Story of the Week

Posted: 03.03.2015
General Motors: The Year of 1956
By: Robert Tate, Automotive Historian/Researcher
Images: Courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection

 

The year 1956 was a very good period for the General Motors Corporation. The late Mr. Harlow Curtice was President and the late Mr. Harley Earl responsible for styling and design of GM vehicles. On a historical note, at this same time, a young man by the name of Elvis Presley was making his way up the music charts and the movie ‘Giant’ featuring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean became a box office favorite. This was also the year that the General Motors Technical Center opened its doors for operation. The Center was developed by Eliel and Eero Saarinen on a 330 acre site in Warren, Michigan. The dedication took place on May, 15, 1956 and featured President Eisenhower, GM President Harlow H. Curtice, and GM Consultant CF Kettering.

 

Buick 1956 Roadmaster

 

In this same year, General Motors also introduced the memorable Motorama shows of 1956 that had millions of visitors from all over the world. The Motorama shows inspired many positive reviews for the company because so many people thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The Stylists at General Motors designed several great looking automobile designs in 1956. Mr. Harley Earl supervised five separate automotive design studios, one for each General Motors division. The design teams were made up with a dynamic team of talented stylists including the late Ed Glowacke, Charles Jordan, Bill Mitchell, and the very talented Damsels of Designs in addition to many other talented designers.

 

Cadillac Eldarado 1956

 

The automobile industry contributed immensely to the economic progress in the year 1956. With its increase in sales, the automotive industry would prove profitable to the United States’ economy. Production played a significant role in this success. The new and improved 1956 GM passenger vehicles were introduced in October and November of 1955. Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac passenger cars carried on the GM tradition by introducing added values to and improvements in styling, performance, and safety in 1956. There was also a wider selection of body styles with four-door hardtops which were introduced on all five GM passenger lines.

 

Chevrolet Bel-Air 1956

 

In 1956, the popularity of General Motors’ station wagon models was continuing to grow because of consumer demand. Chevrolet offered six different station wagon models including two new 9-passenger models, all of which were available with either the 6 or 8- cylinder engine. General Motors’ production lines offered a rainbow of fascinating colors for the car purchasers in 1956. As an example, the Buick line offered new paint colors such as Claret red and Tahiti Coral, both of which became very popular among consumers. Other popular colors for the Cadillac line included Princess Green or Mountain Laurel which were also favorites among consumers.

 

Oldsmobile 1956

 

During the first quarter, unit sales of cars and trucks from GM’s plants in the United States were nearly equal to the record first quarter sales in 1955. However, a decline in GM passenger car sales was substantially offset by an increase in truck sales. Chevrolet’s motor division and Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac’s assembly division announced plans for construction of new assembly plants to provide additional capacity to meet the increased demand for GM products during the first quarter. 

 

Pontiac 1956 

 

Another significant feat this year in General Motors’ history was the design and development of the revolutionary, lightweight, low cost passenger train which was built through the teamwork of Electro-Motive and GMC Truck & Coach division. The designer of the train was the late Mr. Charles (Chuck) Jordan. Jordan was Director of Design from 1977 until he later retired in 1992. He was responsible for the entire GM design staff. He later designed GM Motorama dream cars.

 

 1956 Aerotrain

 

 In conclusion, throughout the year of 1956, General Motors both maintained its position in a highly competitive automotive industry and led the way in technology, engineering and inspirational design. General Motors had a wide public acceptance of its cars and trucks. One of the most popular advertising themes for General Motors in 1956 was “In technical progress General Motors leads the way”. The year 1956 for General Motors will always have a special place in automotive history for many generations to come.
 

A special thanks to Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher, for donating the story to the MotorCities Story of the Week program. Photographs are courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection. (Bibliography: Mc Call M.P Walter. “80 Years of Cadillac La Salle’. Published in 1988 by Crestline publishing. Bayley Stephen. “Harley Earl and The Dream Machine “. 1983. Powell Tracy. “General Motors Styling 1927-1958 Genesis of the world’s largest design studio, 2007. GM Shareholders Quarterly, March 31, 1956. )

For further information on photos please visit http://www.detroitpubliclibrary.org/ or email nahc@detroitpubliclibrary.org. Please do not republish the story and/or photographs without permission of MotorCities National Heritage Area.


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