GM Aerotrain – The train that didn’t save the railroad…

Happy 2016. I’m afraid we have been very lapse and haven’t posted for a long time. We had lots of good intentions of posting at the very least a festive greeting but long to do lists left blogging at the bottom of the queue!

Anyhow we are here now and while we were researching the Parade of Progress story we also came across this rather stylish GM train…

The General Motors Aerotrain was designed by Chuck Jordan, GM styling department Designer of Special Projects in the mid 50’s. It utilised an experimental locomotive coupled to modified bus bodies.

At the time the railways were in trouble with the public preferring cars and subsidised buses and planes and the idea was to introduce super fast trains to try and win the customers back. General Motors’ vice president of styling, Harley Earl, began to discuss the possibility of marketing a new streamlined train that would wow rail travelers and be cheap for railroads to operate. Two demonstrators were made and toured the country in an attempt to sell the concept to various railroad companies but not enough research and development had been done and they weren’t successful.

Modelled on an intercity bus, the train was designed to be very lightweight and capable of speeds of over 100mph. They looked sleek and modern with great styling but were so underpowered that they required a diesel locomotive to help them climb high passes on the track. The innovative air suspension system was supposed to give a smooth ride but it was the opposite and very uncomfortable. The Aerotrain made it’s debut on the Pennsylvania Railroad in February of 1956. The Union Pacific also tried it with a service from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Fares were low – $17.99 round trip including free food onboard. The new service was much hyped – Liberace was in the engineer’s seat when the inagural run arrived at the Las Vegas station in December 1956.

By 1957 both prototypes were sold on for use as a commuter service where slower operating speeds would hopefully produce a better ride. Both Aerotrains were retired from service in 1966 – worn-out and unloved after only 10 years of service.
Aerotrain-brochure aerotrain-bwMuch of the design reflected car styling of the day. The rear end looked like the back of a 1955 Chevy Station WagonAerotrain-rear Aerotrain-bw2Aerotrain2 Aerotrain-driverAerotrain-snow Aerotrain-interior-bw Aerotrain-interiorAerotrain-leaflet1Aerotrain-leaflet2Aerotrain-leaflet3Aerotrain-leaflet4Aerotrain-Ad Aerotrain-museum2

aerotrain3Today the Aerotrains are in The National Railroad Museum in Green Bay, Wisconsin and the Museum Of Transportation in St. Louis. A scale replica of the Aerotrain – the Zooliner – is in use in the Washington Park and Zoo railway in Portland, Oregon.zooliner4a


GM ‘Parade of Progress’, looking at the Futurliner…

Having discovered the GM Futurliner while researching for an earlier post, we were very excited to see one ‘in the flesh’ at this years Goodwood Revival. Unfortunately it was only a static exhibit and in it’s location it wasn’t really possible to get the full effect but it was still pretty awesome. It’s main feature being, it’s so tall!  Unfortunately we didn’t get the opportunity to look inside.IMG_6674DSC04472 DSC04475 DSC04477 DSC04521 IMG_6675

Actually seeing a Futurliner spurred us on to do a bit of research and find out a bit more about them…

streamliner streamliner2Streamliner3In the 30’s GM wanted to take their latest car models to the people and show what was happening in the industry and in research, technology was developing at a pace and they wanted the American people to know about it. This evolved into the ‘Parade of Progress’ – a travelling exhibition across the country, promoting technology. For the first event held in the 1936, GM used a group of customised Streamliners (as above). They were such a success that for the 1939 New York World Fair, the GM Futurliner was custom built and then they went on the second ‘Parade of Progress’ tour which travelled to more than 150 locations across the USA and Canada. The ‘e’ in the ‘Future Liner’ name was dropped so that GM could copyright/trademark it easily.early-parade Early2 early4

Styled by Harley Earl, the first Head of Design and later President of General Motors in the 40’s and 50’s, each Futurliner had a self contained stage, a light tower and each vehicle featured a unique subject such as jet engine technology, agriculture, microwaves, stereophonic sound and televisions.

display1 display2 sound display4They featured heavily stylised Art Deco Streamlined bodywork with the driver centrally located in a high command position with a panoramic view. Twelve were produced and it is believed that nine are still in existence.The Parade was mothballed after Pearl Harbour  but later the vehicles were refurbished and the event resumed in 1953 before being discontinued in 1956 – ironically as televisions, which they had promoted, became more popular and the parade became obsolete.cockpit-view cockpit2parade-logoParade1 parade2 parade4 parade6 parade7 parade8 parade9

The Futurliners were constructed by the Yellow Coach Bus division in Pontiac, Michigan and were 30 feet long, 8 feet wide and nearly 12 feet to the top of the high level cockpit and were powered by a 6 cylinder OHV GMC diesel engine with a 4-speed automatic transmission and 2-speed gearbox. With dual wheels front and rear they stretched bus technology of the time to the limit. Weighing 13 tonnes it would appear that the brakes weren’t very efficient, as after an incident where one run into another, the drivers were told to keep them 300 feet apart! Despite their size they could only take the driver and two passengers on a pair of upright jump seats that flank the ‘captains’ chair.

Once in situ at the exhibition site, the light bar ascended vertically above the roof and the massive clam shell side doors opened to display the futuristic exhibits. The Futurliners were accompanied by support vehicles which made the parade 50 strong and took along a huge 1500 capacity ‘Areodrome’ tent.showground showground2display5aero2 aero3 aero4 aero5

In the 50’s when the Futurliners went on the road for the final parade they were slightly modified with larger GMC straight six petrol engines and the original glass bubble canopy was replaced with a panoramic windscreen with a metal roof to shield the driver from the intense sun and added air conditioning.1941-magazine 1953-magazine

The last parade was seen by 13 million people in 300 cities. Recently the Futurliner has been added to the National Historic Vehicle Register which documents important vehicles in American History.

The twelve vehicles were sold and two of the original twelve were donated to the Michigan State Police for safety displays, one became a portable stage for the televangelist Oral Roberts who used it for his crusades in the 60’s, it was known as the Cathedral Cruiser. One bus sold for US$4 million in 2006 and again in January this year when it’s owner liquidated his entire collection. It fetched the same amount and the money went to an Armed Forces Charity. Several have been restored, one converted to a motorhome and another which was too badly damaged for a full restoration has been covered into a flat bed transporter! Reportedly more are under restoration, including one in Sweden.safetylinerOral Robertsmotorhomemotorhome-interiorPeterpan1


Futurliner No 10 is owned by the National Auto and Truck Museum in Auburn, Indiana, between 1999 and 2006 is was restored by a group of volunteers, led by a retired GM plant manager. It’s 23,000 hour restoration is detailed online. The bus now appears at events in the States.no10-before restoration


Although at Goodwood we didn’t see the inside, following our research I believe that it was the number 9 bus which was converted to a motorhome by Bob Valdez in California and is now thought to be owned by a collector in Germany. It was great to see it, just a shame we couldn’t get a ‘selfie’ with Mario!