1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt

Walter P. Chrysler built his company on the principles of engineering excellence and innovation which had distinguished his career in the 19th century railroads, at Buick and Willys Overland.

The first Chrysler featured an efficient and powerful high compression six-cylinder engine, force-feed lubrication, tubular front axle and four-wheel hydraulic brakes, refinements then unprecedented in series production automobiles at the time.

The success of these and other innovations in 1934 culminated in Chryslers introduction of the Airflow, a streamlined, unit body breakthrough in automobile design. Its timing could hardly have been worse.

Mired in the dashed expectations of the depression, customers were loath to experiment with something so new and intuitively untried and risky. Sales plummeted and Chrysler quickly reverted to making more conventional looking automobiles.

Their mistake may largely be traced to springing the dramatically different air flow with its distinctive appearance upon an unprepared audience. But one remained immediately recognizable:

The Copper Car.

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It was built by LeBaron with a copper hardtop, sill trim and bumpers. It survives in this unique, distinctive configuration today. After its round of appearances it was sold to actor Bruce Cabot (First Mate Jack Driscoll in King Kong among many other roles).

In 1954 its engine was replaced by a Chrysler Hemi V-8. It was acquired by the Harrahs Collection in 1960 and was bought during its 1985 dispersal auction by the most recent owner who two decades later commissioned a complete restoration by Chris Kidd's Tired Iron Works.

During restoration the original Spitfire Eight engine was returned to its home under the Thunderbolt's hood along with a dual carburetor induction system. The drive system powering the retractable hardtop was re-engineered for smooth, reliable operation.

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Completed in 2009 it debuted at the Amelia Island Concours d' Elegance where it won the Camille Jenatzy Award for the Most Audacious Exterior, then took third in class at the Pebble Beach Concours d' Elegance in August and a class win (scoring 100 points) at the Newport Beach Concours at the St. Regis Resort.

Everything about this car, as its recent 100 point score confirms, is to the highest standards of materials, craftsmanship, historical accuracy, fit, finish and function. A dramatic statement of vision and innovation, with its brilliant copper hardtop and trim it is one of a kind, a dramatic statement of leadership in engineering, design and creativity in the 1940s, and no less a statement today.

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I always thought the 57 Ford was the first retractable hardtop. One piece windshield was rare in 1941.

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