So You Like See-Through Cars? Look Through These Plymouths


The posts we ran about the see-through Plexiglas bodied 1939 Pontiac are some of the most popular traffic draws here at Cars In Depth. Now it appears that David Greenlees over at The Old Motor has uncovered a couple of clear Mopars. Apparently around the same time that Pontiac was showing their completely see-through body, Plymouth was making a ’39 with a see-through plastic roof. Actually it was a standard Plymouth P8 convertible with a custom roof. Like the ghost Pontiac, this car sports custom white tires made by Goodyear. It’s not clear if the car was ever displayed, though the use of white tires and a matte white finish on the car seem to indicate that it was prepared as a show car. I don’t know if there’s any connection between ghost cars and giving up the ghost but both Plymouth and Pontiac made ghost cars and both brands are now dead.

1939 Plymouth P8 Convertible with a see-through Plexiglass roof. Perhaps the roof, white tires and matte white finish were intended to compete for attention with Pontiac's "ghost" car

Greenlees also  has uncovered another see-through Plymouth, this one a bit more ambitious. Unlike the ghost Pontiac which had a see-through body mounted on a regular, functioning, metal chassis and drivetrain, for the 1952 auto show circuit Plymouth built a see through show chassis, with moving internal parts.

Without a visit to the NAHC, it appears that the only records of the display are some press and publicity photos from the ’52 Chicago Auto Show and an article in an old Life magazine. The Old Motor reports that the caption on a press photo reads, “Plymouth chassis and operating motor enclosed in plastic fascinate Myra Miller (left) and Josephine Gayton. Plastic enables visitors to see the motor running.”

Photo from The Old Motor

Now obviously the motor didn’t “run” but the setup was powered by an electric motor that motivated the display’s moving parts.

The Chicago Auto Show has a comprehensive archive of publicity photos from a century’s worth of car shows. Their archive of photos from the 1952 show includes a photo of the see-through Plymouth chassis and drivetrain, also with two attractive female models pointing at something for the camera.

According to the Chicago Auto Show photo archive:

Plymouth’s transparent engine and chassis allowed attendees at the 1952 Chicago Auto Show the opportunity to watch the flow of power from the combustion chambers to the wheels. The six-cylinder powerplant was displayed under black light from ultraviolet ray lamps, complimenting the drivetrain that was constructed of transparent plastic and accented with glossy fluorescent lacquer. It took a year and a half to construct, using 1,200 separate plastic parts.

Either Chrysler recycled at least part of the display or they prepared a second ghost engine for the Los Angeles auto show a month later. It was an effective publicity stunt. Life magazine ran a photo from the LA show of the see-through engine and transmission illuminated by ultraviolet “black” lights, which they called “the most unusual display” at the show.

The copy in Life read:

When the 29th Los Angeles International Automobile Show was held last month it offered its 150,000 spectators many extras besides *$5 million worth of cars, backgrounds and cutaway models. Ford surrounded its cars with azaleas, and General Motors offered the public one Sky Eagle, as the only living descendant of Indian Chief Pontiac to ballyhoo, naturally enough, Pontiac cars. But the most unusual display in the entire exhibit was Plymouth’s mystically glowing engine pictured above. Made in a Chrysler plant in Detroit at a cost of **$40,000, the engine’s parts are all of plastic and were transported to Los Angeles in a special temperature-controlled van and assembled there. At the show the engine was mounted on a rotating grill through which ultravolet light was shone and reflected by the fluorescent materials in the plastic. Since all the working parts really worked, even in the extent of sparks firing in perfect time in the cylinder heads, round-eyed Angelenos were able to look right into a modern automobile angine while it was in operation and thus get an idea of what went on beneath the seldom-explained hoods of their own cars.

*$42.6 million in 2011 dollars
**$340,000 in 2011 dollars

So now that we know that GM and Chrysler both made see-through cars (or at least major parts of them). We need to find out if there are any Plexiglas Fords to complete the trifecta.

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