It has been 50 years since the 1964 Ford Thunderbolt tore up the drag strips in America. Today it is one of the most recognized drag cars from the glory days of drag racing. However, in 1940 there was another Thunderbolt that was shocking the American automotive community. It was the Chrysler Thunderbolt!
This Chrysler machine was way beyond its time. Compare this shape to a 1940 Ford or a 1940 Chevrolet, heck compare it to a 1940 Chrysler (below) and you will likely not find a single bit of similarity.
The Chrysler Thunderbolt was first shown at the 1940 New York International Auto Show and later toured the US through 1941. There were a total of 8 cars planned but only 5 were ever completed of which 4 remain. The shocking part of this car’s history is that after the show circuit they were all sold to wealthy private citizens! If only the factories would do that today with some of the wildest concepts they produce.
The car was created to educate the public about the benefits of aerodynamics in automotive design and how form follows function. There was great fanfare about the shape having been extensively tested in the wind tunnel.
This car marks the first use of electrically operated concealed headlamps and a retractable hardtop. Ford’s famed 1957 Retractable was preceded by this car by 16 years.
We photographed this example of the Chrysler Thunderbolt at the Atlanta High Museum during its exhibition of concept cars in 2014. Its red color is far more attractive and modern looking than the example below.
This Chrysler Thunderbolt was photographed by us at the Chrysler Museum in 2012 prior to its closing.