The monster Class A motorhome you see trundling down the interstate has an ancestor. It’s GM’s wild Futurliner, over 11 feet tall and weighing around 13 tons. And guess when this baby first appeared?
These awe-inspiring vehicles were designed by the legendary Harley Earl. Their story begins in 1933, when General Motors was persuaded to create a traveling technology roadshow. The first ‘Parade of Progress’ hit the road in 1936, and in 1940 twelve ‘first generation’ Futurliners appeared.
Are they still around? Fo’ shizzle. In 2006, one sold for a cool US$4m at a Barrett-Jackson auction in Arizona, and earlier this year, another was delivered to a new owner in Sweden.
The Futurliners carried up to 90 gallons of gas—oh, those were the days—but the first incarnations only had four-cylinder diesels for motive power.
World War II put the brakes on the Parade, and the Futurliners were mothballed. After the war, they resurfaced in Detroit for another parade, this time commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the invention of the automobile.
In ’53, no doubt embarrassed by the lethargic performance of its dream machines, the General sent the Futurliners back into the workshop. They were rebuilt and upgraded, and the Parade of Progress started up again. This time, the Futurliners had a more appropriate 302 cubes, and four-speed Hydramatics to drive through. But three years later, television provided a better window on the world than the Parade, and GM sold or gave away its Futurliners.
For some of these vehicles, the history is a little murky: most are accounted for, but four are apparently beyond restoration. Much as we like originality, we’d love to see one of these RV forerunners given a modern drivetrain, and a chassis to match the extraordinary looks—top speed in original trim is only around 40mph (65kph). And then perhaps Airstream interior design guru Christopher Deam could weave his magic on the interior …
In fact, one Futurliner has already been converted into a motorhome by a guy called Bob Valdez, who did most of the work himself. Bob put his rig up for sale earlier this year, and if you’ve got more than a million in the bank and a taste for leather, chrome and maroon velvet, it might not be too late to call him.
GM stunned the RV world again in 1972 with the GMC Motorhome. It’s Thunderbirds and The A-Team rolled into one, a low and sleek sportscoach that was also years ahead of its time.