booster and at least a little interested in Autopalooza, just which one of us would pass up an opportunity get into the GMHC? I’ve been to the Heritage Center before, but they rotate cars in and out of the facility as some are loaned out for events or to museums, so it’s always worth a visit. Definitely worth taking lots of extra memory cards and charged up batteries for the cameras.

Of course I decided to get there early, to have more time to take pictures. From how many cars were in the parking lot a half hour early, it wasn’t a very original idea. The GMHC is not really a museum. More like a private collection in an industrial building than an elaborate Schlumpf-like display. It’s not ideal for photography. The cars are generally parked fairly close to each other, mostly side by side, but oh, what cars they are! Even the worst Government Motors haterz and most fervent FoMoCo or Mopar fanboys’ eyes will pop at what’s inside another of those proverbial nondescript industrial parks just outside Detroit.

astro busIMG_0207_r

Sometimes the way the cars were arranged set up interesting juxtapositions. First there was the Astro III turbine powered, space age looking car from the 1960s parked right in front of the restored art deco Futurliner bus styled Our American Crossroads diorama from the 1941 Parade of Progress. Call it days of future past or retro futurism, but the two artifacts of earlier times looked curious next to each other.

The other pairing took place, I suspect, because the GMHC had historic Chevys in a row right next to where they had GM’s experiments in alternative energy like the Electrovan and Electrovair II fuel cell and battery powered vehicles.  Just down from the Electrovan was parked the Autonomy concept from 2002. The Autonomy, if you don’t remember, was also powered by fuel cells, with all of the car’s mechanical components mounted in a “skateboard” like chassis that could be mounted with a variety of body “top hats”.

Marriage of body and skateboard

I don’t recall if they ever showed any alternative bodies to this one. At the GMHC the Autonomy was also parked near a 1959 Chevrolet El Camino, which shares the ’59 Impala and other full size Chevys’ horizontal bat-wing like tail fins that curve down to a Vee. That dramatic styling is literally underlined by a simple horizontal bumper. The front end of the Autonomy has a hood line that also has a pronounced downward pointing Vee, sitting above a horizontal lower element. When I saw the two shapes in the same line of sight, I couldn’t help but notice the similarity and when I mentioned it to some of the others at the event, they agreed. I wouldn’t say that it’s uncanny, but there is a resemblance.


Sometimes shapes in automotive styling reappear in new contexts. For example, some people think that Jeff Teague’s Duesenberg concept’s rear end looks like the front end of a Lamborghini Gallardo, though I doubt that was a conscious influence. One of the ideas behind the Autonomy concept was that the “skateboard” would let exterior designers’ creativity flow, since they didn’t have to worry anymore about accommodating the mechanical bits. I think that it’s funny that with all the bodies they could have topped the Autonomy with, they chose one that looks like the back end of a ’59 Chevy.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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6 Comments on “What’s Wrong With This Picture? A Family Resemblance?...”

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    I believe the Hy-Wire concept vehicle was part of the same project; it too was fitted to their slimline “skateboard” fuel cell chassis. Though the 2 may have never swapped bodies, the ultimate goal was to have them both share the same platform with a few attachment points and bus connections.

    And the floor-to-ceiling greenhouse on the Hy-Wire was a spiffy way to increase visibility.

    • 0 avatar

      You’re correct, thanks. I’m pretty sure that I have the press kit for the Hy-Wire. I’ll have to check it out.

    • 0 avatar

      I felt at the time that the basic skate board concept was at its heart a good one… But one that would take a huge engineering commitment and many years of development to bring to fruition .
      All that said I was a bit surprised to see it totally dropped rather than be assigned to a back-burner small very long term development engineering team with a 15 to 20 year time frame to lay in the fundamentals of something that would offer huge flexibility in both engineering and design once the thorny problems of including modern safety standards as well as offering it in a package that people would want to buy and that could be built with healthy margins.

  • avatar

    Pity to hear that the Our American Crossroads diorama is locked away at the Tech Center. It was always a highlight of my childhood visits to the Museum of Science and Industry. I realize it’s probably sacrilegious to suggest it, but it’d be nice to see them loan it out to the Henry Ford.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s at GM’s Heritage Center, not the Tech Center. The Heritage Center is a few miles north of the Tech Center off of Mound Rd.

      After it was returned to Michigan and restored about 10 years ago, GM did have it on display at the NAIAS. The umbrella group is trying to get a museum started that would display loans from the car companies and private collections. The Our American Crossroads diorama would be a good selection.

  • avatar

    A 1959 El Camino rear end resembles a 2002 concept front end? What will they think of next! What they really have in common is neither the El Camino nor the pedestrian-unfriendly Autonomy concept front end will ever be built.

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