|Vehicle:||1953 GM Futurliner Tour Bus|
|Years Produced:||1940, rebuilt 1953|
|Original List Price:||Reputedly $1 million|
|SCM Valuation:||$4,320,000 (1/21/06)|
|Tune Up Cost:||$500|
|Distributor Caps:||$30 approx|
|Chassis Number Location:||n/a|
|Engine Number Location:||Front Left|
|Alternatives:||1950s Routemaster double-decker London bus, 1940s Greyhound Scenicruiser, 1930s Renault Parisian bus.|
This 1953 “Parade of Progress” Tour Bus sold for $4,320,000 at Barrett-Jackson in Scottsdale on January 21, 2006.
It’s hard to think of a way to upstage this 33-foot long, eleven-foot high, red-and-white bus, but the sale price certainly did. The whole affair was surreal anyway, as the Futurliner was too heavy to cross the stage and lurked, honking in the shadows, while spectators jostled to see it and auctioneers shouted themselves hoarse.
Ron Pratte of Chandler, Arizona, bought the bus and the 1954 Pontiac Bonneville ($3,024,000) and plans to display them together in his 200-car collection. Bus seller and SCMer Daniel Noiseux of Montreal, Canada, says the Bonneville has been measured and will fit inside the bus, although how it will be loaded from the side is unclear.
Pratte also bought the stunning red Ghia-bodied 1952 Chrysler d’Elegance coupe ($1,188,000), which made January 21 an expensive day for him.
Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane at about 35 mph, which was all the “Parade of Progress” Tour Bus was good for with its original 300-ci six-cylinder engine. GM started its Parade of Progress after the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair, with a fleet of eight buses to take the exhibits around America.
The idea was expanded in 1940 after the 1939 New York World’s Fair and GM’s Yellow Truck & Coach Division built twelve new streamlined buses with Fleetwood/Fisher bodies. This bus is #11, and nine of the twelve still exist. (It is reported that two are being cannibalized to restore the others, a process that will no doubt be accelerated by this price. I suggest the owners move rapidly-the market for $4m buses is most likely a thin one, and the demand may already have been met.)
Four buses are roadworthy. One is a motor home in California; the others are original. Peter Pan Bus Co. in Springfield, Massachussets, has one, and the last is at the National Automotive and Truck Museum of the United States in Auburn, Indiana. Three others are being restored.
The 1940 Parade of Progress visited 12 1/2 million people in 251 cities before being mothballed at the start of WWII. In 1950, the buses were revived and toured until they were parked in 1956, when television was projecting the future into people’s homes.
The buses would demonstrate such things as the Kitchen of Tomorrow, How a Jet Engine Works, and Highways of Tomorrow. They’d motor into town, set up at a football stadium, open their huge side panels, extend the stages and finally, raise their ridgebacks eleven feet to expose banks of floodlights to illuminate the field.
Daniel Noiseux and two friends found six buses in a Hemmings truck ad in 1992. He had disassembled a 1940s diner, moved it, and rebuilt it as a restaurant, and was looking for a new project. At that time the buses were sitting in a field in Illinois, property of Joe Bortz, who has collected many GM dream cars. He once owned eight Futurliners.
“The original plan was to buy three but we settled on this one for $10,000 because it was the best,” says Noiseux. “We had no idea what we were getting into.”
The bus was badly rusted and much of the unique trim was damaged or missing and had to be recreated. Luckily, the friends had connections in BOS Advertising and the FIDO cell phone company, which was willing to lease the bus for three years and sponsor the restoration IF it could be done in five months. It was, though Noiseux recalls work going on 24/7 and the total cost being $300,000.
The wiring was an incredible mess, recalled Noiseux, but making a new windshield-which wraps almost around the cockpit-was the hardest task. “We made twelve to get three good ones,” says Noiseux.
It could have been worse. The buses were remodeled in 1953, when this one was retitled. Before that, the cabs were non-opening plexiglass bubbles with no air-conditioning. There is still no access from the cab to the body of the bus, just a steep flight of ten steps to the right front door. The left door leads to the submarine-like engine compartment.
Mario Petit has been the bus’s sole driver since its restoration and reckons he’s traveled at least 10,000 miles-and is grateful for the pneumatic seat. He likens the 24-ton bus to driving a Boeing 747 on the street and says with his 10-foot-6-inch view, he worried most about not seeing people directly in front.
“The bus has 16 springs under the front axle; if you look at film of the original trips, the driver is bumping up and down all the time,” he says. Petit drove the bus to Chandler the morning after the auction-complete with police helicopter escort.
Joe Bortz came to Scottsdale to see the 1953 “Parade of Progress” Tour Bus and reckoned it would bring about $400,000, though the partners were hoping for $600,000. “I wonder how he feels now,” said Noiseux.
The Futurliner price falls into the category of “What’s it worth? What have you been offered lately?” But you have to think that Joe Bortz’s estimate of its value is going to be a lot closer for the next one that comes up for sale.
In any case: What on earth are you going to do with it? Unless you plan to launch a vintage Mayflower moving company, the Futurliner’s performance (and comfort) confine it to a museum. In that context, the Bonneville is the perfect traveling companion for it. Both are icons of an optimistic “can do” time, symbols of GM at its zenith.