One Man’s ‘Dream Car’ Passion

A 1955 Roadster show car is brought back to life.

Joe Bortz knows his “Dream Cars.” In fact, no one knows these show car/design studies from the 1950s GM “Motoramas” like Bortz.

“The post-war, 1950s period of U.S. auto design represents a pivotal period in the entire history of car design. The unique creations of that time showcase the upbeat, forward-thinking mood of the country, as we entered the jet age,” he explains. “No two cars better represent this important period than the LaSalle Roadster and Sedan, and I’ve saved and brought the iconic Roadster fully back to life.” 

Bortz contends that General Motors, on the advice of internal legal counsel, made the decision to cut and crush its Dream Cars shortly after displaying them to avoid legal issues, as many had not been fully tested and often did not meet federal regulations. Bortz was also informed by Dave Holls, GM VP of Styling for many years, that due to the serious recession in 1957 and 1958 the “bean counter” accountants took over the helm at General Motors, intending to keep profits up by cutting fixed overhead.

Finding the bits and pieces
The financial decision was made to cut storage expenses for Dream Cars that had served their intended purposes. In December 1958, the 1955 LaSalle II Roadster and the 1955 LaSalle II Sedan were viewed as assets that could be sacrificed and were sent to the Warhoops Salvage Yard in Sterling Heights, Michigan to be “cut and crushed.” Thankfully the folks at Warhoops did not fully act upon GM’s directive, as the Roadster was cut into pieces, but not crushed. When Bortz found the parts at Warhoops, much of the car was actually missing. This made restoration more than just a challenge, but a process more akin to fabrication than simple restoration.

“I actually obtained the original renderings for the car from its designer, Carl Renner, who worked in Harley Earl’s famous design studio,” Bortz explains. Renner was responsible for penning many of GM’s Motorama show cars. Bortz points out that the LaSalle II Roadster was intended to be the new design for the 1957 Corvette (as indicated in many Corvette books), but the decision was later made to continue the same 1956 look for 1957, rather than the LaSalle Roadster design.

From snapshots to suspension
Using Renner’s original drawing and multiple photos of the car taken during its display in the 1955 GM Motorama, Bortz began a patient, painstaking process to make the car whole again. “I first asked an Italian sculptor friend, John Bucci, to remake some of the large missing parts in fiberglass, so I could get the exterior fabricated.”

The process continued a few years later when Bortz tasked Marty Martino at Martino Coach Works in Oilville, Va. with the immense job of completing the car. “I can’t speak highly enough of the work Marty has done. He is a true artist.” Working largely from photos, Martino was able to recreate multiple exterior and interior parts of the car, including highly detailed dashboard components. Eventually he was able to complete the process, restoring the car to look exactly as it appeared in the 1955 GM Motorama.

The V6 engines that were originally put into both the Roadster and Sedan show cars were not actually functional and could not be made functional. Dave Holls also informed Bortz that the GM designers intended to electrify the two LaSalles via rear mounted electric motors, so that the cars could be driven around for show purposes and be seen in motion. GM never completed electrification of the cars, but Bortz made the decision to keep true to the designers’ original intentions and had the roadster electrified during the restoration process.

First public appearance
After 22 years, restoration of the LaSalle II Roadster has now been completed and the Dream Car will make its first public appearance as one of the stars of the 2013 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in March. It will be displayed independently of other cars on the show field, along with the unrestored, “as found” 1955 LaSalle II Sedan. Bortz states that this will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for those who have seen only pictures of these cars to see them in person; the Roadster fully restored as it appeared in the 1955 GM Motorama and the unrestored Sedan just as it was pulled out of the Warhoops Junkyard in 1988. Of course, a major event will be to view the Roadster in motion—a sight never seen before.

Bortz’s next step is to fully restore the Sedan, with the help of his friend Martino, in time for the 2015 Amelia Island Concours. Like all of the Dream Car restorations Bortz has undertaken, you can rest assured that the process will be detailed and painstaking. As self-described “automobile archeologist” Bortz explains, “We need to care for and respect these iconic design studies, so future generations can learn from them and enjoy them.”

Images courtesy of Joe Bortz 

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