General Motors's Transportation Unlimited exhibition was its first post-World War II auto show and was the precursor to its traveling Motorama exhibitions. The show was staged first in New York City and again three months later in Detroit. Transportation Unlimited grew from interest within GM’s executive ranks to preview the company’s newest innovations to consumers in order to gauge public interest.
The New York City show opened on January 20, 1949 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel and ran for eight days closing on January 27, 1949. More than 300,000 people visited it during its run at the Waldorf and were treated to elaborate displays of 32 production and custom vehicles from each of GM’s five car divisions. Two cars from each automotive division (Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac) were displayed in the Grand Ballroom. They were arranged along the ballroom floor between the Wheel of Fashion at one end of the room and the Column of Stars at the other end. The Column of Stars was a 26-foot tall, five-sided pylon with a revolving New World globe at its peak that displayed the engines of GM’s car lines at its base. The Wheel of Fashion was a revolving turntable built for a 30 minute stage show featuring a live band and 20 actors and actresses that introduced the new features of the cars to a captivated audience. In addition to the automobiles in the Grand Ballroom, the divisions had displays in the adjacent rooms as well..
At Transportation Unlimited, Chevrolet introduced its all new slab-side body panels. This body design quickly found acceptance with the public and helped Chevrolet to set a sales record with 1.1 million units sold.
Buick showed a restyled Roadmaster Riviera that featured the first modern hardtop on a production car. The Buicks on display also featured newly designed portholes on the front fenders, a feature that would come to be a hallmark of Buick styling.
While Pontiac showed the restyled and newly renamed Chieftain DeLuxe Eight and Oldsmobile introduced a Holiday Coupe version of its A-Body hardtop, the real stars of the show were the cars presented by Cadillac. Seven Cadillacs were shown at Transportation Unlimited including four that were customized. A pillarless, two-door hardtop Coupe de Ville with an interior upholstered in gunmetal leather complete with a telephone was displayed alongside two Fleetwood Sixty Specials, a sleek sedan in “Caribbean Daybreak” green and a convertible in "Mexican Dawn" brown known as The Embassy. A 62 Series convertible with a special "western" interior motif was also featured.
GM’s non-automotive divisions and departments had displays at Transportation Unlimited as well. Frigidaire, DELCO, Allison, Detroit Diesel, Hyatt Roller Bearing, GMC, GM Styling, Engineering, and Proving Grounds all presented their products and ideas in grand scale at the New York dates. Electromotive showed a miniature diesel "Train of Tomorrow." General Motors Research Laboratories demonstrated the new high-compression engine technology available for the 1949 model year. The mechanical American Crossroads diorama that demonstrated the evolution of the American highway from 1900 to 1949 also made an appearance.
Fisher Body built a costly and elaborate display to celebrate 40 years of "Luxury, Quality, Convenience, and Safety" in coach building. The exhibit explained the many processes and materials used in the manufacture of car bodies. It also demonstrated many of the new devices installed in automobiles for comfort and convenience with displays like ones showing the "Keyless Locking Trunk," "Push Button Door Handles," and a cutaway seating buck meant to give the public a view of the many ways Fisher Body seats could be adjusted.
After its successful tenure at the Waldorf Astoria, General Motors opened a slightly modified Transportation Unlimited at old convention hall in Detroit on April 8, 1949. A few more GM divisions added displays in Detroit including Guide Lamp, Harrison Radiator, Moraine,New Departure, Saginaw Steering, and Cleveland Diesel. The exhibition drew hundreds of thousands more visitors in Detroit and the total audience for both the New York and Detroit shows exceeded 600,000. The total cost for Transportation Unlimited was more than $1.6 million, a significant sum back in 1949.
The first true Motorama show opened in 1953 delivering the first Corvette into the public’s imagination. In subsequent years the Motoramas and their "dream cars" would grab the attention of the automobile-loving masses both in America and overseas but it was at Transportation Unlimited in 1949 that General Motors first showed its vision of the future to its consumers on a grand scale.