Chrysler Thunderbolt Concept
The Thunderbolt concept was born of a thoughtful pitch in 1939 by Alex Tremulis to Ralph Roberts at LeBaron. At the time, Tremulis was a promising young designer at Briggs Manufacturing, LeBaron’s parent company, who later went on to help design the short-lived but legendary Tucker Torpedo. Roberts was so impressed with the proposal that he organized a meeting with K.T. Keller and Chrysler division president Dave Wallace to discuss the possibility of creating two all-new dream cars.
The Chrysler Thunderbolt was named after the land speed record-holding car that Captain George Eyston drove at 357.53 mph over the measured mile at the Bonneville Salt Flats in September of 1938. Eyston’s own Thunderbolt was powered by dual 12-cylinder Rolls-Royce aero engines, was more than 30 feet long and weighed seven tons. Chrysler’s Thunderbolt, in contrast, made use of a considerably shorter 127.5-inch New Yorker chassis and a 323.5-cubic inch, “Spitfire” L-head inline eight-cylinder engine rated at 140 horsepower and 255 foot-pounds of torque. As a prototype, the Thunderbolt also employed the three-speed Fluid Drive transmission that was not to see full development until after World War II on production Chrysler models. Additionally, it also featured an overdrive unit that permitted speeds in excess of 100 mph.
The Thunderbolt had push-button door switches both inside and out – yet another groundbreaking design cue. The interior was lavishly appointed in leather and Bedford cord, while the dash featured design advancements all its own. It was also the first modern motor car to use back-lit, Lucite-edged illuminated gauges; inlaid into the dash, they perfectly complemented the Imperial steering wheel and vertically mounted and inset radio.
Without question, the Thunderbolt’s most impressive design feature was the ingeniously designed, electrically operated, retractable hardtop. The flick of one switch activated three separate synchronized operations that caused the top to retract into a space behind the bench seat. Access to the trunk was provided by a fully automatic sliding rear deck lid – truly an incredible engineering task in 1941 and one that was not seen again on a production car until the Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner of 1957.
This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in August of 2011 at the Portola Hotel & Spa and Monterey Conference Center, Monterey, California.
143 hp, 324 cu. in. “Spitfire” inline eight-cylinder engine with dual carburetors, three-speed Fluid Drive semi-automatic transmission and overdrive, independent front suspension with coil springs, live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 127.5"
Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Richard Truesdell