MotorCities National Heritage Area
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By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images courtesy of General Motors and the National Automotive History Collection
Published 3.6.2019

 

1955 GMC LUniverselle Dream Truck General Motors 11955 GMC L'Universelle Dream Truck (General Motors) 

One of the most popular General Motors design concept models designed under the direction of Harley Earl was the 1955 GMC L’Universelle show van. The name “L’Universelle” is French and means “The Universal.” The model was a part of the Motorama shows during the 1950s, which created a huge buzz among crowds at the time.

1955 GMC LUniverselle Dream Truck General Motors 2 RESIZEDSide view of the 1955 GMC L'Universelle Dream Truck (General Motors)

 

The L’Universelle offered futuristic design styling features also used on the 1955 Chevrolet Nomad production model. When you look back at the GM Motorama shows, they were a part of our culture that many Americans of the era truly enjoyed. The Motorama caravan involved 99 trucks, 1,183 crates, and 350 full-time employees.

1955 GMC LUniverselle Dream Truck General Motors 3The GMC L'Universelle Dream Truck on display (General Motors)

 

The L’Universelle concept model was designed under the direction of Charles Jordan, a creative and talented automotive/truck designer. Jordan, who had worked in the GMC studio, became one of GM’s youngest and brightest designers, creating many successful projects during the 1950s. The L’Universelle project started out as a box design with the engine positioned up front followed by a big box interior design for the driver and cargo area. The interior was designed around the engine, which had allowed a certain separation of the cargo area from the driver’s cab area.

1955 GMC LUniverselle Dream Truck NAHC 4 RESIZED(National Automobile History Collection)

 

Jordan along with many other GM design team employees, created a monospace form with large chrome bumpers and a compact style. Some automotive historians have said that the L’ Universelle show model offered a strong character line wrapped around the front and continuing along the sides before curving down to the rear wheels. The model also offered a panoramic windshield design, which became very popular on many vehicles during the 1950s. The front-end design offered the same look that found on passenger vehicles. The show truck also offered twin side doors which could open in a gullwing design for the driver or passengers.

1955 LUniverselle Dream Truck NAHC 5 RESIZED(National Automobile History Collection)

 

General Motors called the L’Universelle concept model “A Dream Truck” by the GMC Truck & Coach Division. It should also be noted that not many show truck utility vehicles were designed by GM during the 1950s; they concentrated on automobiles.

Another person that was a part of the L’Universelle project was Philip Monaghan, the vice president and general manager of the GMC division at the time, who said, “The basic design of the L’Universelle is a panel delivery; minor manufacturing changes can convert it into a small bus, taxi, station wagon, or sportsman’s car.”

1955 LUniverselle Dream Truck NAHC 6 RESIZED(National Automobile History Collection)

 

Although the concept truck was unveiled at the Motorama show in 1955, it never saw production. However, the L’Universelle concept did influence other Chevrolet truck designs during the 1960s. For example, the first passenger compact van by Chevrolet, the Greenbriar Corvair model, used a lower interior space design for passenger comfort and safety that came from the L’ Universelle.

1955 GMC LUniverselle Dream Truck General Motors 7Driver side interior shot of the 1955 GMC L'Universelle Dream Truck (General Motors)

 

In conclusion, the GMC L’Universelle was a great looking show vehicle, and it captured the interest of many consumers during the 1950s.  Some automotive historians have said that the L’Universelle front-wheel drive show truck was the star of GM’s 1955 Motorama show. After the great success of past Motorama shows at the prestigious Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, GM continued to introduce great looking designs for the future that many consumers thoroughly still talk about today.  

 

Bibliography  

 

Chappell, Pat. “The Hot One Chevrolet 1955-1957.” Dragonwyck Publishing, 1977.

Hemmings Motor News. “GMC L’Universelle: This Front Wheel Drive Minivan Never Made It Past the Concept Stage.” November 2013.

“General Motors: The First 75 Years of Transportation Products.” By the editors of Automobile Quarterly Research, 1983.