Visitors to General Motors’ “Highways and Horizons” pavilion at the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair came away awed by a vision of the future. The work of renowned designer Norman Bel Geddes, GM’s “Futurama” exhibit foretold the communities and transportation systems of 1960, many of which came to pass. Other peeks at the future included “Previews of Progress,” inventions that seemed like magic: “Yarns made of Milk! Glass that bends! The Frig-O-Therm that cooks and freezes at the same time! The Talking Flashlight transmitting speech over a light beam!” exclaimed the exhibit’s guidebook. Sharing top billing with the Futurama and Previews of Progress, however, was the “Glass’ Car – The first full-sized transparent car ever made in America.”
On the chassis of a 1939 Pontiac Deluxe Six, GM collaborated with Rohm & Haas, the chemical company that had recently developed Plexiglas. The world’s first transparent acrylic sheet product, Plexiglas was a serendipitous discovery arising from Rohm & Haas’ work with laminated safety glass. Using drawings for the Pontiac four-door Touring Sedan, Rohm & Haas constructed an exact replica body using Plexiglas in place of the outer sheet-metal. The structural metal underneath was given a copper wash, and all hardware, including the dashboard, was chrome plated. Rubber moldings were made in white, as were the car’s tires.
Plexiglas went on to important military uses – bomber noses, canopies and gun turrets – in World War II, where its strength and transparency contributed mightily to the war effort. After the war, Rohm & Haas developed countless civilian applications, in signs, lighting fixtures, railroad cars and automobiles. With the capability of being molded into virtually any shape and new dyes that allow unlimited color selection, it remains an important commercial and military material.
The “Ghost Car” also appeared at the 1940 New York World’s Fair and proudly showcased its newly redesigned front end and grill. A second 1940 “Ghost Car” was built for the 1940 Golden Gate Exposition on Treasure Island, near San Francisco. One can only imagine the multitude of spectators that enjoyed a glimpse inside such fine automobiles at these events.
Later, both were shown at Pontiac dealerships nationwide and the 1939 vehicle was loaned to the Smithsonian Institution during WWII.
It sold at auction on July 30, 2011 for $308,000 under conditions described as "feverish bidding."
This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in July of 2011 at The Inn at St. John's, Plymouth, Michigan.
85 bhp, 222.7 cu. in. L-head six-cylinder engine, three-speed manual transmission, coil spring independent front suspension, live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes.
Sources: GM Heritage Center and RM Auctions Photo Credit: Copyright Aaron Summerfield