Considering today’s tech-driven reality, it’s hard to imagine an era when dinosaurs roamed Jurassic swamps and reigned supreme among all the planet’s creatures. Now, their tiny descendants do pushups on rocks in our gardens, posturing to attract five-inch-long mates with antics emulating those of their grand predecessors. During America’s postwar prosperity, the domestic automotive industry was like those Jurassic giants, making the rules and enjoying the spoils from a car-crazy nation.
General Motors was the biggest of all, the Tyrannosaurus rex of the automotive industry but with a reach far greater than the enfeebled arms of the tyrant king. The fact is that GM had many arms—more like an octopus—each a marque unto itself. Cadillac and Chevrolet sandwiched Buick, then there was Oldsmobile and Pontiac as GM’s efforts to suit every conceivable taste and pocketbook. And there was no better way to pique the appetite of potential car buyers than the futuristic concepts presented at GM Motoramas. These traveling exhibitions, from 1949 through 1961, were staged to test the public reaction to new designs and showcase the latest production models.
Of the most famous of the 1950s-era Motorama stars is a highlight of Broad Arrow’s Monterey Jet Center Auction, being held August 17 and 18 as part of Monterey Car Week. It’s the 1954 Oldsmobile F-88 concept car, and the only remaining example of this iconic GM Motorama creation. Supplied directly from GM as a knocked-down “kit” to legendary automaker E.L. Cord, it was stored at Cord’s home in Beverly Hills for years before being fully restored. It subsequently became part of the renowned Gordon Apker collection, and is now being offered from the Gateway Automobile Museum Collection.
Known internally as project XP-20, the Oldsmobile concept was designed in the spirit of Chevrolet’s 1953 Corvette: a two-seat sports car with a 102-inch wheelbase and fiberglass body. But its details define the Oldsmobile F-88 concept as something far more visionary, offering a glimpse of the future in the shape of its fenders, tail fins, exhaust outlets, and use of chrome. And GM spared no expense, with custom trim and hardware like front fender vents cleverly disguised behind cast “F88” emblems. Its interior was upholstered in pearlescent-finished pigskin, a material impossible to offer with production-line models. Unlike most concept cars, the F-88 was not a pushmobile, but powered by Oldsmobile’s 150 hp, 324 cubic-inch V-8 engine, mated to GM’s Hydramatic transmission.
The history of concept cars is often convoluted, and as with most Motorama models, there was more than one F-88 produced. According to journalist Michael Lamm and historian David Temple, three examples were built: the gold Motorama show car; a second example for Harley Earl; and a third for GM executive Sherrod Skinner. Earl’s car was re-bodied soon after, and Skinner’s vehicle was probably dismantled early on. Famed automaker E.L. Cord saw the F-88 and wanted it. Earl couldn’t sell one to his persistent friend, but did the next best thing, selling (according to extant documents) “surplus materials” that included “obsolete parts and required engineering blueprints for the Oldsmobile XP-20” in early 1955. These were shipped in multiple crates to Cord’s estate. Attempts were made to assemble the car in Cord’s six-car garage, but the project languished and the crates were passed on to a litany of later owners, eventually being acquired by restorer Lon Krueger of Arizona in the 1980s.
Krueger noted that the original front-fender wells had traces of green paint, which along with the relatively early production number of the V-8 engine indicated that most portions of the Cord F-88 had probably belonged to the original Motorama car. Much of the trim had previously been fitted to a vehicle, suggesting that one or more of the three completed F-88s was broken down to assemble the kit for Cord. Blackhawk Collection owner Don Williams acquired the car during Krueger’s restoration, selling it in 1991 to vintage racer and collector Bruce Lustman.
Featured by Oldsmobile for the marque’s 100th anniversary celebrations in 1997, it then was sold to Gordon Apker of Kent, Wash., to become a feature of his notable collection. The Gateway Automobile Museum, in Gateway, Colo., acquired the car from Apker in 2005, and it became a centerpiece of that rarified assemblage. It later appeared on the lawn of the 2008 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and on the program’s concours poster.
Having copious provenance and multiple volumes dedicated to its history, this Oldsmobile F-88 concept car is accompanied by a file of recent ownership documentation, as well as original F-88 promotional postcards and copies of General Motors memos relating to the XP-20 project. Surely, this is one of the most significant concept cars ever made, which is why it carries a high-end estimate of $3 million.
Click here for more photos of this 1954 Oldsmobile F-88 concept car.