Selling the steak has a lot to do with the sizzle, and no automaker has practiced the art of the extravaganza more assiduously than General Motors. Whether it's a -rama (Motorama, Futurama, Powerama), a traveling tent show or a world's fair stage, GM has never been shy about strutting its stuff. Here are some examples from its first century.
When it came to an event, GM sure threw some crowd pleasers
World's fair, Disney, charity events -- wherever car buyers congregate, count on a car display
From 1949 to 1961, GM spotlighted its divisions, vehicles and household appliances at eight Motoramas. The show, initially called Transportation Unlimited and staged in the grand ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, began touring U.S. cities in 1953 and got the glitzier Motorama name. The shows, which featured concept cars and production vehicles, attracted more than 10 million visitors. Displays that highlighted GM's scientific and engineering research traveled in a fleet of more than 100 trucks.
A three-day exhibition in January 1988 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel displayed GM concept and production vehicles. Exhibits, including a working design studio, stressed GM's high-tech activities and the cooperative spirit of its work force.
This traveling educational exhibit, the brainchild of engineering giant Charles Kettering, showcased GM's scientific and industrial achievements to rural communities and small towns across the U.S. and Canada. GM held the shows starting in 1936, before being interrupted during World War II. GM vehicles and products shared the stage with live presentations on scientific advances such as diesel power, the atom and jet propulsion. A traveling Aerodome tent seated more than 1,000 people. A fleet of custom-built futuristic trucks, called Futurliners, kept the parade moving from town to town. From 1936 to 1941, the Parade of Progress traveled to 251 cities and reached more than 12 million people.
GM spent more than $3 million on one of the largest structures built by a private exhibitor at the 1934 Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago. The exhibit, designed by renowned architect Albert Kahn, displayed GM's industrial prowess. Visitors saw a car being assembled and a Frigidaire air-conditioned house. A statue by sculptor Carl Milles was in the General Motors Hall of Progress.
In September 1955, the exhibition of diesel and gas turbine power attracted more than 2 million visitors during a 26-day run in Chicago. The 1 million-square-foot exhibition dramatized the role of GM in the country's industrial life and development. Exhibits included a sawmill, a cotton gin, an oil rig, a jet plane, earthmoving equipment and a submarine.
GM staged the live shows, designed to promote the importance of science for students, in school auditoriums and for clubs and youth groups. The shows began in 1937, were interrupted by World War II and then expanded in 1945. They toured the U.S., Canada and more than 20 countries, featuring two-man teams that offered dramatic examples of science in action. Topics included sound waves, fluorescent lighting, jet propulsion and synthetic rubber. The program dwindled in the 1980s.
In 1999, Walt Disney World's Epcot Center in Orlando opened "Test Track," a ride developed by GM and Disney's Imagineering staff. The 51/2-minute ride is designed to replicate activities at an automotive proving ground, including braking, hill climbing and high-speed driving. The ride and accompanying displays replaced GM's World of Motion pavilion, which had debuted at Epcot in 1982. World of Motion provided a 141/2-minute ride through 23 animated scenes that traced transportation progress and depicted GM's vehicle design, engineering and manufacturing techniques.
GM mounted Futurama exhibits at two New York world's fairs: 1939-1940 and 1964-65. Each exhibit offered vehicle and research displays, and featured a ride that previewed the future. More than 53 million people visited the exhibits.
From 1996 to 2001, Concept: Cure linked fashion and automotive design to raise money for breast cancer research and awareness. GM's partnership with the Council of Fashion Designers of America relied on noted designers to create one-of-a-kind GM vehicles that were auctioned for charity.
The Ten Event, begun in 2002, links auto design, couture and celebrity entertainment in a Hollywood charity fashion show tied to the Academy Awards. The show stars GM concept, classic and production vehicles, and celebrities wearing designer fashions. This year, GM applied a similar mix of fashion, celebrities and vehicles to GM Style, an event that kicked off the Detroit auto show in 2007.
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