Nestled in an industrial area, just north of the General Motors Technical Center, in Sterling Heights is a building that looks pretty bland from the outside, yet holds rows of stunning cars inside displaying over a hundred years of history. This building is the GM Heritage Center and it houses a large portion of General Motors’ Private Collection of historic vehicles, classic concepts, and the archives of over a hundred years of General Motors history and documents. This collection, unfortunately not open to the public, is rarely accessible through tours held in groups at the center, as well as for General Motors employees and corporate events. The cars are not roped off and they are organized by either make or historical significance. The lobby houses a rotation of a historic General Motors concept and has an ambient feel with darker lighting. Once the doors open to the large warehouse with the collection, it quickly becomes inspiring and amazing to see.
General Motors often rotates the collection but many rare examples and important concept vehicles remain housed here on display. The concepts range from the very first Buick Y-Job to concept vehicles that may just be a few years old. In the lobby during my visit, the 1970 Pontiac Pegasus concept was there to greet the tour and this car was not shown often on the show circuit and rarely is on display today. This beautiful car looks like a modified second generation Firebird, yet the wheels and styling hint at what is under the hood. Bill Mitchell, GM’s styling head at the time, was a large fan of sports cars and also Ferraris. He contacted Ferrari and had a brand new Ferrari V12 in 1970 sourced for the concept, with transmission and wheels. The brakes were from a Stingray and the body was fully custom-built by General Motors, to preview the new Firebird but to add some Italian flare as well. In the collection, a row of Harley J Earl concepts attracted much attention by guests and were the most significant in the collection during the visit. These concepts include the Buick LeSabre concept, which has a large Canadian connection, the Cadillac LeMans concept as well as two of the three Firebird concepts of the late fifties. These concepts appear fast even while parked and inspire and sense of motion and are often jet-inspired as well. Many Corvair based concepts were also on exhibit as well as recent Cadillac concepts from the last two decades.
General Motors Heritage Center really understands the importance of showing of the achievements of the past as well as linking them to current relevance. Two big points of interest that were displayed in the collection were the history behind General Motors and alternative fuels, as well as General Motors and autonomous driving. Both of these are hot topics at today’s auto shows and are really hinting the mainstream in our daily automobiles. The technology had to start somewhere, and that was within these beautiful concepts. General Motors has a good portion of their alternative fuel vehicles placed in a row to be viewed more easily and understand the significance. These vehicles included the 1965 Electrovair, a Corvair sedan loaded with batteries and fully electric, the 1966 Electrovan which is a hydrogen-electric powered hybrid van and then moving to the more iconic Impact concept which previewed the infamous EV-1 concept. This row also showed two little-known XP city car concepts that were fully electric from 1969 and 1970. More currently, the GM Autonomy concept was on display showing off its hydrogen “skateboard” platform, similar to that of the Faraday Future company in automotive headlines this past year. General Motors also used a lot of turbine powered automobiles which could run on many different fuels if gasoline became more obsolete. The Firebird concepts which used this technology also previewed autonomous technology in 1956 and 1959. The two vehicles on display were advertised as being able to be driven on their own to the programmed destination or be manually driven with a jet-inspired joystick. The 2007 Tahoe that was fully autonomous for a technology competition is also on exhibit and previews the start of the current iteration of how we see and use autonomous technology.
With over a hundred years of history and seeing these significant vehicles on display. One vehicle is the centerpiece of the collection of one of General Motors’ most iconic. This vehicle is the stunning 1951 Buick LeSabre concept which was released under Harley J Earl. This stunning vehicle shows the beautiful styling and jet inspiration that brought tailfins into larger heights in the fifties and cars become more long and sleek. This LeSabre has seen a few alterations to its design over the years as Harley J Earl also drove this as his personal car. The paint and wheels were different on another produced example, after an early release to keep it fresh on the show circuit. This car was one of the first concepts to be viewed and exhibited worldwide, Toronto in 1951 was even one of the vehicles first stops on its circuit tour. General Motors is actually bringing this vehicle up to the Canadian International Auto Show this year in Toronto next week. You can view this beautiful example of jet-age styling at the show in the South Building at the Art and the Automobile exhibit which also features many other Concours winning automobiles and historic cars. The show takes place from February 17th to the 26th and this is one of the first major appearances of the LeSabre concept back in Canada after 1951. The collection is a rare opportunity to view, but at the Auto Show this year, you can get a glimpse at one of the most important vehicles from General Motors.