The Chrysler Thunderbolt

When one thinks
of a car designed
for the pre-World War II
automotive marketplace,
one would
have certain
expectations —

rather boxy things,
elongated from
the ‘C’ pillar
back and from
the ‘A’ pillar
forward –

– big chrome grills,
massive bumpers often
with running boards….

and without a trace
of aerodynamic styling.

So our featured car today –
the 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt ,
won’t fail to surprise most folks.

For one thing, the exterior
styling, designed by
Alex Tremulis
(of Tucker fame),
is much more akin to cars
that were put into production
10 years later —
— the 1951 Ford Custom,
for instance.

The lag in progress,
if you want to call it that,
was simply due to the
onset of World War II–

Car manufacturers put
their designs for consumer
vehicles on the back burner
and went about building
the tanks, airplanes, trucks
and stuff to aid the war effort.

And directly after the war,
most car companies went
right back where they left off-

building the same models
and using the old toolings
stamps and templates —

Any real innovations took
years of peacetime and a
large amount of capital to
come to practical fruition,
and it was well into
the 1950’s before
consumers really started
to see them applied
directly to the marketplace.

So, there was, for all
practical purposes,
a ten year lag in
development and
automotive creativity.

This can clearly be seen
when we look at the
1941 Thunderbolt :

the “A” pillar was deleted
on this car, which had
an all aluminum-body
(with the exception of
the steel hood
and deck lid) ,
which featured
all kinds of
accomplishments –

– like an electrically retractable roof –

(not seen in the United States
on a production car until the
1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner ),

plus hydraulically
powered windows,
push button door handles,
concealed vacuum
activated headlamps,
back-lit gauges,
vertically mounted
and inset radio,
and with a push button
Chrysler Fluid Drive
automatic transmission.

A two-seater coupe,
it was powered
by a 323.5 cubic-inch
“Spitfire” engine capable of
producing 143 horsepower,
used an independent front
suspension with coil springs,
and a live rear axle with
semi-elliptic leaf springs.

First shown at the New York
Auto Show in October, 1940
there were a total of 6 Thunderbolts
manufactured, each with it’s
own unique color scheme,
and of these, 4 are known
to have survived.

If you wanted to drive one –
up until December 2016-

you could have at least seen
a silver Thunderbolt at the
Walter P. Chrysler Museum
located in Auburn Hills, Michigan,
but that place has since closed down-

-a red Thunderbolt
(remember, each one had
it’s own color scheme)
sold at auction in 2006
for over a million dollars,

-and a green one that once
belonged to actor Bruce Cabot went for just under
a million in 2011.

But you know,
with enough $$$$ ,
I guess anything’s possible.

Umm.. yeah.



The 1960 Plymouth XNR


This is the
1960 Plymouth XNR .

It is a one-of-a-kind
concept car designed
by Virgil Exner, Sr,
who was Chrysler’s V.P.
for styling at the time.

(He also developed the
legendary Dodge Fire Arrow,
and the Plymouth
Explorer Coupe.)

The XNR was builtaxnr2
on a Plymouth
Valiant chassis,
with a steel body
by Carrozzeria Ghia
( of Karmann Ghia fame )

and utilized a fiberglass nose.

It used a 170 cubic inch slant-six
power plant making about 260 HP,
with a four barrel carb and high performance cam.

axnr3It could handle sharp corners
at speed with ease, and was
capable of just over 150 MPH.

After several years on the show car circuit,

it somehow ended up in the
hands of the Shah of Iran,

….and then spent the rest
of the century in Beirut,
surviving the Lebanese
Civil War in a secret

Amazing, but true.

It was brought back to the United States
for restoration in 2009, and was shown
at the Amelia Island Concours
d’Elegance in 2012.

It sold that year for
just under 1 million dollars –
– $935,000 .

Looking at the styling of
this beautiful car
makes me ask one
simple question —-

Why can’t today’s
automotive designers
come up with cutting edge
ideas like this today ??

Why does every car
on the road lookaxnr
like every other car on the road?

Has automotive styling gone
the way of the dinosaurs?


if so,
what’s next ?





