MOTORAMA! - The 1953 Buick Wildcat I - Setting the Tone for the Rest of the '50s and Predicting the '60s
Jon G. Robinson
Copyright 2003, "Journal,"  Flint, Michigan
Joe Bortz takes a lucky journalist for a ride in the Wildcat I.
Jon G. Robinson collection
World War II ended, and America unceremoniously turned its eyes away from Buck Rogers and looked to the real wonders of the Jet Age. Art, architecture, and auto design went from the symmetry, V-shapes, and sweeping bars of Art Decco and faced the future with the clean, slicing, edges of Streamline Modern. Art Decco came straight at the viewer, while Streamline Modern swept past the viewer. An Art Decco dash board might have a speedometer on the driver's side that is mirrored in shape exactly by a clock on the passenger's side in perfect symmetry, but a Streamline Modern dash would have a single pod in front of the driver with nothing but clean chrome lines sweeping over to the passenger.

General Motors faced the 1950's new frontier with several one-of-a-kind show cars that graced the turntables of its wonderous Motorama shows, but none guided GM's artistic themes more practically than the 1953 Buick Wildcat I.

The glitz and glitter of GM's traveling Motorama exhibitions showed Mom, Dad, and the Kids what new, high-horsepower road machines would take them down America's new multi-lane superhighways in effortless V-8 style, and along with practical cars they could actually go to a GM dealership and buy, the one-of-a-kind dreamcars showed them what the future held. Most of the time, these cars-of-the-future would have been impossible to drive, but their artistic themes would show up on actual production cars with time. The Wildcat I was in a class by itself. It was a practical, driveable, beautiful car covered with artistic statements, engineering advancements, and even a name that quickly found their ways onto production Buicks.

The Wildcat I made its Motorama debut in the fall of 1952 and was clearly a descendent of Buick's 1951 XP-300 show car. The marque's LeSabre dreamcar had a wild design whose themes are very hard to spot on production Buicks later in the 1950s, but the XP-300 and Wildcat I were so balanced and graceful that they truly set the tone for Buick's style for years to come. The XP-300 and Wildcat I share a headlight/parking light theme that showed up on production Buicks for 1954, and the Wildcat I's horizontal speedometer and dash theme appeared on production Buick Supers and Roadmasters in 1954 and appeared on all Buicks in 1955. The XP-300 developed a grill design that evolved beautifully on the Wildcat I and was easily adapted to production Buicks for 1955 and '56, and it evolved Buick's traditional Ventiports, or "portholes," into a long, thin design that showed up on production Buicks in 1957. The longest lasting legacy of all was its name which signified plush, sporty Buicks in 1963 and served the Buick buyer through the rest of the 1960s.

The Wildcat I had several features that many may wish had appeared on production Buicks. It's folding top was power-operated and partially spring loaded, and it folded into the trunk with artistic geometry. Its front wheel covers do not rotate with the wheel, which is quite a sight when the Wildcat I cruises by slowly, and these "roto-static" wheel covers have a scoop on their front edge to blow air on the car's disc brakes. Its attractive hood ornament is mirrored exactly on the trunk in keeping with the Jet Age theme, and it would be a few more years before Buick fitted the Wildcat I's dual exhausts onto factory-built Buicks.

The Wildcat I is a smooth-riding, quiet car like all Buicks of its time. The 322-cubic-inch V-8 appeared on Buick Roadmasters in 1953 and was dropped into smaller, quicker Centurys in 1954. The Wildcat I gets up and moves smoothly with its non-shifting Buick Dynaflow transmission and holds nice cruising speeds with a high-speed rear axle ratio. The whole package makes it a favorite to its owner, Joe Bortz of suburban Chicago, one of the worlds leading collectors of one-of-a-kind show cars.

"From what I've been told, it was [GM head stylist] Harley Earl's favorite design of all time," Joe Bortz tells. "The Wildcat I was the dreamcar that really showed what the Buick line would be projecting in the future. You can see it in the grill, the portholes, and the wrap-around windshield. The engine is heavily porcelainized with light green porcelain on the manifolds and lots of chromed accessories. When you open the hood, it looks like one of those beautiful Duesenburg engines from the 1930s."

Joe Bortz says the Wildcat I has one of the highest standards of quality
of any Motorama dreamcar, especially on the interior.
The Wildcat I's interior set the stylistic theme
for Buick dash boards from 1954 through '56. Its horizontal speedometer
appeared on production 1954-'56 Buick Supers and Roadmasters.
Bortz Auto Collection



The Wildcat I wasn't just a pretty face. Bortz holds it up as one of the highest quality dreamcars ever produced.

"A lot of the dream cars didn't even have engines in them," Bortz explains. "They were just show pieces, but the Wildcat I is a full driver that you could drive from Chicago to California with if you wanted to. This car is really, really detailed on the dash board, and the custom interior was highly fitted and highly finished. A lot of the time, the dreamcars just gave off a pleasing silhouette, with the rest of the car being rather shabby, but the Wildcat really fits and flows in high quality. Everybody loves the Wildcat I."

Guy Bennett Jr. was 23 years-old in the fall of 1952 when he made the decision to go to work in his father's long-standing Buick dealership in Wayland, New York, and his reward was seeing the Wildcat I in person. Bennett may hold the keys to a mystery: Were there two Wildcat I's, or was the single car originally black? Both hypotheses have merit since Joe Bortz recently obtained a second set of roto-static wheel covers for the Wildcat I that are in obviously used condition.


"I saw the Wildcat I at the Buick announcement meeting in New York City at Waldorf Astoria," Guy Bennett happily recalls. "I think that car was originally black with green upholstery. The green upholstery is still there, but the car is white now. I have a photo from the '50s of the Wildcat I in my office, and it's white in that picture, but I have slides of the black one. I've always wondered about the black color. One thing I can say for sure, that thing was a knockout! It was just fabulous."Bennett was on the front lines when so many of the Wildcat I's features showed up on Buicks the public could buy.

"When we started selling the 1954 Buicks, they covered them up on the transport trucks and when we first put them on the showroom floor, and when announcement day came, you pulled back the covers and away you went. When we first unvieled those '54s, people thought they were the dreamcars from the Motorama. People didn't know you could buy anything with the cut-down doors and those wrap-around windshields. People were amazed that you could buy something like the dreamcars, and we sold the heck out of them!"

The Bortz Auto Collection displays its cars often at various automotive events, and to see where they will display the Wildcat I next, go to www.bortzautocollection.com

The Wildcat I's "roto-static" wheel covers sit still while the wheel turns.
The wheel covers' front-facing scoop blows cool air on the disc
brakes at all times while driving.
Bortz Auto Collection