Pontiac's '69 Cirrus showcar probably looked familiar to many showgoers, as it was shown 5
If spectators at the various car shows during the 1969 and 1970 seasons felt like they had a lingering case of deja vu, their suspicions were absolutely correct. Though the Pontiac's new Cirrus showcar was by all measure a cutting-edge design in every sense of the word and looked as if it would be right at home dogfighting with a Russian MiG, it was in fact a 6 year-old design and had seen duty in a previous configuration.
The Pontiac Cirrus was one of the stars at the 1964 New York World's Fair, but at that time it was called the non marque-specific "GM-X." In addition to an array of production-based showcars such as the Grand Prix X-400 and GTO Flamm, the GM-X was one of three design exercises GM showed off, the others being the Runabout, a three-wheel commuter vehicle, and the Firebird IV, the spiritual successor to the trio of '50s-era GM gas-turbine prototypes.
Despite the fact that GM had retired the Motoramas in 1961, the automaking giant was far from being out of the big-production car shows. High transportation and production costs as well as the proliferation of television had rendered the Motorama concept obsolete from a promotional standpoint. A new venue and format would be needed and the World's Fair was a natural. It was also a case of corporate competition, as other carmakers, particularly Ford with its new Mustang, would be participating there as well.
Like its non-production siblings, the GM-X was a showcase of the General's design innovations and provided clear indications that it was a new day at GM. Where the Motoramas and its Dream Cars were developed under the watchful eye of GM styling vice-president, Harley Earl, the GM World's Fair cars all bore the unmistakable influence of his successor, GM vice-president of design, William L. Mitchell.
Here is the completed GM-X under the dome at the GM Styling (Now GM Design Center). This c
All three cars were the beneficiaries of a new Mitchell-inspired design direction. Where the '50s era was highlighted by soft flowing lines, an abundance of chrome trim, and rather bulbous surface detail, the Mitchell era was characterized by a more "high-tech" approach, with more angular lines, crisp surface detail, more restrained use of chrome, and a general sense of elegant simplicity. The GM-X displayed all of these qualities in a very modern package.
Indeed, it is hard to believe that this jet fighter on wheels was first molded in clay over 40 years ago. A full-scale fiberglass model finished in a deep red, the GM-X made use of the "longer, lower and wider" styling philosophy in vogue at the time, but in a radical new interpretation.
Up front, it was characterized by a large pointed nose element that resembled a rocket nose cone. The leading edges of the front fenders were heavily bladed and featured bright metal upper and lower air intakes. A pair of thinly-slotted horizontal headlamps were set above slotted air intakes. A Pontiac-like ironing board hood treatment was finished in matte black for reduced glare and that finish was also used on the dash. For cleaner aerodynamics and appearance, the GM-X featured a full bellypan, which was painted body color.
The front wheelwells were of a partially skirted design that tucked around the tires, giving the vehicle a lowered look, though in reality, it was already very low-slung. Behind them was a pair of fender air extractors to add some visual detail to the long expanse of bodysides. The rear wheelwells also followed this theme, though they boasted removable skirts, covering the wheels even more than in front.
Its rear quarter design continued the bladed theme of the front fenders and actually gave a glimpse of the tail treatment used on the '67 Cadillac Eldorado. The rear quarters also featured panels that flipped out to aid in air braking. Taillamps were housed in a narrow, horseshoe-shaped strip. They lit up in blue when underway and red when the brakes were applied. In the event of a panic stop, separate high-intensity flashing emergency brake lights would also flip open from behind two panels
GM-X's wheel and tire combination was also very unusual, owing to its one-off nature. A set of satin-finished seven-slot alloy wheels mounted a set of experimental white-stripe tires with a unique radial tread pattern featuring a large circumferential groove in the middle of the tread.
The roofline and greenhouse were very unusual in design and represented quite a lot of thinking "outside the box," though it was of course, way too radical for any serious thought of production. GM-X's windshield was a large, steeply-raked and peaked unit that wrapped around to the sides, eliminating the conventional A-pillar and also normally-operating doors. Passengers entered through a rear hatch and passed between the aircraft-style bucket seats.
