Futurliner restored for national tour

Sep 17, 2004

150 alumni and friends view GM's 1950s Futurliner, being brought back to life by Kettering/GMI volunteers.

It was kind of like being "back to the future." More than 150 classic car buffs, many of them Kettering/GMI alumni from West Michigan, got to admire a very special restoration project Sept. 10 that Don Mayton '60 of Zeeland and the Futurliner Restoration team took on as a labor of love.

Mayton's Zeeland Township home was a minimuseum for the event, showing off photos, exhibits and a video of the restoration that volunteers have made through the years. "When you see how the vehicle looked six years ago, I don't know how anyone even had the courage to start this project," said Sue Weiss, director of gift and estate planning at Kettering. "It looks brand new now. It's shiny and perfect. I'm so grateful that they rescued an important piece of our automotive history."

Mayton and his crew continue to restore a General Motors "Futurliner" for the National Automotive and Truck Museum of the United States, based in Auburn, Ind. The exterior of the beautiful red and white 33 feet long, eight feet wide and nearly 12 feet tall vehicle is nearly complete. Planning to acquire an interior display is ongoing. It has a 302-cubic-inch, six-cylinder engine.

This Futurliner was one of 12 specialty vehicles developed by General Motors and equipped with technology that wasn't available to the general public. Its technology included an Autronic Eye headlight control, air-conditioned bubble cab, Dual-Range Hydra-Matic transmission and power steering.

In the late 1930s, Charles "Boss" Kettering (for whom Kettering University is named) and GM Board Chairman Alfred P. Sloan Jr. established the "Parade of Progress." These bus-like vehicles transported engineering and technology exhibits all over small-town North America. In 1936, came "Streamliners" carrying the show, driven by a select group that included Tom Raleigh '39 of Rochester Hills. They were followed by Futurliners in 1941.

"There have been people who've questioned the sanity of undertaking a project of this size," Mayton said. "I tell them that we do one piece at a time."

After six years, Mayton's team of 30 volunteers have taken the Futurliner from a rusted shell to nearly complete. Mayton retired from GM in 1998 after more than 40 years of service to the company. He and a group of volunteers met weekly at his home to work on the Futurliner. Their goal was to complete the vehicle restoration by GM's 100th anniversary in 2008.

The Futurliner will begin a national tour next spring.

For more on the Futurliner...

Written by Pat Mroczek
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