1955 Buick Wildcat III Concept
Third of a trio
Wildcat III, of course.
Having recently analyzed Buick’s 1985 Wildcat concept, I thought it would be a good time to bring up a 1950s concept under the same name.
Less concept, more reality
Buick’s first Wildcat concept made its appearance at the first of GM’s extravagant Motorama shows in 1953. That car was a substantial-sized two-seater. The following year Wildcat II showed up, also as a two-seater but in a much smaller and sportier body.
In 1955, our subject car was presented at the Motorama as a four-seater, in all of its “Kimberly” red glory. The third iteration of Buick’s sporty convertible seemed grown up. I don’t mean the car looked designed for the elderly but rather that it looked considerably more production-ready and seemed less anxious to impress the hot-rod crowd than its predecessors.
The concept, that Buick’s designers dubbed the “toy convertible,” was actually larger than its predecessors (but still smaller than production Buicks of the period). It had a wheelbase of 110 inches and measured 190 inches from front to back. That large but sleekly styled sedan was hard to miss in its shiny fiberglass bodywork. The bright red paint’s “Kimberly” name was a tribute to famous sports car racer Jim Kimberly.
And Wildcat III didn’t attempt to hide its sporty intentions. The wheel wells were elongated giving the car a look of motion, even when sitting still. Vent openings located just ahead of the rear wheel wells were functional and served a stream of cooling air to the rear brakes. Those vents were nestled snuggly into the curvature of chrome sweepspear-type trim that ran along the entire length of the car.
At the rear, there was no connection between the two wide set, torpedo-shaped chrome bumpers. Between them was an area, the width of the license plate opening, that was striped with ribs that ran from the top of the trunk lid to below the body-colored panel that continued to underneath the car. An interesting touch was the single raised chrome trim that ran down the center of the trunk and continued to below the car–bisecting the recessed and covered license plate opening in the process.
What may appear as small rear doors are actually the seams to the large, clam shell-style trunk opening.
Up front, the grill was covered with a fine chrome mesh. The full-width front bumper had matching torpedo-style protrusions that housed the turn signals. Below the chrome-topped bumper was a smooth, body-colored panel that folded underneath the car and included a large air inlet at both sides; however, I am unsure what these ducts served.
Another smooth air intake duct was located at the rear of the hood, just in front of the windshield. Rather remarkable looking, I think but, again, I am unsure exactly where that air was channeled to.
Power and comfort too
Underneath that sporty body were some sporty mechanicals. At the time, Buick had on offer for its production cars a 4-barrel, 322-cubic-inch V-8 capable of producing 236 HP. For the Wildcat III, however, the engine was modified with four two-barrel carburetors riding on a customized intake manifold. Those modifications added up to a 44 HP boost for a grand total of 280 HP.
That power was fed to the wheels via a Dynaflow automatic transmission controlled by a small floor shifter. Its steering wheel had a competition look to it with with holes drilled in the spokes as if to reduce the car’s weight. The driver was provided a large speedometer and logically located instrumentation which included a tachometer, a clock, and gauges for oil level and fuel. The Wildcatt II also featured a programmable “Selectronic” speed minding device.
The Wildcat III’s seats were covered in leather but the car strangely didn’t include carpeting. Instead, its floors were covered with cushioned vinyl that was patterned with fine checkerboard embossing.
As with some of the other concept cars I’ve written about, the fate of the Wildcat III is unclear but it is believed to have been destroyed. Although documentation and/or testimonial cannot corroborate its current whereabouts, one rumor, reported by Hemming’s Classic Car, is that it was used by GM to test a new car crusher, many years back. Other rumors claim it was actually spared the gore and has been tucked away in hiding, waiting for the opportune time to be brought back into the public eye.
We can only hope the for the latter scenario as this car, like so many other concepts, offers a unique peek into historic American culture.