the view through the windshield car blog

Topper's Car

Back To The Thirties: Recently, I recorded an old 1937 black and white movie, Topper, which starred Cary Grant, Constance Bennett, Billie Burke (later to be immortalized as The Good Witch) and Roland Young as Cosmo Topper, the bemused recipient of his dead friends' good deeds.

The film has one song running through it - a Hoagy Carmichael ditty, 'Old Man Moon'. In the nightclub sequence, the tune is ably performed by the vocal quartet, 'Three Hits and a Miss'. The talented Martha Tilton was the "Miss" in the group. She later joined the Jimmy Dorsey Band. Martha eventually joined singer Jo Stafford and others to form a swing chorus for Benny Goodman on his radio show. She became Goodman's lead vocalist after his former girl singer parted ways and hit the big time with the song 'And the Angels Sing.'

For me, the biggest star of the movie was the Topper car - a 1936 Buick Series 80 Roadmaster (131" wheelbase) customized by Bohman & Schwartz and fitted with special controls – including a second hidden steering wheel. As a stuntman drove the car using the hidden wheel, it would appear as if the vehicle was being driven by a ghost.

Anthony 'Tony' Gerrity, also known as 'Jack' Gerrity with his creation

Tony Gerrity, then at Bohman & Schwartz, transformed the Buick chassis into a very 'Buck Rogers' design which included a shapely central fin, supercharged Auburn-like exhausts, a distinctive nose, teardrop fenders on all corners and a racy cut-down windscreen. Other custom features included placing the stock headlamps higher off the fender by mounting them on catwalks, fitting standard Buick parking lights on both front and rear shapely teardrop fenders, and the addition of fender skirts to reduce the rear wheel openings by about four-inches. Due to the prominent rear dorsal fin at the rear of the roadster there was no trunk lid. The car utilized Buick's 320.2 cubic-inch straight-eight, 120 horse power engine and three-speed manual transmission.

In 1939, Hal Roach Studios sold the Topper car to the Gilmore Oil Company. Re-sprayed in the Gilmore colors of cream and red, the Buick was fitted with a public address system for use in promoting Red Lion gasoline. The car was modified several times and eventually gained a set of 1948 Cadillac finned rear fenders. It was later given additioal modifications and updates.

This is the modified Gilmore car on exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum in January 2010. (posted 11/6/08)

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