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Mario's Tribute to the 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt

1941 Chrysler Concept Car

Chrysler responded with Five 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt Concept cars to GM’s 1938 Buick Y-Job Concept Car developed by Harley Earl. Each of the 5 Thunderbolts were different colors and toured the circuit going to the NY Auto Show and the Chicago Auto Show as well as Dealers all over the Country.

The Chrysler Thunderbolt was equipped with a fully powered retractable hardtop. First of its kind, along with many other futuristic attributes which I detail in this Tribute.

Of the five Thunderbolts built in 1941, four are known to have survived. They all had a 323.5 cu in Inline Straight 8 L-Head engine producing 143 hp. The aluminum body was produced by LeBaron in Detroit with an Alex Tremulis design.

This is my Tribute to the 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt Concept Car. Enjoy! Mario

1 Two years after GM released the first American concept car, Chrysler responded with this 1941 Thunderbolt, “the car of the future.” This model has Brass Accents.

2 One of the most striking aspects of the 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt was its gentle lines which were uninterrupted by overzealous details which became a trend in later years. Concealed headlight doors open.

3 Only five Thunderbolts were built and four survive today. The cars were built during the popular Art Deco movement before the Jet Age of transportation design.

4 The Chrysler Thunderbolt was equipped with a fully powered retractable hardtop. This meant most of the rear end was taken up by the roof mechanism and storage.

5 There was only room for one bench seat in the cockpit which could accommodate three passengers. It also had a new curved one-piece windshield.

6 The Thunderbolt was equipped with a host of electric features including electro hydraulic doors and electric windows, aluminum dashboard and concealed pop-up headlights.

7 1940 NY Auto Show. The body was produced by Lebaron in Detroit with Alex Tremulis design. Built as a tribute to George Eyston’s 1938 Thunderbolt which reached 357 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

8 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt at the Chicago Auto Show. The Show Car had a fenderless, slab-sided shape with wheel skirts front and rear.

9 Black 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt at the 2009 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance sold for $1,175,000. Untypical of the era, the Thunderbolt had no front grill in favor of air intakes under the bumper. The overall shape was described as aerodynamic.

10 The front wheels were situated far enough inside the car under the fenders that it allowed an impressive full turning range.

11 The Thunderbolts were first seen at the 1940 NY Auto show and displayed across the USA. Each had a different paint scheme, and some had polished brass accents.

12 Five Thunderbolts were built in 1941 and four are known to have survived. Each was finished in a different color. The interior was lavishly appointed in leather upholstery and Bedford cord.

13 Chrysler 323.5 cu in Inline Straight 8 L-Head engine producing 143 hp.

14 Dual carbs Chrysler 323.5 cu in Inline Straight 8 producing 143 hp.

15 Each of the original five 1941 Thunderbolts received a different color combination. Shown here is the Black version.

16 The Thunderbolt has a fully retractable powered hardtop. The entire rear end was taken up by the roof mechanism and storage.

17 With three separate synchronized operations, the flick of one switch automatically recessed the top into a space behind the bench seat.

18 Eliminated the traditional radiator grille in favor of air intakes, a streamlined body with concealed headlights, push-button power door switches, and a curved one-piece wraparound windshield.

19 The 1941 Thunderbolt was beyond futuristic design and would not have looked out of place in the 1960s mod period.

20 This 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt sold for $1,175,000 at the 2009 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.

21 The body was constructed out of aluminum except for the hood and trunk decklid which were made of steel for weight reduction.

22 No recognizable grille with the air intakes were cleverly situated below the bumper.

23 Black 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt on display at the Hershey PA Auto Show in 2013.

24 Without question, the most impressive design feature of the Thunderbolt was the ingeniously designed electrically operated retractable hardtop.

25 The 1941 Thunderbolt was the first modern motor car to utilize back lit Lucite edged illuminated gauges inlaid into the dash and matched perfectly with the Imperial steering wheel.

26 The Power Retractable Hardtop was tucked away in the space provided behind the bench seat.

27 The Thunderbolt was built on a 1940 Chrysler Crown Imperial frame with an aluminum body. Power came from the Chrysler L-head straight-8 which provided 143 bhp.

28 The extremely novel, effective, and practical concealed headlight doors were electrically operated retracting automatically when the lights were turned on.

29 Red 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt displayed at the Atlanta GA Dream Cars-Showcase.

30 Red 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt displayed at the Atlanta GA Dream Cars-Showcase with top down.

31 Red 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt shown at the Concours on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, CA in 2002.

32 The business of building show or concept cars was in its infancy in 1940, with the notion of showcasing future styling and innovations.

33 The idea of Concept Cars dates back to Harley Earl from GM and his 1938 Buick Y-Job, which was such a success that it didn't take long for other automobile manufacturers to follow Earl's lead.

34 The 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt utilized a full-envelope body with concealed headlights and was the first American power retractable hard top.

