The Bison: still on the drawing board

October 21, 2010  | by: Lucinda Coulter

The General Motors Bison gas turbine freight hauler displayed at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York was designed with grand plans, aerodynamic and fuel efficiency not the least among them. It was touted as being capable of handling “present-day semi-trailers,” with an adapter, in Overdrive’s August cover story that year.

Part of GM’s Futurama exhibit (watch video of Futurama), the prototype’s cab had seating for two ahead of the engine and wheels. Drivers would have entered the sleekly-sloped cab through a forward-tilting canopy and a step that folded down as the canopy opened. Truckers would have steered using two coupled hand grips on a console extending over the driver’s lap.

The futuristic-looking truck never made it to market, although its power source, the GT-309 with two turbines of 280-hp and 720-hp, powered GM’s TurboCruisers II and III, Rapid Transit Experimental (RTX) and the 1969 GMC Astro 95 Turbine. Some of the early gas turbine prototypes, such as Mack’s, contributed to Detroit Diesel DD15’s turbo-compounding turbine of today, says Overdrive’s Technical Editor John Baxter. The gas turbines in the ’70s and early ’80s “used far too much fuel but were powerful, gave out low emissions and ran on almost any form of petroleum,” Baxter says.

The Bison had a trailer locking device and a four-option steering arrangement that made “exceptional maneuverability in urban traffic and freight terminals,” according to Overdrive’s story.

Owner-operators unloading cargo by hand then may have hoped the plans at the Futurama exhibit would become reality: “At the terminals the containers would be transferred by automatic equipment to smaller delivery trucks or other means of transport,” Overdrive quoted from the Bison exhibit. “The entire terminal operation could be automatic with loading and unloading of vehicles and sorting and movement of containers controlled by electronic equipment.”

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