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'53 Cadillac LeMans Motorama car gone missing in '53

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This article is reprinted with my permission, I'm the author. I haven't heard anything about any theories of how the car plumb disappeared. It's not easy to rebody it , what body would fit over it, maybe a '53 Corvette but that body would have been hard to get ocmplete in '53?



published JULY 16, 2013


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A million-dollar show car vanished from Oklahoma. Why aren't the police right on it?

Because the “crime,” if it was in fact a crime, happened half a century ago.

The car was a Cadillac Le Mans, a two-seat concept, one of four made. They were built at the behest of 6' 6” Harley Earl, the towering showman who was General Motors' first VP in charge of design.

Raised in Los Angeles, Earl had come from a tradition of custom car building. In fact, he grew up working in his father's business, which customized cars for show biz folk like Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. The GM management noticed his efforts and hired him to come to Detroit in 1927 and spice up their cars. This really hurt Ford Motor Co. because Henry was still espousing his “any color as long as it's black” philosophy while Harley laid on the bright colors and chrome (his unit was originally called the “Art and Color Section”).

It was Earl who started the Motorama shows, Broadway-type unveilings of concept cars -- then called “dream cars” -- accompanied by beautiful show girls. These shows kicked off at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York then went on tour across the country.

Special cars were conceived for these shows, the idea being something like “we'll run this one up the flagpole and see who salutes.” Some concept cars did make it to production. The '53 Corvette, for instance, went from being a Motorama show car to a production vehicle that same year with the first 300 hand-built in Flint, Mich.


One of the Cadillac Le Mans concepts was modified by General Motors stylists, receiving quad headlamps and sleek fins.PHOTO BY CONCEPTCARZ.COM


But the missing show car last spotted in Oklahoma was not a proto-Corvette, though it also made its appearance in 1953 and also wore a fiberglass body: It is a Cadillac Le Mans concept car, one of just four made.

Earl wasn't just borrowing the name of a famous automobile race -- the 24 Hours of Le Mans -- and sticking it on a marque that had no connection to motorsport. Sportsman millionaire Briggs Cunningham had, in fact, run Cadillacs at Le Mans in 1950. So, GM had every right to crow that fact in a concept car's name (unlike the Le Mans name GM would tack on to a Pontiac Tempest a decade or so later).

The Cadillac Le Mans was a success as a styling study, with cues appearing across the Cadillac lineup throughout the 1950s. One car even received a refresh, reemerging from GM's styling division sporting quad headlamps and sleeker fins. But they never directly led to two-seat Cadillac production vehicles, so they were of little use to GM once their time as Motorama dream cars came to an end.

Now Earl knew all these movie stars, and there weren't any emissions or safety equipment laws back then, so he could, and did, give or sell the ex-Motorama show cars to celebrities after their show biz days were over. One of the Cadillac Le Mans cars went to Harry Karl, a shoe magnate who gifted it to his wife, a statuesque blonde named Marie “The Body” MacDonald. Another was sold to a big Cadillac dealer in Beverly Hills who could have been customer of the Earl business back in the days of customizing for movie stars.


The Cadillac Le Mans concept never made it to production, but its styling cues inspired Cadillac's lineup for years after its debut.PHOTO BY CADILLAC


About that Oklahoma connection. One of the Cadillac Le Mans show cars was one of the stars of the Oil Progress Exhibition at the Oklahoma City airport in 1953, along with two other Motorama show cars: the Wildcat I and the Starfire. Then the Cadillac went on exhibit at Greenhouse-Moore Cadillac Chevrolet for two days during the first week of November. After Nov. 8 the car disappeared.

Some say it went to Tulsa but the trail is cold -- real cold. One report says that Floyd Akers, a Cadillac dealer in the Washington, D.C. area bought it, raising the hopes of Cadillac history fans. But that report was scotched when it was discovered that he had bought one of the other Le Mans show cars.

We first began trying to uncover the car's fate with an eye toward including it in his book “Incredible Barn Finds Vol. 2,” figuring that the car is worth between $400,000 and $2 million -- never mind that it might have to be completely restored when and if it is found.

That's partially because the Le Mans is a stunning car, and partially because privately owned prototypes are very special things. Once the Harley Earl era ended, GM tightened up considerably when it came to selling concept cars and prototypes -- especially after the passage of emissions and safety regulations laws which made it illegal to sell cars that did not meet the standards of that model year.

Despite those prohibitions, in the collector car world owning a prototype is a special honor. Every year half a dozen or so seem to slip out of the grasp of automakers and into private hands. At auction, they sometimes go for several million -- like the 1954 Oldsmobile F-88 (another ex-Motorama show car). The founder of a cable channel wanted to make it the star of his own car museum, and he paid over $3 million for the privilege.

But back to the missing Le Mans. Innumerable questions remain: did GM ever report the car stolen? Did another statuesque blonde end up with the car? Is it still on the roads of Oklahoma, hiding under a nondescript car body? Maybe it remains a barn find waiting to happen…

We hope these questions are enough to spawn a search…


If you read this far, I have a couple of theories: 1.)the partner in the firm might have had a lot less money than Mr. Greenlease and had a hand in the kidnapping, as $600K was paid out. But destroying that theory is that the kidnapper himself told police he heard about the wealthy Greenlease family while in jail and he spent a ;lot of the loot while on the run, though significant portions were missing. 2.) The only thing that further points toward the partner is his suicide in '54. I am not here to besmirch the partner's reputation, but there's no such thing as coincidence, and that's three things happening in one place in short order.

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