35 This 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt sold for $1,210,000 at RM’s Auction in Phoenix, Arizona, on January 20, 2006.

36 The Thunderbolts toured the country visiting dealerships. They were all sold to private owners once their promotional value was exhausted.

37 Silver 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt on display at the Walter P. Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills, Michigan.

38 The Thunderbolt had a straight line with no dip or belt molding of any kind. Both front and rear wheels were covered with fender skirts.

39 Headlights were retractable, and there was no recognizable grille. Air intakes were situated below the bumper.

40 The Thunderbolt project ended up being one of the most interesting cars to ever come from LeBaron, as well as some of the last. The onset of World War II forced LeBaron to halt production.

41 Each of the original five Thunderbolts received a different color combination and carried a discreet bolt of lightning on the contoured aluminum doors.

42 Subtle differences such as exterior wraparound trim and dashboard finishes made each car unique.

43 Teal 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt at the 2009 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in CA. Offered at RM Auction for $1.2 million. This model has polished Brass accents.

44 Independent front suspension with coil springs, live axle rear suspension with leaf springs and four-wheel drum brakes.

45 The Chrysler Thunderbolt is the pinnacle of conceptual design, likened to an undiscovered work of art or unknown manuscript.

46 The 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt has passed the test of time, largely hidden away until now.

46A 2009 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance

46B Newport Beach Concours d'Elegance 2009 with concealed headlights showing.

47 The Thunderbolt had push-button door switches both inside and out. Wheelbase 127.5 inches.

48 Four of the five 1941 Thunderbolts built are accounted for today and are shown in this Tribute. The Bulge in the Hood is to allow room for the tall Radiator.

49 Chrysler 323.5 cu in. Inline Straight 8 L-Head engine producing 143 hp.

50 Dual carbs Chrysler 323.5 cu in Inline Straight 8 with 143 hp.

51 The Thunderbolt was the first modern motor car to utilize back lit Lucite edged illuminated gauges inlaid into the dash with a vertical radio. It matched perfectly with the elegant Imperial steering wheel, leather upholstery and Bedford cord.

52 The trunk did not offer a lot of room due to the storage of the spare tire.

53 Driving at dusk with concealed popup headlights on.

54 Concealed popup headlight doors open.

55 1941 Chrysler Concept Car Brochure.

56 1941 Chrysler Concept Car Brochure.


Video and audio clips

1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt Red


1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt Silver


Elegance at Hershey 2013 Black


1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt Teal – 2010


1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt Black



Related

More Cars of the 1940s
More Chrysler Coverage

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Comments

Mario on May 5, 2024 said:

Chrysler responded with Five 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt Concept cars to GM’s 1938 Buick Y-Job Concept Car developed by Harley Earl. Each of the 5 Thunderbolts were different colors. Only 4 survive today and all 4 are in my Tribute.

The Chrysler Thunderbolt was equipped with a fully powered retractable hardtop. First of its kind, along with many other futuristic attributes which I detail in this Tribute.

This is my Tribute to the 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt Concept Car. Enjoy! Mario

[Reply to this comment]

Anonymous on May 5, 2024 said:

Whoa....my wife looked over my should and said what is that a bathing tub on wheels? Of course I gave her a snort of derision and explained to her what it was. Women...what do they know??? Now me I see a car that is so sleek and slippery in the wind it gets one low coefficient of drag. Color choices? Ehhhh..the green reminds me of the veggies I didn't like as a kid. But they grew on me. That's definitely different and it's nice to see the various colors. Love the drop down top. Truly looks sleek with the top down.

I give it a B+ and the author of this thread an A for doing a complete and thorough job sharing the Lightning Bolt with this forum.

One more added to the authors goal. Nice work Mario..but then it's expected and appreciated just so you know. Keep your focus on 200...I'm praying for your success.

Rob

[Reply to this comment]

Mario on May 5, 2024 said:

Thank you Rob for your witty and comical critique as usual. The Green is really Teal, it adds more class!

It's nice to find Concept Cars where 4 out of 5 have survived after all these years and are worth so much to the buyers.

The Chrysler Thunderbolts were years ahead of their time being designed back in 1941 with many futuristic qualities. Glad you liked them, Mario.

[Reply to this comment]

57timemachine on May 9, 2024 said:

Looks like Chrysler was trying to play catch up with GM in the concept car department. Could this have been the first retractable hardtop car, way before Ford in 1957. Personally I find this car very unattractive.

[Reply to this comment]

Mario on May 9, 2024 said:

Yes George Chrysler seems to have been at many times trying to play catch up with GM. The Thunderbolt is somewhat similar to the 1938 Buick Y-Job by Harley Earl.

The one innovative feature here is the electric retractable hardtop which didn't go into production as you said until 1957 by Ford. But it wasn't that popular lasting only 3 years.

Thank you for your feedback. Cheers, Mario

[Reply to this comment]


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