Amelia Island

10 March 2012

Lot 192

1941 Chrysler Newport Dual Cowl Phaeton by LeBaron

To be auctioned on Saturday, March 10, 2012

High Bid of $1,000,000

  • Chassis no. C7807503


143 hp, 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, four-wheel drum brakes. Wheelbase: 145.5"

• The actual pace car of the 1941 Indianapolis 500 race
• Subsequently owned and driven by Walter P. Chrysler, Jr.
• A design icon, one of only five examples built and the only one with exposed headlights
• Recent concours-quality restoration to original colors

The Great Depression had not only been hard on the fortunes of the Chrysler Corporation, but the failure of its attempted bold advance, the Airflow, was a blow to its spirit as well. The company had been forced into a reactive stance, shying away from anything that could be perceived as “new” or “untried.” As the ’30s waned, and slowly the glimmers of a recovery could be sensed, it was realized in the executive suite that perhaps they had gone too far from the kind of style and progress which would be needed in the decade ahead to win the public’s attention.

Chrysler’s competitors seemed to understand what was needed, especially in the premium car field. Edsel Ford’s styling studio under the direction of Bob Gregorie had been executing a style makeover on the Lincoln brand, bringing a European-influenced sophistication to its products. Ed Macauley, working with the brilliant Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, created striking style at Packard, and Harley Earl’s studios gave Cadillac some of the most elegant designs of the decade.

Chrysler’s chief, K.T. Keller, who had succeeded Walter P. Chrysler after the company founder died in August 1940, responded enthusiastically to an idea in the early fall of 1940 from Ralph Roberts of LeBaron with a proposal for two show cars to prove Chrysler was still in the game. The sketches for the two-seater Thunderbolt and the four-seat Newport dual-cowl phaeton were presented, and Keller boldly moved past the idea of one-off show cars and instead ordered six of each design to be built. That was great news for the coachbuilder, but more worrisome was that all 12 had to be delivered in 90 days, to appear at the first auto salons of the 1941 season! In the end, only five of each made it out in time, but they were a sensation around the country, with the Newport’s dramatic streamlined styling making a particular impression at the auto shows, fairs and special events at which they appeared.

On the long 145.5-inch wheelbase Imperial chassis, Roberts had created a truly “modern” car yet one which re-interpreted a style that by then had already largely passed out of fashion: the dual-cowl phaeton. It has been said that Roberts’ inspiration for the Newport was to give a vision of what the great dual-cowl phaetons of Duesenberg would look like in 1941 had the company survived the Depression. The character of that legendary marque, known for a unique combination of luxury, style and speed, is evident in the sleek yet substantial feel of the Newport.

This car is without doubt the most important of all the Newports, as it served as the 1941 Indianapolis 500 ‘Pacemaker Car’ in what would turn out to be the last race run for five years. It can immediately be identified as the very car which paced the field thanks to its distinctive open headlights, which distinguish it from the others that are fitted with concealed lights. Chrysler missed no promotional opportunities for the Indy 500 festivities on Memorial Day, 1941 and brought other Newports to the Speedway for VIP transportation.

Following its star turn at the Speedway, it was later used by Walter P. Chrysler, Jr. and refinished in a color scheme of pastel green with dark green leather. In this livery it could be seen cruising around Detroit’s streets, the company’s response to the ‘personal cars’ of industry leaders such as Edsel Ford’s Continental, Ed Macauley’s Phantom and the Y-Job of Harley Earl. As an open four-door with cut-away doors, it struck an even more dramatic note than any of the others and clearly pointed toward the streamlined future Chrysler tried to see nearly a decade before.

In many ways, the ownership of this extraordinary car by Walter Chrysler, Jr. was quite fitting. Chrysler was a co-founder of the Modern Museum of Art in New York and dedicated his life to art, astutely collecting many of the finest pieces by renowned artists around the world. In fact, it was a life-long passion that began in college at Dartmouth, where he began an art magazine with Nelson A. Rockefeller. The Newport was, quite simply, automotive art at its finest, and it fit his character perfectly.

As a vehicle in more or less ‘practical’ use, LeBaron devised and fitted a top which folded completely beneath a metal cover and installed electronic control for raising and lowering the rear cowl to ease passenger entry and exit. The Newport was very well cared for over the decades which ensued, and when it was chosen to run pace laps on the track at Laguna Seca in August 2003 at the Monterey Historic Races, it appeared much as it had back in 1941.

