Car: Chrysler Thunderbolt, 1941

Even today, there’s something irresistibly futuristic about the Chrysler Thunderbolt. It’s also extremely evocative, its pontoon-like body having been the inspiration for millions of tin toy cars of the 1940–50s.

1941 model Chrysler Thunderbolt
Thunderbolts toured Chrysler’s North American dealers to promote the 1941 range.

Six Thunderbolts were created for a nationwide tour of American Chrysler dealers, intended to add spice to the introduction of the 1941 model-year Chrysler cars in showrooms across the country. The name came from a car that had smashed the land speed record at Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, in 1938. Each car had a chrome lightning flash on its doors.

The basis for the cars was the chassis of the straight-eight Chrysler New Yorker, but the novel bodies were built by the Briggs coachwork firm to the design of Alex Tremulis, a leading independent stylist of the time.

1941 model Chrysler Thunderbolt
1941 model car Chrysler Thunderbolt

The pontoon-like profile was shocking enough at the time, with slab sides completely enclosing the wheels. But within this aluminum outer skin were other innovations, including an electrically retractable hardtop and headlights, doors that opened via discreet push buttons, and the novel idea of an air intake under the front bumper.

“His fertile imagination was clearly geared to space-age images, and it aligned him with much of the thinking in post-war car design.”

Professor Penny Sparke, design historian, on Alex Tremulis

Video model car Chrysler Thunderbolt

Specification model car Chrysler Thunderbolt

YEAR REVEALED: 1941
PLACE OF ORIGIN: Detroit, Michigan
HISTORICAL STATUS: prototype
ENGINE: eight-cylinder, 323ci (5,301cc)
MAXIMUM POWER: 143bhp
LAYOUT: front-mounted engine driving the rear wheels
BODYWORK: two-door two-seater roadster
TOP SPEED: unknown
NUMBER BUILT: six