1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt

Two years after GM released the first American concept car, Chrysler responded with this Thunderbolt, “the car of the future.” It was built during the popular Art Deco deco movement before the Jet Age of transportation design. One of the most striking aspects of the Thunderbolt was its gentle lines which were uninterrupted by overzealous details which became a trend in later years.

Much like the 1938 Peugeot Decapotable, the Thunderbolt was equipped with a fully retractable hardtop. Unlike modern equivalents, this meant the entire rear end was taken up by the roof mechanism. This left room for only one bench seat in the cockpit which could accommodate three passengers abreast.

Much like the Crown Imperial which Chrysler was flaunting at the time, the Thunderbolt was equipped with a host of electric features. These included the electro-hydraulic doors, electric windows and pop-up headlights. The interior was particularly plush with leather upholstery and a bespoke aluminum dashboard.

The body was executed by Lebaron in Detroit to a design by Alex Tremulis. It was built as a tribute to George Eyston’s 1938 Thunderbolt which reached 357.53 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Both cars shared the same fenderless, slab-sided shape with wheel shirts. Untypical of era, the Thunderbolt had no front grill. The overall shape was described as aerodynamic and was an influence for the 1941 Chrysler Newport Parade Phaeton. It was built on a 1940 Chrysler Crown Imperial frame with an aluminum body. Power came from the Chrysler L-head straight-8 which provided around 150 bhp.

Only five or six Thunderbolts were built. They were first seen at the 1940 New York Auto show and subsequently displayed across the United States. Each had a different paint scheme and some had polished brass accents. Later on the name was resurrected by Chrsyler in 1993 as a concept car.

Chassis & Sales

7807943-Known as the ‘Copper Car’ it an original copper retractable roof and lower body trim. After extensive touring it was sold in March of 1941 and the subsequent owner who had a 331 cubic inch hemi-head Chrysler engine installed. Acquired in the 60s by Bill Harrah. Restored by Tired Iron Works of Monrovia, California in 2009 with original engine located. The Teal colour was chosen from period artwork. Displayed at the 2009 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, 2009Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and offered at RM Auction’s Automobiles of Arizona sale but it was Not Sold at a high bid of $1,175,000 USD.

1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt

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In Detail

type Concept / Prototype Car
released at 1940 New York Auto Show
built at Detroit, USA
coachbuilder LeBaron
production 5
engine Spitfire Inline-6
position Front, Longitudinal
aspiration Natrual
block material Cast Iron
fuel feed Dual Carburetors
power 106.6 kw / 143 bhp
body / frame Aluminum over Steel Frame
front brakes Drums
rear brakes Drums
f suspension Independent w/Coil Springs
r suspension Live Axle w/Semi-Elliptic Leaf Springs
transmission 3-Speed Fluid Drive Semi-Automatic