While appearing nicely patinated, the Newport had in fact become worn, and as not all the finishes were original, the decision was made in 2009 to give this important piece of history the proper restoration it merited. The result is stunning, the product of hundreds of hours dedicated to a professional nut-and-bolt restoration. The champagne paintwork faithfully brings the Chrysler back to its appearance at the 1941 Indianapolis race, as can be seen in a vintage color film of the event. The long, sweeping, almost organic lines of the Newport are enhanced by the superb panel fit of this car. The sparingly applied bright trim adds just the right amount of shine, and the detailing of the upper and lower grilles give a wonderful layer of texture to the smoothness of the shape. The ‘biplane’ bumpers are a whimsical touch yet serve as obviously practical protection as well.

The deep maroon leather upholstery, simply rolled and pleated, complements the exterior beautifully. The sweeping cowl roll over the driver-focused instrument panel, which is complete with pushbutton radio, give this Newport a decidedly sporty but still elegant feel.

Under the hood can be found what is said to be a special version of Chrysler’s most powerful flathead ‘Spitfire’ eight-cylinder engine, coupled with the innovative ‘Vacamatic’ three-speed overdrive transmission. The drivetrain provided this Newport with the ability to bring the race cars around the Indianapolis Speedway at a sufficiently sprightly clip, aided by clutch-less shifting in and out of overdrive in the top two gears. Even in the ‘working spaces,’ the finishes are equal to those elsewhere on the car, done to the highest and most correct quality.

This unique piece of design, industry and motorsport history now stands ready to take its new caretaker to the leading automotive events around the country—and indeed the world—to share with an admiring public the visionary advanced design and superb build quality of the Newport, exactly as was done when it was new more than 70 years ago. It is at once a perpetually desirable styling statement, an extraordinary piece of Chrysler history and the brainchild of some of Detroit’s most forward-thinking visionaries.

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

Alain Squindo


Detroit, Michigan

Alain Squindo joined RM Auctions in 2007, after graduating from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., with a degree in History. R... read more

Alex Classick

aclassick@rmauctions.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Alex Classick joined RM Europe in 2011 as a car specialist, after graduating from Nottingham University with a degree in Business Mana... read more

Alexander Weaver

aweaver@rmauctions.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, USA

Alexander Weaver joined RM Auctions in 2011 as a car specialist, after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born into ... read more

Annette Abaci

aabaci@rmauctions.com

+49 (0) 40 441 95 737
Germany

With post-secondary degrees in Economic Science and Mechanical Engineering, Annette Abaci initially worked part-time at Mercedes-Benz ... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

asabatie-garat@rmauctions.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a senior car specialist, after more than a decade in the collector car hobby... read more

Dan Warrener

dwarrener@rmauctions.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Possessing a degree in Economics from Brandon University, Dan Warrener spent the initial stages of his career working around the globe... read more

Don Rose

drose@rmauctions.com

+1 617 513 0388
United States

Don Rose joined RM Auctions in 2006, after many years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputatio... read more

Donnie Gould

dgould@rmauctions.com

+1 954 566 2209
Florida, USA

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@rmauctions.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Gord joined RM Auctions in 1998, initially responsible for the transportation and logistics of the company’s auction and restora... read more

Ian Kelleher

ikelleher@rmauctions.com

+1 212 894 1301
New York, United States

Ian Kelleher began his automotive career immediately following his graduation from Oberlin College, with a B.A. in Political Science. ... read more

Jack Boxstrom

jboxstrom@rmauctions.com

+1 818 703 2816
Ontario, Canada

Jack Boxstrom joined RM Auctions in late-1996 to assist with the recently acquired, and subsequently record-breaking, auction in Monte... read more

Max Girardo

mgirardo@rmauctions.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Max Girardo started his career in the vintage automobile industry in 1998, joining Brooks Auctioneers (now Bonhams) as a car specialis... read more

Mike Fairbairn

mfairbairn@rmauctions.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Auctions, Mike Fairbairn has a longstanding interest in the classic car industry. Graduati... read more

Peter Wallman

pwallman@rmauctions.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Peter Wallman joined RM Europe in 2007, following nearly two decades in the international advertising industry, read more

Peter Giddings

pgiddings@rmauctions.com

+1 925 831 2048
California, United States

A life-long car enthusiast, Peter joined RM’s California office with over half a century of experience in the automotive and rac... read more

Peter Blond

pblond@rmauctions.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Peter Blond joined the RM Europe team in 2013 after being immersed in the collector car industry for more than 60 years. An... read more

Rob Myers

rmyers@rmauctions.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

As chairman and founder of the RM Group of Companies, Rob Myers’s entire career has been devoted to the classic car industry. Ro... read more

Shelby Myers

smyers@rmauctions.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, USA

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

Vinnie Mandzak

vmandzak@rmauctions.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, USA

Vinnie Mandzak joined RM Auctions’ California office in 2012 as a car specialist, following more than 30 years’ experience... read more

Jeff Whiteside

jwhiteside@rmauctions.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Jeff Whiteside joined RM Auctions as Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer following almost three decades in a diverse r... read more