Detroit-based carmaker Chrysler touted the Thunderbolt and its companion, the Newport Phaeton, as cars of the future. With its aerodynamic body shell, hidden headlights, enclosed wheels, and a retractable one-piece metal hardtop, the sensational Thunderbolt conveyed the message that tomorrow’s Chryslers would leave more prosaic rivals in the dust.
Following the design of Chief Designer Ralph
Roberts, both the Thunderbolt and the Phaeton models were built by
LeBaron, an American coachbuilding company. Associate designer Alex
Tremulis suggested these cars be promoted as “new milestones in Airflow
design,” hinting that without the 1934 Airflows, Chrysler styling might
not have evolved so far.
The Thunderbolt’s full-width hood, which
flowed uninterrupted from the base of the windshield to the slender
front bumper, and its broad decklid, were made of steel, as was the
folding top, a feature designed and patented by Roberts not previously
seen on an American car. Fluted, anodized aluminum lower body side trim
ran continuously from front to rear. Removable fender skirts covered the
wheels, which were inset in front, so they could turn.
$8,250, eight Thunderbolts were planned, but only five were built, of
which four survive. World War II’s interruption meant that while a few
features found their way onto production Chryslers, these unique cars
were not replicated when hostilities ceased.