Buick’s Lost Motorama Roadster: the 1955 Wildcat III

Nobody seems to know for sure what became of the Wildcat III, Buick’s sporty 1955 Motorama dream car. Let’s have another look at the gone-but-not-forgotten four-seat roadster.  

 

 

Between 1953 and 1955, General Motors built three Wildcat dream cars for the Motorama show car circuit: the original Wildcat I of 1953, the radical Wildcat II, and the Wildcat III for 1955. In an interesting turn, the final car in the series was actually the most practical and viable for production. While the Wildcat III never made it to the showrooms, of course, some of its styling themes were soon to appear on Buick production models.

 

Like many of the GM Motorama dream cars, the Wildcat III was constructed with a fiberglass body, here mounted on a shortened Buick chassis with a 110-inch wheelbase. The 322 CID Nailhead V8 was souped up to 280 hp with a four-carburetor intake setup, while the Twin Turbine Dynaflow automatic transmission boasted a sporty floor-mounted shift lever. At 190 inches overall, the Wildcat III was large for a sports car but rather petite for a Buick. Reportedly, designers referred to it as the “toy convertible.” The finish was a flamboyant lipstick color called Kimberly Red.

 

In a departure from the rest of the GM Motorama dream roadsters, the Wildcat III boasted a rear seat to provide room for four. The red leather bucket seats in front swiveled for easy entry and exit, and a glamorous four-dial chrome instrument cluster filled the dash. One novel body feature was the clamshell trunk opening, in which the deck lid and the tops of the quarter panels hinged upward as a unit. The shut lines are just visible in the photo above.

While it’s doubtful there was ever any real production intent behind the Wildcat III, we can see that several of its major styling elements made it to prime time, including the dramatic checkmark side trim (below), a signature feature on Buick’s 1957 production models. And of course, the Wildcat name, just the name, became an official part of the Buick model line in 1964, where it remained through 1970.

What became of the Wildcat III once its show career was over is unclear. One story suggests it was used to test a new vehicle compactor at a local Detroit junkyard. Another says the car was given to a Hollywood actress, which seems unlikely in that it hasn’t been seen in the decades since. According to the expert historians at the General Motors Heritage Center, the car was indeed ordered destroyed, but it seems there is no documented confirmation that this ever took place. So while the odds may be slim, it’s possible that the Wildcat III is tucked away somewhere, waiting to be rediscovered.

 

8 thoughts on “Buick’s Lost Motorama Roadster: the 1955 Wildcat III

  1. “Oh, that old thing in the garage?” Reliable sources claim a mid-60’s purge to get rid of all that old stuff we’re not using any more… which happened on a disturbingly frequent basis at GM. To be fair, if they kept it all, they would cover most of SE Michigan in dusty warehouses. Handsome as hell, though.

  2. Gorgeous! Would’ve been perfect successor to the Skylarks, but presumably the market wasn’t there. Similar cowl vent appeared on Cadillacs in subsequent years. Swivel seats predate Chrysler’s ’59 feature (and GM’s ’73). Clamshell trunk lid predated BMW’s ’60s application. Love the rake of the windshield…but no vent wings disappoint…though I realize they would take away from the aesthetic appearance. The taillights (and those of the ’54 Mercury) appeal to me. Since it was never produced, the fact that I couldn’t afford to buy it is irrelevant now, so I can safely say I’d own it and drive it. At this point, I’d even accept a scale model of it! Thanks for sharing all the goodies you manage to unearth.

  3. I don’t care for the back but the rest of this car is very handsome. With this and the Corvette, GM could have shut down the Thunderbird entirely before it ever got off the ground. The wheelbase is 3″ shorter than the 1958 Squarebird so it’s not a huge car. I think the market _was_ there, but GM didn’t know it.

    • Great comment. At around this time, GM did a bunch of two and four-door compact Euro-style sedans — LaSalle II, Biscayne, Corvette Impala, etc. At the car shows, the Ford guys would come over with their tape measures and check them out. Then in 1958, the four-seat Thunderbird. This irked Mitchell no end as they could never get their cars approved at GM.

    • I agree. Had GM produced this car, they would have probably outsold the T Bird. Another case of missing the market by a Corp, not the first time, or the last…

  4. I personally know of one GM R&D vehicle that was supposed to be crushed but still resides in a garage in Indiana.

  5. Was GM policy to crush showcars after their run, so it’s not hard to imagine the final destination…

Comments are closed.