Previous Next

Lot 156

1939 Pontiac Plexiglas Deluxe Six "Ghost Car"

  • Chassis no. 3113436

Sold for $308,000


Series 26. 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.

- Highlight of 1939-40 New York World’s Fair
- First transparent car built in America
- Pioneering Plexiglas collaboration between GM and Rohm & Haas
- Excellent original condition
- Single-family ownership since early 1980s

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. It reportedly cost $25,000 to build – an astronomical figure in those days.

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.

According to the GM Heritage Center, a second car, on a Torpedo Eight chassis, was hurriedly constructed for the 1940 Golden Gate Exposition on Treasure Island, a man-made island in San Francisco Bay. Once their respective showcases had closed, both “Plexiglas Pontiacs,” or “Ghost Cars” as they were sometimes known, toured the nation’s dealerships. The 1939-40 Deluxe Six is the only one known to survive.

Following the dealership tour, it went on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. and was reportedly there until 1947. It was later owned by a succession of Pennsylvania Pontiac dealers. It appeared at the first annual meet of the new Pontiac-Oakland Club International in 1973 and was purchased by Don Barlup of New Cumberland, Pennsylvania. Barlup commissioned a partial restoration from S&H Pontiac of Harrisburg and sold it to collector Leo Gephart in 1979. The current owner’s father purchased it from Gephart in the early 1980s, and it has remained in the same family ever since.

The car is in a remarkable state of preservation, a testament to the longevity of Plexiglas in an era when automotive plastics tended to self-destruct within a few years. Although it has acquired a few chips and cracks, it is structurally sound and cosmetically clear, showing off the Ghost Car’s innards as it did in 1939. The car rides on its original U.S. Royal all-white tires and sports the correct white rubber running boards. From the beginning it was a running car, although extensive use would have been unduly detrimental. The odometer currently reads 86 miles. The only recent mechanical work has been replacement of the fuel lines.

Not surprisingly, it has no conventional vehicle identification number; even the machined boss for the engine number is blank. The identification number traditionally used for the car is 3113436, probably a part number, found on the radiator. A collection of period photos and other memorabilia accompanies the car, which still turns heads as much as it ever did. It is not, obviously, suited for touring, but as a unique artifact from automotive and cultural history, it deserves a wider audience. It will certainly be welcome at all manner of shows and concours, as well as being suited for a singular museum display. It is no longer the only see-through automobile, but surely the first full-sized transparent car ever made in America has a unique spot in history.

Addendum

Sold on Bill of Sale

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

aweaver@rmsothebys.com

+1 864 313 6844
California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

asabatie-garat@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 74 1511 4179
United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

bruprecht@rmsothebys.com

+1 203 912 7168
Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 9... read more

David Swig

dswig@rmsothebys.com

+1 415 302 2247
California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. He is a life-long automobile enthusiast and ... read more

Don Rose

drose@rmsothebys.com

+1 617 513 0388
United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

dgould@rmsothebys.com

+1 954 566 2209
Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

gduff@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Ian Kelleher

ikelleher@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Ian Kelleher began his automotive career immediately following his graduation from Oberlin College with a Bachelor of Arts in Politica... read more

Jake Auerbach

jauerbach@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Jonathan Sierakowski

jonathan@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Jonathan Sierakowski developed a passion for classic cars while working at a Connecticut restoration shop as a teenager. He graduated with a... read more

Kurt Forry

kforry@rmsothebys.com

+1 717 623 1638
California, United States

Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

mmalamut@rmsothebys.com

+1 805 231 6410
California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

msquire@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

... read more

Mike Fairbairn

mfairbairn@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

ocamelin@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 75 0110 7447
United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

pdarvill@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

pfisher@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 784 9300
Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. He att... read more

Peter Wallman

pwallman@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Peter Wallman joined RM Europe in 2007 following nearly two decades in the international advertising industry, where he was based out ... read more

Shelby Myers

smyers@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

tvandervelden@rmsothebys.com

+31 653 84 19 60
United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more