When a GM representative rolled into the parking lot of Fast Larry’s Used Cars early last year, no one knew quite what to make of the bespectacled stranger. Employees at the Kentucky used car lot had seen a number of odd requests in their time, but nothing quite as odd as on that day. Despite working for the country’s largest auto manufacturer, the GM rep said he was interested in browsing the dealership’s used inventory, taking careful notes, and eventually negotiating the purchase of a half-dozen less-than-ideal specimens. It wasn’t until GM’s recent announcement that all the pieces started to come together for the employees at Fast Larry’s.
“As soon as I saw it, I immediately recognized the driver’s side rear-view mirror from this 2004 Buick Century we had on the lot since the day I started working here,” says Mary Harmon, customer service representative at Fast Larry’s.
What Harmon saw was the debut of the forthcoming Chevy Smorgasbord. To some, it’s an abomination of man and science. To others, it represents a sustainable path forward for an industry at a crossroads. To everyone, it’s ugly as sin.
“Oh, make no mistake. This thing is hideous,” says GM design lead Hideki Katsu. “But that’s not the point. The point was to design a sustainable vehicle made out of recycled parts. Sure, we could have slapped a coat of paint on it so it looked like less of a patchwork, but that would have seriously hampered the driver’s ability to be obnoxiously smug about the whole thing.”
Conceived as both a green way forward and as a reaction to the industry-wide parts shortage that’s hampered auto manufacturers since early last year, the Smorgasbord is an amalgamation of used parts from disparate GM models cobbled together in Frankenstein fashion to produce an entirely new vehicle. Dubbed the “hot dog of cars” by some critics, the vehicle shares the tubed meat’s air of mystery, daring, and ingenuity. Much like the humble frankfurter, no two Smorgasbords are alike, with each constructed of a unique blend of powertrains, electrical systems, interiors, and color schemes.
This innovation not only allows GM to meet pent-up consumer demand for new vehicles but also produces an entirely new type of “green” vehicle, albeit one that might actually produce more pollution than many of its competitors.
“It’s really just the luck of the draw. Sure, your unique Smorgasbord might feature the engine from a Cadillac Escalade jammed into the body of a Chevy Aveo, or it could be a 2007 Hummer chassis driven by the windshield wiper motor from a Buick Encore. The EPA had a tough time with this concept too, which is why our fuel economy ratings range anywhere from 4.8 to 36 MPG,” says Katsu.
Available in a number of proprietary configurations, the daring new model eschews the tired labels we’ve come to expect in a bid to upend the creative stagnation that has paralyzed the industry into producing nothing but crossover SUVs. Gone are the staid old sedan, pickup, coupe, and van; in comes the new breed: an open-top van-ertible; a sporty muscle wagon; a stately 4×4 limo truck. These one-of-one vehicles are instant collector’s items, though their debut has already led to consternation within the auto mechanic community.
“I wanted to look up some of the drivetrain specs so I could have replacement parts on hand, but when I went to open the manual, it just looked like a ransom note with pages from at least a dozen different guides all jammed together,” says Glen Athamilos, certified GM mechanic and Smorgasbord skeptic.
While GM execs deny taking inspiration from America’s most beloved mystery meat, the sheer number of coincidental features are hard to ignore. In perhaps the most glaring example, the Detroit auto giant has announced that while the Smorgasbord has four wheels, tires will only be sold in packs of three, necessitating the purchase of two sets to outfit a single vehicle.