of the most incredible looking idea cars ever to be built must
be the Chrysler Thunderbolt. Designed by Briggs' Alex Tremulis
(formerly of Cord), there were in fact six of these beautiful
machines built, all by LeBaron. The Thunderbolt was conceived
as a sports car and was made using an aluminium envelope-type
body which featured smooth contours, free of any protruding
metal work like doorhandles, aerials, etc. The integrated fenders
were almost a decade ahead of their time, but the most advanced
aspect of the Thunderbolt was its fully retractable hardtop.
It was electrically operated from pushbuttons on the dash, and
when down, disappeared completely in to the trunk. Also advanced
for the times were power windows, hidden headlamps, and door
openings, all of which were hydraulically operated by pushbuttons,
including a pushbutton radio!
They were mounted on standard C-26 chassis with conventional
NewYorker running gear and fitted with the powerful 143bhp,
323.5cubic inch straight eight, taken from the C-27 Crown Imperial.
Once completed, they were painted different colours and trimmed
using leather and Bedford cord set around an aircraft-style
dash. They toured dealerships throughout America to rapturous
acclaim. Except for the 1938 Buick Y-job, the '41 Thunderbolts are thought
to be the first concept cars ever to be displayed to the public.
Unusually, the cars were sold off to individuals in 1941, which
is why they have such a high survival rate; all six are still
in existence. Most concept cars from the 1950's and 60's were
destroyed after their short tour of duty.
If you would like to see one in the flesh then I recommend a
visit to the Walter P. Chrysler museum in Detroit, where they
have a silver one on a huge revolving mast as you enter the
Text by Peter Grist
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