WASHINGTON — One of the 12 buslike Art Deco Futurliner vehicles General Motors built for its Parade of Progress in the late-’30s has been scheduled for inclusion on the National Historic Vehicle Register, the Historic Vehicle Association said in an interview. Futurliner No. 10 is now here in advance of its scheduled display appearance at the Washington auto show in January.
The 12 Futurliners were essentially mobile display stages, and according to Bruce Berghoff and George Ferris, in their book, General Motors Parade of Progress & a Futurliner Returns, the coaches were typically arranged in an organized pattern between a large dome tent and an information kiosk. Each Futurliner had a self-contained stage and a pop-up light tower, and included displays that showed jet engine technology, agricultural advancements and traffic solutions.
The most popular one, Mr. Berghoff and Mr. Ferris noted in their book, was “Our American Crossroads,” a 16-foot-long automated diorama depicting the transformation of turn-of-the-20th century rural communities into 1950s suburbs. The G.M. Heritage Center, which still has it on display, says it is the last Parade of Progress module left.
The Parade of Progress ran for a few years before World War II and again from 1953-56. Mr. Berghoff and Mr. Ferris wrote that during the 1950’s shows, about 50 young men who were college graduates were recruited to run the shows and drive the Futurliners. In all, the parade made 150 stops in the United States and Canada.
Mark Gessler, president of the Historic Vehicle Association, which works with the Interior Department and the Library of Congress to keep records of historically important vehicles, said that it took a group of more than two dozen volunteers five years to complete the restoration of No. 10. Mr. Berghoff and Mr. Ferris said in their book that the van was in rough shape when the crew began work in 1999, in Zeeland, Mich.
But after years of hunting for parts and restoration, No. 10 looks new, with green vinyl seats, red and white exterior paint accented by huge swaths of sculpted aluminum, an upgraded military version of the original 302-cubic-inch in-line-6 GMC truck engine and a set of expensive custom-molded whitewall tires. (The tires cost about $10,000 to produce, so No. 10 does long trips on the back of a flatbed trailer.)
“They did a remarkable job working from the photographic record and what promotional literature was available,” said Christo Datini, a spokesman from the G.M. Heritage Center. “With the financial support and engineering expertise at General Motors, modern materials and techniques were utilized to rebuild, enhance and correct certain structural and mechanical elements including the chassis subassemblies, transmission, doors and roof.”