6 February 2015

1955 Chevrolet Biscayne XP-37

Chevy’s Motorama dream car showcased what came next

Chevrolet's Biscayne wowed show-goers at the 1955 General Motors Motorama. Designed and built under the direction of GM design chief Harley Earl, this genuine “dream car” matters because it is one of the two surviving Chevrolet concept vehicles from the automaker’s famed 1950s automotive extravaganzas.

Conceived as an “exploration in elegance,” the sleek Biscayne was a true hardtop sport sedan. It shared the all-new 1955 Chevrolet’s 115-inch wheelbase, but was dramatically lower and 10 inches shorter overall than the standard car. Its four-door body was made of reinforced fiberglass, the same material used for the Corvette. To 1955 eyes, the Biscayne’s deeply sculptured body lines were a striking departure from the norm.

Opening from the center, the Biscayne’s front and rear doors locked into the rocker panels when closed — there was no latch pillar. Continuing the sport sedan theme, the interior featured four thin-profile bucket seats, with the front two pivoting outward for easier entry and exit. A wide-perimeter frame enabled the dropped floor pans that increased legroom and headroom.

Chevrolet had just introduced its 265-cid Turbo-Fire V-8 for 1955, and the Biscayne showcased the new engine with chrome accents, a four-barrel carburetor and internal mods that helped boost horsepower to 215.

Creating dream cars such as the XP-37 — GM’s project designation for the Biscayne — inspired stylists and engineers to reach for the future. Crowd response to the Motorama cars was closely monitored to gauge consumer acceptance of “experimental” styling and features. The GM Research reports that followed influenced production designs — and would also help Earl sell design ideas to occasionally reluctant division executives.

Earl’s stylists were already sketching ideas for the 1958 GM cars by the time the 1955 Motorama’s five-city tour ended, and the show cars’ sculpted bodies influenced the styling of the ’58 Chevys and Pontiacs. Chevrolets adopted the Biscayne’s round taillights for ’58; they would become an enduring motif for the brand. The car’s complex “three-way panoramic windshield” was seen on 1959–60 GM models. Both the 1960 Chevrolet Corvair and 1961–62 Corvette drew upon the Biscayne’s rear body design.

Chevrolet also applied the Biscayne designation to a new series of production models for 1958, introducing a nameplate that would carry through 1972.

Late in 1958, the Motorama Biscayne was cut up for scrap at the salvage yard where former GM show cars were routinely destroyed. But the yard owner didn’t finish the job. Instead, he squirreled away the ex-show car’s chopped-up pieces. Thus, the fragmented Biscayne would be counted among the four 1950s GM Motorama cars famously unearthed at the yard three decades later. An exceptionally challenging and superbly executed restoration was completed in 2010.

Six decades after its Motorama debut, the avant-garde 1955 Chevrolet Biscayne’s “star power” is undiminished, and it still attracts a crowd whenever it is shown.

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