MotorCities National Heritage Area
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By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the GM Media Archives
Published 9.13.2023

The Bison Concept truck at the New York Worlds Fair GM Media Archives 8The Bison Concept truck at the New York World's Fair (GM Media Archives)

In 1964, General Motors introduced the newly designed Bison concept truck at the New York World’s Fair. The turbine-powered truck with its tilt-forward canopy design and its four-wheel steering received much praise and admiration from many spectators. The Bison concept was truly an aerodynamic design developed under the direction of Bill Mitchell that looked like it was taken from the “Jetsons” TV series. The truck offered a GT-309 turbine-powered engine to haul freight and carry containerized cargoes.

1964 Bison Concept truck in studio with designers GM Media Archives 1The 1964 Bison Concept truck in studio with GM designers (GM Media Archives)

“General Motors had been dabbling in gas turbine power plants for more than a decade, and GM applied the idea to heavy trucks with its Bison concept,” the company said in 1964.

I always thought the Bison concept truck offered a timeless design theme that could even work today. It offered no doors for entrance; you had to open the canopy, which included the entire windscreen. Once inside, the driver could pull a futuristic steering wheel toward himself and get ready to roll. The interior design was like the cockpit of an aircraft and located in front of the wheels. It was designed very low and aerodynamic. Visibility was great for the driver and passengers thanks to a large glass canopy design.

The 1964 Bison Concept truck in studio with designers and engineers GM Media Archives 2The 1964 Bison Concept truck in studio with the canopy up (GM Media Archives)

The GM Bison concept truck offered a four-wheel steering system that was added to the axles when the wheels were turning in the same or opposite directions, depending on the steering angle. The truck was powered by a couple of turbines that could reach 280 to 720 hp.

General Motors had experimented with turbine engines since 1953. The Bison concept truck was just a future design proposal. GM had a vision that trucks of the future could offer automatic unloading and loading trailers to make this type of work easier for businesses.

The 1964 Bison Concept truck GM Media Archives 3The 1964 Bison Concept truck (GM Media Archives)

GM said that, if the Bison concept had gone into production, the entire trucking industry would have had to change. This would mean carrying spare parts that would be needed for the turbines, new loading docks, and trailer parks.

A Bison concept truck publicity photo GM Media Archives RESIZED 4A Bison concept truck publicity photo (GM Media Archives)

The Bison’s turbo Titan III gas turbine concept truck featured an aircraft-type design prototype that included a center console which offered a bed and a telephone for the driver. The interior could accommodate the driver and a passenger with a powerful heating and cooling system. The truck also offered a hybrid electrical system powered by the turbines, which provided a motive force to both the tractor and the trailer axles. The Bison concept also had a great suspension featuring an air-oil type system.

A General Motors Bison Concept publicity photo GM Media Archives 5A General Motors Bison Truck Concept side view publicity photo (GM Media Archives)

GM engineers had anticipated that the day would come when the majority of freight would be moved using standardized containers over a fast-growing network of expressways. Some automotive historians have said that the Bison concept truck design was from the design portfolio of Syd Mead, which would have been created during the early 1960s.

The 1964 GM Bison interior view GM Media Archives 6An interior view of the 1964 GM Bison Concept (GM Media Archives)

In terms of automotive history, this turbine-powered concept was quickly forgotten. However, it was a great-looking truck for our history books.

Today, no one knows what happened to the Bison concept truck. It was never developed beyond the initial concept stage. However, the Bison truck will always be a part of General Motors and Bill Mitchell’s design history.

The Bison Concept truck on display at the New York Worlds Fair GM Media Archives 7The Bison Concept truck on display at the New York World's Fair (GM Media Archives)

Bibliography

Nodum.org  “General Motors Bison -- A Vision of Trucks for the Future from 1964. Why Didn’t It Stick?”  January 15, 2008.

Adlen, Nathan. “Truck Rewind: 1964 General Motors Bison Concept: The Future Looked So Awesome!” TFL Truck Home - Thefastlanetruck.com, October 6, 2018.

Schreber, Ronnie. “GM’s Bison and Turbo Titan Still Look Futuristic A Half-Century Later.” Hagerty Media, July 12, 2023.

Lopez, Jonathan. “GM Design Team Shares 1964 Bison Concept Photos.” GM Authority, July 3, 2023.