Tuesday, July 19, 2011

1939 Pontiac Plexiglas “Ghost Car”

Used 1939 Pontiac, 86 miles, single owner since early 1980s.

What you are looking at, or rather, through, is a 1939 Pontiac Deluxe Six made of Plexiglas. The “Ghost Car,” as it was called, which wowed visitors to GM's "Highways and Horizons" exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair, will be sold on July 30 by RM Auctions.

The photos here are all from the online catalog, as are the following excerpts:
Visitors to General Motors’ “Highways and Horizons” pavilion at the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair came away awed by a vision of the future. The work of renowned designer Norman Bel Geddes, GM’s “Futurama” exhibit foretold the communities and transportation systems of 1960, many of which came to pass. Other peeks at the future included “Previews of Progress,” inventions that seemed like magic: “Yarns made of Milk! Glass that bends! The Frig-O-Therm that cooks and freezes at the same time! The Talking Flashlight transmitting speech over a light beam!” exclaimed the exhibit’s guidebook. Sharing top billing with the Futurama and Previews of Progress, however, was the “Glass’ Car – The first full-sized transparent car ever made in America.”
On the chassis of a 1939 Pontiac Deluxe Six, GM collaborated with Rohm & Haas, the chemical company that had recently developed Plexiglas. The world’s first transparent acrylic sheet product, Plexiglas was a serendipitous discovery arising from Rohm & Haas’ work with laminated safety glass. Using drawings for the Pontiac four-door Touring Sedan, Rohm & Haas constructed an exact replica body using Plexiglas in place of the outer sheet-metal. The structural metal underneath was given a copper wash, and all hardware, including the dashboard, was chrome plated. Rubber moldings were made in white, as were the car’s tires. It reportedly cost $25,000 to build – an astronomical figure in those days …
According to the GM Heritage Center, a second car, on a Torpedo Eight chassis, was hurriedly constructed for the 1940 Golden Gate Exposition on Treasure Island, a man-made island in San Francisco Bay. Once their respective showcases had closed, both “Plexiglas Pontiacs,” or “Ghost Cars” as they were sometimes known, toured the nation’s dealerships. The 1939-40 Deluxe Six is the only one known to survive …
The car is in a remarkable state of preservation, a testament to the longevity of Plexiglas in an era when automotive plastics tended to self-destruct within a few years. Although it has acquired a few chips and cracks, it is structurally sound and cosmetically clear, showing off the Ghost Car’s innards as it did in 1939. The car rides on its original U.S. Royal all-white tires and sports the correct white rubber running boards. From the beginning it was a running car, although extensive use would have been unduly detrimental. The odometer currently reads 86 miles. The only recent mechanical work has been replacement of the fuel lines …”

On Another Note ...
The “Ghost Car” was just one of Rohm & Haas’s experiments with Plexiglas prior to the material finding mainstream commercial use. The company displayed an acrylic violin at the 1937 Paris Exposition where it was awarded the Grand Prix. Though the violin reportedly sounded terrible (a flute produced later was said to have been more successful), it was the manipulation techniques developed in the fashioning musical instruments, that the company applied to its highly successful and critical manufacture of cockpits for WWII aircraft. (source)
Modern Mechanix, February 1939.

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