Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

The 1939 Pontiac Ghost Car — Transparent Plexiglas Body Panels

The 1939 Pontiac 'Ghost Car' was in the GM pavilion at the 1940 New York World's Fair.

at the 1940 New York World’s Fair.

A major attraction at the General Motors Highways and Horizons pavilion at the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair, The Pontiac ‘Ghost Car’ shown above was made using Plexiglas plastic body panels supplied by the Rohm & Haas Company, which had only commercialized this new wonder material in 1933.

The Ghost Car is a classic in many different ways. For example, it is built on the chassis of a 1939 Pontiac Deluxe Six, and covered with Plexiglas panels that are duplicates of the metal panels used on the ’39 Pontiac Deluxe models whose owners drove them with big smiles on their faces.

Not only have very few of the actual metal body ’39 Pontiac Deluxe models survived, but in the case of the Ghost Car only two were ever built. I found no info on where the other one might be. Another reason this one is a classic is there are less than 100 miles on the odometer. It went on a tour of U.S. Pontiac dealers after the Fair and those miles are mainly the distance between the truck that hauled the Ghost Car and the dealer showrooms.

After 75 years, the Plexiglass body panels and original white tires look good.

Plexiglass body panels and original white tires look good.

Plexiglas, on the other hand, continues to broaden its reach. World War II provided opportunities for it to serve in many applications, for example submarine periscopes, windshields, and the gun turrets of airplanes. After the way its reach broadened into a variety of applications needing a transparent, shatter-resistant material that is about half the weight of glass. The Plexiglas brand now belongs to the France-based chemicals supplier Arkema, which has industrial sites in 45 countries. The material belongs to a family known as acrylics and chemically is polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA).

Despite the Ghost Car not being built for sale — it has no normal vehicle identification number (VIN) — it has passed through several owners over the years. It cost a reported $25,000 to build, a bit less than $400,000 in current dollars. In mid-2011, RM Auctions in Plymouth, MI sold it at auction for $308,000. Considering the low mileage, the original white tires, and the excellent condition of its Plexiglas body panels, the buyer did well.

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