Young Rust Heinz, heir to the Heinz 57 Varieties fortune, dreamt of becoming a car stylist. He definitely did not want to be what his family had in mind: an executive bottler of ketchup and pickles.
Rust dropped out of Yale in 1934 and announced to his father that he
was moving to California to open an industrial design firm. His dad
wasn’t happy, but a sympathetic aunt in Pasadena took him in. She doted
on him, called him Rusty and didn’t pooh-pooh his passion for
automobiles. She also noted that Rusty was bright, creative and likable.
In 1936, at age 22, Rust Heinz bought himself a brand-new Cord 810
sedan. After driving the Cord for a while, Rusty made a sketch of the
car of his dreams and decided to have Pasadena coachbuilder Bohman &
Schwartz build it. Maurice Schwartz himself agreed to hammer out the
aluminum body panels. And Heinz’s 1936 Cord would provide the new car’s
powertrain: the 125-bhp Lycoming V8, 4-speed pre-selector gearbox and
front-wheel drive, all neatly packaged on a self-contained subframe.
The sketches Heinz brought to Bohman & Schwartz amazed both
coachbuilders. The drawings showed a long, sleek fastback coupe, and
what impressed Maurice Schwartz was that the body shape had no design
precedent. Unlike so many car stylists, Rust Heinz hadn’t copied any
previous design. He’d come up with a totally original body shape. His
radical coupe had an envelope body with uninterrupted “through” fenders,
four fully skirted wheels, no discernible grille, no ornamentation, no
chrome, no debossed speed streaks, not even door handles. The design was
all of a piece, and the form, in fact, was the design; very unusual for
that day of fussy art deco and faux streamlining. Heinz decided to call
his creation the Phantom Corsair.
The Phantom Corsair had no design precedent. Its shape was totally
original and highly advanced, with “through” fenders and skirts over all
In May 1937, Rust Heinz married Helen Clay Goodloe in what the
Pasadena Star-News described as the social event of the season. The
Heinz family in Pittsburgh approved of the bride and thought marriage
might help Rusty settle down a bit. It didn’t.
Rust Heinz made the Phantom Corsair the showcase of his budding
design operation—a rolling advertisement, so to speak. He also toyed
with the idea of having Bohman & Schwartz produce copies of the
Phantom Corsair in the future so he could offer them to the public. He
created a beautiful brochure and priced the replica Corsairs at $14,700,
this at a time when a Packard Six cost $888.
Chris Bohman remembered that, “Rust…kept sketching these cars. One in
particular he wanted to build. His family wouldn’t finance it, so his
aunt here in Pasadena did. The family hoped he might settle down and get
the car out of his system. He’d married Helen Goodloe, and I knew her
because I went to school with her sister.” Maurice Schwartz made a
wooden scale model of the Phantom Corsair to prove out the shape to
himself. Satisfied, he carefully detached the Cord’s semi-unitized body
from the cowl rearward and sold that portion of the car to a Hollywood
movie studio to use as a prop. The Cord’s front subframe then became the
basis for Heinz’s new creation.
Bohman & Schwartz had the A.J. Bayer Co. in Vernon, Calif.,
fabricate a special chassis to weld to the Cord’s front subframe. The
Bayer chassis was made from rectangular chrome-moly steel tubing, the
main section consisting of two parallel side rails with a central
X-member. The Cord’s stock rear axle was suspended on a custom rear
subframe that Bayer bolted to the tops of the main frame rails via steel
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Paulette Goddard inspect the Phantom
Corsair before launching their 1938 film, The Young In Heart. The car
became the movie’s principal prop and, by special effects, one scene
features a dealer showroom filled with Corsairs of various colors.
Driving the Corsair can be a bit of an adventure, because outward
vision is limited, and it’s hard to judge front and rear overhangs.
Maurice Schwartz then made up the full-sized wooden hammer forms for
the Corsair’s aluminum body. Heinz also asked Schwartz to fabricate a
full bellypan to aid aerodynamics. The Corsair body, due to its extreme
width, overhung the frame rails by a substantial margin, but
intentionally so. The side-to-side overhang allowed the skirted front
wheels to turn at fairly normal angles, and it also allowed four-abreast
seating on the front bench. The fourth passenger sat to the driver’s
The Corsair was built specifically to impress potential buyers and
design clients, and to that end Heinz added all the technology he could
think of. Both of the Corsair’s huge doors opened with electric
pushbuttons instead of conventional handles. Simultaneously, little roof
flaps flipped up over the doors to ease entry and exit. The massive
hood opened and shut with electro-hydraulic rams. The cockpit was
entirely lined with a layer of rubber over cork sheeting. The cork was
1.5 inches thick in places. The rear cabin walls had built-in cabinets
containing spun aluminum tumblers and a crystal decanter. Two small
passengers could sit in the rear, facing each other.
The headlamps were integral “cats-eye” Woodlites, and the bumpers
stood on telescoping rams. The instrument panel used the full complement
of 1936 Cord gauges plus half a dozen more, including an altimeter,
compass and battery-charge indicator. A console above the windshield
carried telltales for door ajar, headlights on and radio on. Heinz had
plans to install a shortwave radio and thermostatically controlled air
conditioning but never got around to it.
To publicize the Phantom Corsair nationally, Rust wrangled a part for it in the 1938 film The Young in Heart,
starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Paulette Goddard. In the movie, the
Corsair was known as the Flying Wombat. Seeking more publicity, Rust
Heinz displayed the Phantom Corsair at the 1939 New York Worlds Fair.
During a visit to his family in Pittsburgh, Heinz decided to go to a
dance with friends. On the way home in an open Buick, the driver’s hat
flew off. To retrieve it, the Buick driver made a U-turn and was
immediately hit broadside by a passing car. Rust Heinz died the next
morning, July 23, 1939, of complications due to a skull fracture. He was
25 years old.
The Phantom Corsair stood gathering dust in a Queens warehouse until
1942. That’s when the family gave to it Lou Maxon, head of the Heinz ad
agency. The car subsequently passed through several hands and was owned
briefly in 1947 by Joe and Andy Granatelli in Chicago. In 1951, Hoosier
comedian Herb Shriner bought the car and had Albrecht Goertz (of BMW 507
and Datsun 240-Z fame) revamp the grille so the engine cooled better.
In 1971, Harrah’s Automobile Collection bought the Phantom Corsair and
restored it back to its original, pristine 1937 configuration. The car
is currently on permanent display at the National Automobile Museum (The
Harrah Collection) in Reno, Nevada.
The Corsair seats four abreast in front and has two children’s seats
in back. Gauges are from designer Rust Heinz’s 1936 Cord, augmented
with an altimeter, compass and other dials. The Cord also lent the
Corsair its front subframe, including the Lycoming V8 and