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
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
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 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
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
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
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