the view through the windshield
1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt: Ahead Of Its Time

When General Motors introduced its futuristic Y-Job dream car in 1938, it gave Chrysler the perfect excuse to do a little crystal ball gazing of its own and develop a couple of dream machines. Prior to the Y-Job, most futuristic auto concepts were kept under careful wraps in the styling departments of the various automakers.

Chrysler introduced two dream cars in 1941 - the two-seat, retractable hardtop Thunderbolt and the Newport - an open parade phaeton. Both were first shown at the New York Auto Show in October 1940.

The Thunderbolt - named for Captain George Eyston's streamlined 358-mph land speed record holder - was a two-door with powered retractable metal top. It was dubbed "The Car of the Future" and was an aluminum envelope-bodied, flush-fendered coupe. Pushbuttons controlled the hidden headlights, windows, rear deck and top. The Thunderbolt carried a discrete silvery bolt of lightning on each door.

Alex Tremulis - who later styled the ill-fated Tucker - designed the Chrysler Thunderbolt body while he was a young designer at Briggs Manufacturing's LeBaron studio. The car was based on a modified 1940 Chrysler Crown Imperial frame. It was powered by a 143 horsepower straight eight engine. Power was transmitted to the rear wheels by a Chrysler Fluid Drive transmission. The car rode on a 127-inch wheelbase.

Five or six examples (depending on whom you ask) were built by LeBaron. Each Thunderbolt was given its own unique color scheme.

The Thunderbolts traveled extensively to showrooms, auto shows and events across the country, drawing potential customers to Chrysler Corporation dealerships. Chrysler frequently changed colors to keep the cars fresh and exciting, but one remained immediately recognizable: The Copper Car. It was built by LeBaron with a copper hardtop, sill trim and bumpers. It survives in this unique, distinctive configuration today.

These cars still looked futuristic 10 years later when parked next to a 1951 production Chrysler. Today, there are four Thunderbolts still surviving.

In August 2011, a bright green 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt with copper trim was auctioned for $935,000.

This 1:43 scale, China-made, resin model of the 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt LeBaron concept car in metallic green with copper trim was resin-cast by Matrix Models. Only 240 examples of this delicate, accurate and relatively expensive model were produced.

The Thunderbolt still looks striking today - a tribute to Alex Tremulis and his future vision. (posted 3/31/14)

Remember When: 1941
auto blogIn 1941, the carving of Mount Rushmore was completed. The fourth Thursday in November was officially designated as Thanksgiving Day. Germany defeated Greece and Yugoslavia. Soon, it invaded the USSR. Nazi aircraft sunk a Russian hospital ship killing 7,000. The British sunk the German battleship, the Bismark. FDR was sworn in for his third term as U.S. president.

The U.S. began to prepare for war; rationing was initiated and the first Liberty Ship was launched. Roosevelt signed the Lend Lease Act, providing military aid to the Allies. The first tank rolled off Chrysler's Army Tank Arsenal production line on April 24th. Winston Churchill addressed a joint meeting of the United States Congress about the War in Europe. Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S. In December, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

In Germany, Konrad Zuse developed the Z3 - the world's first electronic, fully programmable digital computer based on a binary floating-point number and switching system. The Z3 computer was the first machine to be controlled by software. Plutonium was discovered at U.C. Berkeley.

<By the '41 model year, running boards on U.S. passenger cars had mostly disappeared. The 4 millionth Plymouth was delivered to a dealer and the 29 millionth Ford was produced. Henry Ford dramatically unveiled his soybean-based experimental plastic to the public by attacking the plastic trunk of a Ford with an axe. Chrysler commenced production of the luxurious Town & Country woody wagon. Buick offered the first four-barrel carburetor - actually a compound carb set-up - on its Fireball straight-eight engine. Hydra-Matic Drive was now offered on both Cadillacs and Buicks. It soon would be used in tanks.


Chrysler introduced two dream cars, the two-seat, retractable hardtop Thunderbolt and the Newport Parade Phaeton. One of the Newports was the pace car at the 1941 Indianapolis 500. California got its first freeway, connecting LA and Pasadena.

Top songs included Duke Ellington's 'Take the A Train, 'Frenesi' by Artie Shaw and his orchestra, The Andrews Sisters' 'Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy' and 'Racing with the Moon' by Vaughn Monroe.

There were several notable 1941 movies: 'Citizen Kane', 'Dumbo', 'How Green Was my Valley', W.C. Fields' 'Never Give A Sucker An Even Break' and 'The Maltese Falcon'. Bugs Bunny made his silver screen debut in 'A Wild Hare.' The first commercial television license was granted a NYC station in '41.

According to Life magazine, 1941 fads included campus blanket parties and floppy hats. In horse racing, Whirlaway won the Triple Crown.

Quite a few famous folks were born in '41: Paul Anka, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Wilson Pickett, Pete Rose and journalist George Will.

<Deaths included novelist James Joyce, auto pioneer Louis Chevrolet, King Alfonso XIII of Spain, French tire magnate Andre Michelin, NY Yankee Lou Gehrig and jazz pianist Jelly Roll Morton.

In sports, Joe DiMaggio achieved a 56 consecutive game hitting streak. The New York Yankees beat the Brooklyn Dodgers, winning the World Series in five games.

More AutoSketch car drawings can be found here.

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If I have slandered any brands of automobiles, either expressly or inadvertently, they're most likely crap cars and deserve it. Automobile manufacturers should be aware that they always have the option of trying to change my mind by providing me with vehicles to test drive.

If I have slandered any people or corporations, either expressly or inadvertently, they should buy me strong drinks (and an expensive meal) and try to prove to me that they're not the jerks I've portrayed them to be. If you're buying, I'm willing to listen.

Don't be shy - try a bribe. It might help.