Once inside, the driver was treated to an aircraft-style steering controls, which featured thumb buttons to activate the horn and turn signals. A total of 31 indicator lights, 29 toggle switches and 4 control levers were distributed between the dash and overhead console. Its overall effect was a bit overwhelming, though very much in keeping with the show-biz nature of GM's Dream Cars. If James Bond were ever to turn in his Aston Martin on something a bit more high-tech, the GM-X would no doubt have been at the top of his short list.
A dramatic low-angle shot of GM-X on a show stand shows the unusual nose detail and tire t
Original U.S. Patent application drawings are dated September 7, 1965, many months after t
You can see the GM-X's low-slung proportions and sleek lines. Wheel design was quite moder
This shot was used on the cover of the May 1969 issue of Hot Rod. Though the focus was qui
A rare rearend photo of the GM-X shows unusual roofline, backlite and rear quarter detail.
As one would expect, all of the cars in the GM display were extremely well received, especially the Firebird IV and the GM-X, which were the most radical. Where the Firebird IV was positioned more as a machine suited for future automated highways, the GM-X, with its aircraft-inspired controls was seen as a machine that was meant to be actively guided by its driver.
After the closing of the New York World's Fair, the GM-X and its siblings went into long-term storage at GM, their careers seemingly over. Interestingly, after more than half a decade, both the GM-X and the Firebird IV, were pulled out, dusted off and mildly updated for another tour of duty. The Firebird IV became the '69 Buick Centurion, and the GM-X became the '69 Pontiac Cirrus. GM's Runabout was not reused.
Exactly why GM decided to recycle these dream cars so long after their original showings remains unclear. There are a number of likely explanations, many of which could have happened at the same time. First off, it is fairly simple and inexpensive to revamp an existing car compared to designing and building a new one. Both the GM-X and Firebird IV were such advanced designs that even years later, they still looked very modern. Indeed, even today, they both possess remarkably fresh styling.
Secondly, even though they were shown at the World's Fair for an extended period and were seen by millions of people, nationally-speaking, a relatively small percentage of people saw them in person, making them "new" for many showgoers. Changing some details, the paint and then renaming it after a high-altitude cloud formation gave the world a "new" Pontiac dream car.
Actually, the conversion from GM-X to Pontiac Cirrus was not a huge leap. Though it was designed as a non marque-specific GM car, the original design actually carried a lot of Pontiac design character, particularly up front, where the hood's "ironing board" treatment could be modified slightly at the leading edge and reused.
The one significant change made to the GM-X's body in its transformation to the Pontiac Ci
Shown is a clay model of GM-X is developed at GM Styling. This front fender design was als
Here, designers are working on the fiberglass nose of the GM-X in preparation for its debu
Its nose was modified to look more like a Pontiac with the original rocket-like nose cone making way for a V-shaped nose and a split-grille on the underside of the Endura-style bumper. The bladed front fender design was retained, as was the rest of the original design. GM-X's only other changes to transform it into the Cirrus was a new bright silver metallic paint scheme and the seven-spoke wheels were replaced with smooth deep-dish units.
Pontiac's recycled dream car was sent out again for the 1969 show season, where it was sometimes displayed with a Ram Air V engine on a stand. Though it was never openly stated that the Cirrus was R/A-V-powered, the implication was certainly there. In fact, the duo made it on the cover of the May 1969 issue of Hot Rod, though the logo obscured much of the Cirrus. The Ram Air V was prominently displayed, though.
Pontiac sent the Cirrus out for another season of show duty in 1970 as well. Since the one-off showcar was not tied to any particular model or model year, it made sense to get some more use out of it. Though it was nearly 7 years old by the time it was retired at the end of the 1970 show season, the Cirrus was still a thoroughly modern design.
Afterward, the dream car again went into long-term storage GM and remained there until a house-cleaning in the early '80s sent it to the crusher, along with the other two 1964 World's Fair dream cars and some other stray prototypes languishing in warehouses.
Though all that remains of the Cirrus are these photos and its nameplate attached to a Chrysler product, it is a great example of high-tech '60s design philosophy. Too bad this one isn't around anymore, though the scale model shown in the diorama shots and a matching scale model of the Firebird IV are now at the Henry Ford Museum
The author wishes to thank Jennifer Knightstep-Lesniak and Mark Curatolo for their assistance with the preparation of this article.