Parade of Progress still shows off a long-gone future

AUBURN, Ind. — The Parade of Progress was a traveling show staged by General Motors in the early 1950s to promote American technological innovation in the immediate post-World War II era. To carry and show the various displays, the company equipped a dozen bus-based Futurliners with huge clamshell side panels that turned them into rolling stages.

The Parade was popular, but even its popularity was eclipsed when television allowed people to see news of technology and much more from the comfort of their own living rooms.

GM reportedly donated two of the Futurliners to the Michigan state police and a traveling evangelist bought another to use as a stage for his preaching.

Sometime in the 1980s, Joe Bortz, who had resurrected several GM Motorama concept cars from burial, was approached by someone who had five of the aging Futurliners. Bortz was in the restaurant business in Chicago. The owner of the Futurliners wanted Bortz to join him in creating a new restaurant called the Bus Stop. The man’s idea was to chop off the noses of the Futurliners and convert the bodies into dining rooms.

Passionate about preserving old vehicles, Bortz couldn’t tolerate that idea, so he bought the Futurliners. He wasn’t in a position to restore them himself, but he wanted to be sure they got into the right hands, to people who would preserve them until restoration was possible.

One of the five was restored by a group of volunteers that included several former GM employees and is on permanent display at the National Automotive and Truck Museum of the United States (NATMUS) here in northeastern Indiana. However, it was driven a few miles from its home to be on display here at the Auctions America by RM Auburn Spring classic vehicle auction to help showcase the availability for bidding on one of the other Futurliners. It is believed to be the first time two of the vehicles — one restored, one unrestored — have been shown together.

A fully restored Futurliner sold at auction for $4 million several years ago at Scottsdale, Ariz., but the bidding on the one available here — a non-running vehicle that likely would consume more than a million dollars, perhaps much more, to restore — peaked at $340,000, a no-sale figure that fell short of the minimum figure the owner was willing to accept.

Bortz said of the 12 Futurliners, nine are believed to still exist.

Although the Futurliner didn’t sell, auction sales exceeded $6.75 million with 66 percent of the 424 vehicles crossing the block finding new owners.

The highest-dollar sales both involved Duesenbergs, a marque founded in Indiana. A 1932 Model J five-passenger sedan sold for $404,250 and a 1932 Model J dual-cowl phaeton brought $375,000.

Other top sales included a 1965 Shelby Mustang GT350 owned by baseball Hall of Fame star Reggie Jackson for $247,500, a 2005 Ford GT for $176,000 and a 1938 Packard Twelve all-weather cabriolet for $152,900.

The Auburn Spring auction is the smaller of two annual events at the Auburn Auction Park. The much larger fall event, with an anticipated 1,200 vehicles, is scheduled for the Labor Day weekend.

 

Larry Edsall

Larry Edsall is a Phoenix-based freelance writer. You can reach him at ledsall@cox.net.