November 9, 2009

Rare Cars: Phantom Corsair

The 1938 Phantom Corsair, one of the world’s rarest cars, boasted a sleek, aerodynamic style. It was described as a cross between an 810 Cord and a killer whale.’ This car, in addition to being rare, has a history steeped in Hollywood and celebrity. Its futuristic look, making it resemble a crime fighter’s car, is rumored to be the inspiration for the Batmobile. In addition, it was billed as the ‘Flying Wombat’ in the 1938 Hollywood comedy ‘The Young In Heart.’ It made its appearance at the 1939 World’s Fair. Currently, this rare beauty makes its home at the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada.

The Phantom Corsair was the brainchild of California automobile designer and Heinz Relish Company heir, Rust Heinz. He was helped by Maurice Schwartz of Bohman, Schwartz Coach Co. of Pasadena, Calif. Heinz began his design career, by laying the plans for a delivery vehicle for the family company. Shortly after this, he came up with the idea for his dream car, the Phantom Corsair. Heinz and Schwartz assembled the prototype at the price of $25,000, a cost equivalent to $300,000 today. Heinz planned to produce the car on a small scale with the sticker price of $12,000. However, his vision never came to fruition. In 1939, at the age of 25, he was killed in an automobile accident. His car was the only one of its kind.

Despite a chassis based on a 1936 Westchester sedan, the Phantom Corsair showcases a sleek, seamless aerodynamic style. The body, which stands 58 inches high, is constructed of steel and aluminum. It has a wheelbase of 125 inches, is nearly 20 feet long and weighs approximately 4500 lbs. It has unique features for its day, such as a green-tinted windshield and covered headlamps. Electronic buttons found on the outside of the car and the interior instrument panel operated the gull-wing style doors. Separate hydraulic bumpers allow the Corsair to drive smoothly, with the ability to withstand impact. The interior of the car features an instrument panel containing many dials and gauges, making it look futuristic for the time, and making it obvious why someone would consider it a model for a superhero’s car. And, its engine was another obvious reason. The weighty car was powered by a Lyconing V8 engine that kicked at 190 horsepower, resulting in a top speed of around 120 mph. In addition, the front-wheel drive in the car gave the driver maximum control. The Corsair was outfitted with four drum brakes to insure driver ultimate stopping power.

With only one model complete, the Phantom Corsair is easily one of the world’s rarest vehicles and definitely one worth going to see in Reno.