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GM Motorama Firebirds

Creating the GM Motorama Firebird II

After many frustrating attempts to work with the titanium GM's VP of Styling Harley Earl wanted for the GM Motorama Firebird II's exterior, Bob McLean decided to abandon hand shaping and ordered Kirksite dies made for the major body sections.

He watched as the panels were stamped out of glowing titanium, which he said lit up bright yellow-gold at 920 degrees Fahrenheit. And at the 11th hour, to replace multiple welds, GM Research developed an epoxy resin to bond the titanium hull to the GM Motorama Firebird II's steel framing.

As a final effect. Earl asked that the titanium be burnished, much like the stainless-steel surface of the latter-day DeLorean car (McLean later worked for DeLorean, so he might have taken the idea with him). Because handprints smudged the titanium, the final surface got several coats of clear lacquer.

Earl Harley admires the GM Motorama Firebird II.
Harley Earl admires the titanium GM Motorama
Firebird II in Arizona.

A third technical tour de force was the Firebird II's air/oil suspension. Developed by GM's Deico Division, this system resembled Citroen's in that conventional springs were replaced by four interconnected hydropneumatic canisters, two up front and two at the rear.

An electric pump and accumulator forced oil into the canisters at pressures determined by sensors at each of the car's corners. Oil thus compressed the air, which set the vehicle's ride height and also acted as the suspension and shock-damping medium. Because the car was set up to run over smooth roads only, suspension travel was minimal. Also, ride height at speed was lower than at rest.

Two GM engineers drove the fiberglass Firebird II from Detroit to Atlanta and back for an SAE meeting and reported flawless performance; no mechanical problems of any sort. They did say, though, that the Plexiglas greenhouse made the interior pretty uncomfortable in hot weather, despite excellent air conditioning.

The titanium Firebird II (which was strictly a "pushmobile") not only had an aircraft-type instrument panel but an airplane-style cut-down steering wheel. During each Motorama performance, General Motors would show a brief, wide-screen movie in which the Firebird II came cruising down an automated roadway, the driver oblivious to traffic as he chatted with his family and they all enjoyed the passing scenery.

When the film ended, the screen lifted and the titanium-bodied car came rolling down a ramp toward the audience. At the foot of the ramp, the same family of four climbed out and started explaining the car's many wondrous features.

Once the Firebird II was complete, thoughts immediately turned to the future once again. See what would come next for GM's Motoramas on the next page.

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