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Motorama memories for sale – five 1955 Chevrolet cutaway displays head to auction

Published in blog.hemmings.com

1955 Motorama cutaway displays. Photos courtesy Mecum Auctions.

In 1955, GM’s Motorama was a not-to-be-missed affair for the whole family. In addition to highlighting the latest concept cars from its brands, Motorama showcased everything from current automotive technology to the newest household appliances. On August 3, a set of five Chevrolet cutaway displays from the 1955 GM Motorama – offered as a single lot — will cross Mecum’s auction stage in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, presenting a unique opportunity for private collectors and museums alike.

The collection — found in Logan, Utah in the mid-1990s — consists of a cutaway 265-cu.in. “Turbo-Fire” V-8, a cutaway 235.5-cu.in. “Blue Flame” inline six, a cutaway three-speed manual transmission, a cutaway three-speed manual transmission with the optional “Touch-Down Overdrive,” and a two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission. A sign describing the collection of five pieces also accompanies the other components, though it’s short on specific details about the individual items.

265-cu.in. Turbo-Fire V-8.

GM’s 1955 Motorama tour began in New York City in January before making stops in Miami (February), San Francisco (March-April) and Boston (April-May). In addition to the cutaways and new cars (such as the Chevrolet Nomad, seen as a concept at the 1954 Motorama, and the 50-millionth car built by GM, a Chevrolet Bel-Air two-door hardtop) the displays included eight new-for-’55 show cars: the Buick Wildcat III, Chevrolet Biscayne, Pontiac Strato Star, Oldsmobile 88 Delta, LaSalle II roadster and sedan, Cadillac Eldorado Brougham, and GMC L’Universelle.

Costs for putting on the lavish display had ballooned to over $2 million by 1955, but given the number of attendees from coast-to-coast, that worked out to roughly $1 per person. As a marketing vehicle, GM could still justify the expense of Motorama, especially when it had big news to announce for its top-selling brand, Chevrolet. After years of development, 1955 was the year that Chevrolet introduced its new V-8 engine, supplementing the inline-sixes that had powered the brand’s automobiles since the prewar years.

235.5-cu.in. Blue Flame six.

Chevrolet’s V-8 carried on the brand’s tradition of building overhead valve engines, but thanks to the efforts of chief engineer Ed Cole (who’d moved to Chevrolet from Cadillac, after assisting with the luxury brand’s own V-8), the engine was revolutionary in its design. Its compact size and method of casting made the V-8 around 50 pound lighter than Chevrolet’s 235.5-cu.in. six, and when topped by a two-barrel carburetor the Turbo-Fire produced 162 horsepower. An optional “Plus-Power Package,” which included a four-barrel carburetor, boosted this output to 180 hp.

Chevrolet’s three-speed heavy-duty synchromesh manual transmission was the standard gearbox for 1955.

The V-8 featured lightweight stamped-steel rockers that permitted higher engine speeds, and its cylinder heads used cross-flow ports and wedge-shaped combustion chambers for improved efficiency and performance. Chevrolet billed its oversquare design (with a 3.75-inch bore and a 3.0-inch stroke) as producing less friction and wear thanks to reduced piston travel, appealing to those who wanted both reliability and increased performance.

For 1955, the Turbo-Fire could be ordered with the standard three-speed manual transmission (described in advertising as the “New Heavy-Duty Synchro-Mesh Transmission”); the three-speed manual with “Touch-Down Overdrive,” a $108 option; or the two-speed Powerglide automatic ($189), described as “smoother and thriftier than ever for ‘55” in the company’s literature.

The three-speed manual with the optional “Touch-Down Overdrive.”

The 135.5-cu.in. overhead-valve inline-six was available in two versions for 1955. Paired with the three-speed manual or manual with overdrive, the “Thrift-King” engine produced 123 horsepower, but when paired with the Powerglide, output of the “Blue Flame” six was upped to 136 hp. In addition to a different carburetor and high-lift camshaft, the Blue Flame engine received full-pressure lubrication, hydraulic lifters and aluminum pistons, though the compression ratio remained 7.5:1 for both engines.

Two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission.

All five exhibits were restored and repainted in the original colors by Chevrolet Creative Services, the same division that created the displays for 1955. Chrome parts were either polished or replated, and the cutaways were updated with new electric motors, wiring and relays. Mecum has not yet set a pre-auction estimate for this lot, but in January 2019 a single cutaway 396-cu.in., 425-horsepower Chevrolet V-8 sold for $165,000 in Scottsdale. More recently, a trio of Mopar V-8s crossed the block in Indianapolis, selling for a fee-inclusive $148,500 (for a Plymouth 426-cu.in. Hemi), $198,000 (for a Plymouth 440 6BBL), and $209,000 (for a Dodge 426-cu.in. Hemi).

Mecum’s Harrisburg auction takes place from July 31-August 3 at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex. For additional details, visit Mecum.com.