The Don Davis Collection

27 April 2013

Previous Next

Lot 128

1941 Chrysler Newport Indianapolis 500 Pacemaker by LeBaron

  • Chassis no. C7807503
  • Engine no. C331002

Sold for $880,000

143 bhp, 322 cu. in. inline eight-cylinder engine, three-speed overdrive Vacamatic transmission, independent front suspension with coil springs, live axle rear suspension with semi-elliptic springs, and four-wheel drum brakes. Wheelbase: 145.5 in.

  • The actual 1941 Indianapolis 500 Pacemaker
  • One of only five examples built, and the only one with exposed headlights
  • Originally owned and driven by Walter P. Chrysler Jr.
  • Recent concours-quality restoration in original colors

The dual blows of the Great Depression and the only slightly less disastrous Airflow traumatized the Chrysler Corporation, which spent the late-1930s building conservatively designed and engineered automobiles. It was designer Ralph Roberts, of LeBaron, who, in the fall of 1940, recognized that as the nation and the company recovered, Chrysler would benefit from some high style added to its lineup.

The idea that Roberts had in mind was a dual cowl phaeton, a body style that had disappeared from the scene at Chrysler after 1933. For the dual cowl’s last dance, he combined the old-fashioned body style with exotic baroque curves inspired by aircraft design, including flowing envelope fenders, a fully disappearing fabric top, and headlights that disappeared behind flush-fitting retractable covers. Even the rear cowl was electronically raised and lowered, to ease passenger entry and exit. The result, dubbed the Newport, was so visually stirring that it moved even Chrysler chief K.T. Keller, a known proponent of conservative design.

Keller ordered LeBaron to produce six examples of the Newport for the 1941 auto shows, which, by the time of the order, meant that all six cars had to be turned out in 90 days. It is believed that only five were actually completed, and they caused a sensation as they toured auto shows and Chrysler dealerships in the months before World War II. While the Newport’s design itself would impact future production Chryslers only in detail, emotionally, its impact for Chrysler was far greater. It proved that the company could produce beautiful things again, and that it would continue to build them in the future.

Despite their “concept car” status, the Newports have enjoyed an enviable survival rate. All five cars built remain today, including examples held in the permanent collections of the Walter P. Chrysler Museum and the National Automobile Museum.

The car shown here was the only Newport built with open headlights, giving it a unique front-end appearance. It is also, perhaps, the most famous example, having served as the Pacemaker of the 1941 Indianapolis 500, the last run of America’s classic race to be held before World War II. The 500 was won that year by Floyd Davis and Mauri Rose, but for many in the stands, the star of the field was undoubtedly the Newport, strutting through the Brickyard dust in its sparkling bronze paint, with CHRYSLER proclaimed on its flanks—lest anyone forget who was giving them a glimpse of the future.

Period footage of the race survives at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame, clearly showing this Newport, with its distinctive open headlights, “leading the pack.” Importantly, the Newport was, up to that time, the only non-production automobile to have ever paced at Indianapolis. It would continue to hold that honor until the Dodge Viper prototype ran in 1989, and it remains the last custom-bodied automobile to have paced Indianapolis.

It was common in this relaxed era for auto industry executives to commandeer unique prototypes for their personal use. In the case of the Pacemaker Newport, it passed into the hands of Walter P. Chrysler Jr., son of the company’s late founder and namesake, who had it repainted light green and used it while vacationing on Cape Cod. Well-versed in beautiful things that were ahead of their time, Chrysler Jr. served as president of the family’s landmark New York skyscraper, and he was a devotee and great patron of modern art. More than just a well-connected relative, he was perhaps the only man for whom a “daily driver” Newport would make perfect sense.

The car was eventually traded into a Chevrolet dealer in Provincetown, Massachusetts, probably by the second owner. It was stored by the next owner in his barn for 30 years, before being sold in July 1989 to A.J. “Tony” Pascucci and his son John, noted collectors who returned the car to the enthusiast community after decades of hiding.

It then passed through the hands of prominent collectors Jim Kaufmann and Roger Willbanks. In Willbanks’ hands, the Newport, repainted Chrysler’s green, with the Pacemaker lettering reapplied, appeared at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 2003. Appropriately, it was chosen that same weekend to once again pace the course, this time at the Monterey Historic races at the Laguna Seca raceway, where it accompanied the debut of the Chrysler Crossfire.

The Newport was next acquired by a well-known collector in Texas. After examination proved that age was beginning to take its toll on the still very original car, his shop restored it to its original appearance, including the correct bronze finish it had worn at Indianapolis. The restoration took thousands of man hours to complete, with no area of the car untouched. Passed not long after into the hands of Mr. Don Davis, the Pacemaker has resided with him since, and it has been maintained in concours condition and stands today as well as it did in 1941.

It is fitting that in a collection so packed with performance cars, the Indianapolis 500, ex-Walter Chrysler Jr. Newport has come to stand as a centerpiece. It is, and has always been, a leader of the pack.

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

+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

+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

+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

+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

+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

+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

+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

+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

+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

+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

+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

+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

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

+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

+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

+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

+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

+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

+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

+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