Every January, Barrett-Jackson ceo Craig Jackson brings together just about every type of mind-blowing collectible car for his annual Barrett-Jackson auctions in Scottsdale, AZ. This year there is one vehicle that easily trumps all the Ferraris, Shelbys, Packards and others that will cross the block: Lot #2501, the General Motors’ 1950 Futurliner.
Built at a time when GM was indeed King of the World, the Futurliner was its tourbus. Created for a traveling public relations road show called the Parade of Progress, the Futureliner is based on a 1940 design that is overflowing with fabulous Art Deco touches. The most obvious are the steel ribs that flow along the sides of the body; there’s similar, curved fluting on the upper body, just behind the windscreen. A distinctive, sharp crease runs down the center of the imposing front cabin, and it perfectly bisects the screaming gold-colored “G” and “M”—as if there was any doubt back then about the company responsible for such audacious glory.
All that and much more makes the Futurliner one serious piece of rolling sculpture, unlike anything you are likely to see. This is the vehicle’s first public appearance since collector Ron Pratte bought it at Barrett-Jackson in 2006 for $4.3 million; now, the collector-car market is an entirely different animal, with price records being set at nearly every other auction.
That’s just the beginning though, for this machine is so out there, so far from the norm of everyday life, that to transport it from Chandler to Scottsdale where it will be auctioned this Saturday, its flatbed transporter had the type of police escort normally reserved for the highest ranking government officials and foreign dignitaries.
Not long after the Futurliner was offloaded outside the massive Barrett-Jackson tent (it’s nearly a mile long between its furthest points), I followed auction impresario Jackson up the stairs (not many vehicles you can say that about) into the cockpit. The expansive view out the windscreen was indeed something to see, but what really caught my attention was the seating arrangement. Near the center point of a curvaceous windscreen is the single driver’s seat. Flanked on each side behind it are the passenger seats.
Once Jackson fired up the 400 cu.–in. (6.6 liter) truck engine, which sounded like, well, a truck engine. He put the long-throw shifter into first, gave it some gas, waited for the clutch to grab, and off we went for several laps around the sprawling grounds. It was like an episode of the old “Outer Limits” television show come to life, one where earthlings who had visual contact with the ‘Liner were immediately frozen in place. People stopped mid-step, their faces radiating a sense of childhood glee and awe, completely captivated by the unique shape barreling towards and then by them.
While the Futurliner may not be the well-known, adrenalin-pumping barnburner like a Ferrari 250 GTO, let alone a Ram Air IV Pontiac GTO, it trumps them (and everything else) with its sheer presence. And unlike those “mere” cars, it bridges two disparate worlds of collectibles. Over the past few years a bright light has been placed on the upward-spiraling prices of the collector-car market, with the aforementioned Ferrari garnering the most attention. One sold at auction for $38.5 million last August, while another brought $50 million in a private transaction a few months earlier.
The ‘Liner isn’t in that category, and no reserve has been set on the sale, but the fare to get on this bus could reach $5 million. Pratte is donating the proceeds of the sale to Armed Forces Foundation.