The BMW Isetta

The BMW Isetta
is a favorite of mine
in the field of classic
vintage cars …

.. despite the rarity
of them on American


an Italian design,
it was produced in
small numbers by
Iso SpA, an Italian
refrigerator company,
before licensing to
manufacturers in Brazil,
France, Spain, Belgium,
and to BMW
in Germany

BMW took the basic
design, remodeled it,
and then applied German
engineering ingenuity
to create something much
better —
and more popular.

In a year,
BMW had sold
ten times (10)
the number of cars that
Iso SpA ever sold.

Soon, the car became
available in the U.S.,
and they sold over
12,000 of them here.

The little 3 wheeled car 4
made quite an impression
with buyers, was low
maintenance, and excellent
on gas- getting an average
of about 60 miles per gallon.

Actually, BMW made
three models of the Isetta:

In 1955, the “250”
had a R25/3 250cc motorcycle engine, a four speed gearbox, and a top speed of 53 mph. It was only produced for about 8 months.

In 1956-1962,
the “300” featured a
four wheel option and
a more powerful 298
cc engine.

In 1957-1959, the “600” was a larger four seater, with four wheels standard, and an R67 582cc flat twin engine. It’s top speed was around 80 mph.

the “600” found itself
in direct competition
with the VW Beetle,
….. and did not sell well –
— only about 35,000
were ever built.

The “300” Isetta continued
to improve and sell well
into the early 1960’s.

Despite that, the market forgiannacanale
small cars was shrinking,
while the competition was widening,
…. and in 1962, BMW built the last Isetta.

I heard a rumor, however….
…. that BMW was using the
Isetta as the basis for it’s
new cutting edge electric
I-3 .

If so, the Isetta may yet
make a comeback of sorts.

I hope so-
it’s a cool little car.

HOY !!

Saturday Car Post – The 1938 Buick Y-Job

We talk a lot about
vintage cars on the
Saturday version of
the Muscleheaded

– so,
I’d like to
introduce you to the
first ‘concept-car’ :
(actually, a
it’s from 1938 and was
developed by Harley
Earl himself.

It was called the
Buick Y-Job.

The design of the car
was at least a decade
ahead of its time, and
defined Buick styling
cues for several more
after that.

Compare the 1938
“Y-Job” with the
1950 Buick Roadmaster
convertible, and you’ll
see what I mean.

1950 Roadmaster

The fully functional
concept car was
equipped with power
hide-away headlamps,
flush door handles,
power windows,
wrap around bumpers,

And, Harley Earl liked
the car so much, he
drove the single
existing prototype
for 13 years.

Why the name?

Most experimental
designs in the
automobile industry
were designated with
the letter “X” –
Earl chose “Y”
because it was used
in the aviation industry
for its most advanced

It currently resides at
the GM Design Center
in Warren, Michigan.



Our Saturday Car Post

Our question this week
comes from one of our
readers in Nebraska.

He asks:

I have a farm tractor
that runs on LP propane
gas, and it’s very low
maintenance and
dependable; it originally
belonged to my grand-dad. 
Why can’t they build
cars that run on it ?

It might surprise you
to find that LP Gas-
or “Autogas” is the
third most popular car
fuel in the world and is
used by over 16 million

Autogas (LPG) is actually a
combination of propane
and butane – not to
be confused with CNG –
which is compressed methane
and is stored at a higher

While the infrastructure
for Autogas is still quite
under-developed in the
United States, countries
like Turkey, South Korea,
Poland, Australia,
and Italy have been
concentrating on much
wider availability to drivers,
which is key to making it
a more user friendly choice.

Obviously, where there is
better availability, the costs
come down, and probably
a good reason why, at one
time, LP tractors were
popular in the American
Midwest – during WW II,
gas and diesel were rationed
and in much shorter supply
than LP in many areas.

Now, of course, with the
emphasis being put on
electric cars, it’s not clear
where the future of autogas
is headed in the United
States – but nearly 3% of
vehicles use it, at present.

It is possible to convert a
gasoline or diesel powered
car to autogas –
and there
are several major auto
manufacturers who have
invested heavily in LPG
vehicle development —
Ford, VW and Toyota,
for instance.

