After the Airflow's dismal commercial failure in 1934, Chrysler reverted to wise and classic designs for these production models. However, when Harley Earl of General Motors successfully opened the way for “dream cars” in 1938 with his Y-Job concept, KT Keller, Walter P. Chrysler's successor, in turn hired his stylists to design “the car. from the future ". The Chrysler Thunderbolt was unveiled at the New York Auto Show in 1940 alongside another concept, the Chrysler Newport.
After the resignation of Walter P. Chrysler in 1938, KT Keller, taking the management of the company, officially affirms, unlike the creator of the mark, he believes in the advertising potential of avant-garde vehicles. In 1939, he commissioned designers at Briggs Manufacturing's LeBaron studio to produce two unusual vehicles for a major promotional tour of major auto shows and dealer showrooms. The Thunderbolt will be designed by Alex Tremulis, the future designer of the legendary Tucker Torpedo.
The almost all-aluminum body of this convertible (with the exception of the steel bonnet and trunk lid) is distinguished by its aerodynamic and enveloping shape, its retractable Cord-style headlights, its enclosed wheels and the absence visible grille and air intakes (they were cleverly located under the front bumper). The opening and closing system of its hardtop is inspired by the Peugeot 402 Eclipse of 1935. It is electrically controlled by a push button located behind the three-seater bench. This is a very complex design, which will not be seen again until the arrival of the Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner in 1957. Access to the trunk is ordered by a sliding cover mechanism and the push-button locking of the doors. and the windows are hydraulically operated. The Thunderbolt is also the first automobile in history to have backlit dials. The design of its curved windshield was also innovative. Its curvature had never been used in an automobile before and challenged manufacturers. This unique feature would not appear on production cars until the early 1950s.
Under the Thunderbolt's body, hide the standard C-26 chassis, the running gear of the Chrysler New Yorker and the 5.3-liter in-line 8-cylinder engine of the C-27 Crown Imperial, of the 140 “Spitfire” type. horses, which allows a top speed of 160 km / h.
The design and build of the car impressed KT so much. Keller, whom he asked British captain George Eyston, to use the name 'Thunderbolt' in homage to his racing car which had just smashed a speed record, 357.53 mph or 575.39 km / h, on the salt lake of Bonneville, Utah, September 15, 1938. The 7-ton craft was powered by two Rolls-Royce twelve-cylinder engines.
Once completed, the five unique Thunderbolts are then sent to all corners of North America on a grand promotional tour. They are displayed at various local dealerships to promote the Chrysler brand as a manufacturer of avant-garde cars. They attract huge crowds. In Sacramento, California, a Chrysler dealership received 8,500 visitors in a single day. One winter weekend in Denver the Thunderbolt on display in a dealership window drew 29,000 visitors who braved the snow and hail to see the creation of Chrysler!
After their heyday, the Chrysler Thunderbolts were sold to private individuals, a far better fate than many 1950s concept cars that ended up being scrapped. To date, four of the Thunderbolts have survived, including one on display at the Walter P. Chrysler Museum in Detroit.
Some famous Chrysler Thunderbolts: mostly in private collections
- Chassis number unknown, engine number C33-1001, which would have been the first Newport built. Formerly owned by Paul Stern, then later by Buzz Reinhardt, Tom Barrett, Russel Head and Joseph Cassini. Appeared at Pebble Beach in 1978, 1980 and 2009. Sold to RM Amelia Island in 2004 for $ 363,000, to RM Arizona in 2008 for $ 748,000 and to Gooding Scottsdale in 2011 for $ 1,017,500. Cream with red leather interior.
- Chassis number 7807503, engine number C33-1002, pace car Indy 500. First owned by Walter P. Chrysler Jr., then by David Caldwell (August 1959 to September 1989), formerly owned by the Ramshead collection. Sold at RM Amelia in 2009 for $ 687,500, offered at RM Amelia in 2012 but did not sell, sold at RM Don Davis in 2013 for $ 880,000. Fixed headlights, champagne with brown interior (previously painted seafoam green).
* Chassis number 7807827, engine number 4321290. Originally owned by Henry J. "Bob" Topping, millionaire playboy and husband of actress Lana Turner, later owned by William Harrah, now in the collection of the National Automobile Museum of Reno. Red with white interior (previously painted green with white interior). At one point owned by Red Harris in Pittsburgh.