The main benefits seem
to be cleaner emissions
and a potential for fuel
cost savings if and when
wider availability becomes
a reality. Also, over 90%
of demand for Autogas
can be met by domestic

The negatives, aside from
the distribution issues,
have to do with power
and efficiency – a gallon
of gas has about 1/3
higher BTU capacity,
which translates directly
into horsepower.
It also means that a tank
of autogas will get you
less miles before you
have to refill.

On the post today,
our pictures are all
cars that use autogas
as their primary fuel.

!!! HOY !!!

Fast Production Cars

Porsche 959

Ever wonder what’s
the fastest a production
car has been able to
go, go, and gitty up
on it’s own power ?

the answer depends
on how tightly you want
to define the term
” Production Car ” —

— for instance, if
you’re willing to accept
a limited run of only 25,
( hardly a car you could
go out and buy at the
neighborhood car dealer )
then this Swedish-made
2017 Koenigsegg
Agera RS 
277.8 miles an hour,
factory equipped
with a 1341 horsepower
twin-turbo V-8, down
an 11 mile stretch
of Nevada’s Route 160
last year.


Jaguar XJ220

That’s incredibly fast,
but it would also be
incredibly expensive

— over 2 million

I’m not sure my credit
union would float
that loan.

The payments ?

Oh well….
let’s see…

Aston Martin DB4 GT

10% down would be
$200,000, and then 48
reasonable monthly
payments of about
$50,000 each.


Oh, tack on another
10 G’s a month if you’re
classed as an excellent
driver (which you won’t
be for very long).

If you’re willing to insist
on a minimum factory
run of 300, then, you’d
want the 2005 Bugati
Veyron EB 16.4 –
at almost 254 MPH.

You can probably get one
of those ‘used’ for about
a million or so.

But, if you’re really
serious about the word
‘production’, a thousand
or more made has got
to be your benchmark –
and that requires us to
go back a ways —

to the beautiful Ferrari
365-GTB/4 ‘Daytona’.

Oh, now, this is a car
with not only speed
but builder tradition,
and an unbeatable,
ageless look that would
make a supermodel very,
very jealous.

It does require an
enormous amount of
skill to drive, but you
could get one in a

Make mine Ferrari red.

!!! HOY !!!

Saturday Car Post

My longtime friend
Carolyn suggested
that we talk about
her two favorite
cars today….

……. VW’s
and Corvettes.

let’s do dat:

The first Chevy Corvette
was introduced in 1953,
at the GM
Motorama –
a sort of annual
car show….

Motorama also
featured other
new vehicles that
year, like the:
Buick ‘Wildcat’,
Pontiac ‘La Parisienne’,
Oldsmobile ‘Starfire’,
and two new Cadillac
models ‘Orleans’,
and ‘Le Mans’.

( I did a post on the
original C-1 Corvette,
and that can be
found here. )

There have been 7
generations of
Corvette made
since then –

it was originally built
in Flint, Michigan and
St. Louis, Missouri,
but in 1981, production
was moved to a
dedicated Corvette
plant in Bowling Green,
Kentucky, where they’ve
been manufactured
ever since.

Not surprisingly,
the Corvette was
selected as the official
sports car of the
Commonwealth of

Only one year has
the line not had
some kind of update –
and that was in 1983,
when the introduction
of the 4th Generation
Vette was stalled with
quality and production
set backs.

Only 1 car bearing a
1983 VIN still exists,
a prototype, displayed
at the Bowling Green

But there have been
over 1.5 million Vettes
produced over 65
years — a pretty strong
record !

The Corvette has also
been the pace car for
the Indianapolis 500
a number of times —
14, to be exact.

you might think
that Corvettes
and VW’s
have little
in common,
until you realize
that Ferdinand
Porsche , famous
German race
car builder,
was involved
in the original
design –
that car evolved
in the “Volkswagen”,
or people’s car.

Although most
of their line
is completely familiar
to Americans,
especially the “Beetle” ,
— one of their
best cars is virtually
forgotten —
the Type 14
Karmann Ghia. 

And of course,
we’ll have to
do a post
on those cars
in the very
near future —

because they strongly
influenced automotive
design well into
the late 1960’s.


PS: I know there’s precious little Beetle coverage, here, but I’d look pretty crazy driving one, anyway. 😀

!! HOY !!!