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Charming Small Mystery Car Under Construction In California

This amazing little two-door sport phaeton was apparently being constructed by the young man posing in it. The time frame appears to be circa 1932-’33, which is based on the modern styling of the grille and shell and the lines of coachwork being built on the diminutive chassis. The metal work is first rate and includes compound curves used on the back of the body, the grille shell, and the rear fender.

The low-slung chassis also appears to be the work of a professional; the only readily identifiable parts of it are a dropped and modified Model “T” Ford front axle and spindles, and wheels and tires that may have been originally intended for use on a small implement of some sort.

The 1931 Model “A” Ford roadster with a California license plate is parked behind it for use as a size reference. Hopefully a reader will know more about this interesting little machine? You can view many more small and baby cars here in earlier coverage. The images are via contributor Benjamin Ames.





11 responses to “Charming Small Mystery Car Under Construction In California

  1. What a great machine! As you note the sheet metal work is of excellent craftsmanship and the styling is also well sorted out and flows really well. Another great post. I look forward to reading anyones further comments as to who and where it was constructed.

  2. This car still exists and was recently displayed in a top concours d’elegance. It’s known the 1937 Rena Convertible Brougham … a name selected because it’s built on a Renault chassis, but at half scale, so only half of the Renault name was kept. The exact history is not known, but an interesting legend exists. In the 1970s, the completed car was photographed at a California flea market. A handmade sign explained that the car was designed by Thomas Hibbard in 1937. He had recently departed company as vice-president of American Bantam and was employed with Ford Motor Company at the time. The car was to be used in the Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney film, “Babes in Arms”. In a rousing dance finale, Rooney was to perform a lighthearted impersonation of President Franlklin Delano Roosevelt, and Garland was to play the First Lady. They would ride in this car. It looked much like a half-scale 1934 Lincoln Convertible Brougham with 1936-style grille. Every detail was intricately duplicated, including built-in trunk, folding top irons, cowl lights, hub caps and other appointments. The dash featured real wood inlay with a set of center-mounted 1936 Ford dials. All body panels were expertly formed and seams aligned perfectly. The box-channel frame was harvested from a 1937 Renault, and a new 1937 Ford V-8 60 engine was installed. Bothe axles were cut, narrowed, and welded to fit the chassis. Before it was finished, New Ford wire wheels were cut down to accept 12-inch tires, although the wheels were a bit out of round and created a rather rough ride at speed. The Hibbard Convertible Brougham was just 50 inches wide on an 82-inch wheelbase. Height to the top of the cowl was a mere three feet. For unknown reasons, a stock American Bantam speedster was used for the movie scene instead; perhaps this car was not completed in time. Is the story 100% true? It’s difficult to say. Although Hibbard was credited for designing the car, the name of the craftsman who pit it together has been lost. The current owner of the Rena is aware of these photo negatives, which were sold a few weeks ago on ebay. Hopefully someone will recognize the builder in these photos and we’ll be able to know the whole story.

    • By the way, the ebay seller also offered a third negative that showed this grille was replaced with a smaller, narrower, more oval grille similar to the 1936 Lincoln before the builder finished the car. The replacement grille remains on the car today.

      • The choice of a 1937 Renault frame as the starting point for what was likely very much a “rush job” is interesting. This part of the legend is probably verifiable by close inspection of the car as it exists today. Is the frame really from a 1937 Renault? Are any of the other parts of Renault or European origin?

        As far as I know during this period Renaults were not direct imported to the US or North America.

        If it is really a frame from a Renault, that is an obvious lead to follow.

  3. Provided the license plate on the Ford Model A is currently in use, the photo is from either 1932 or 1936. Those are the only two years with black letters on an orange background with this font and “California” spelled out at the bottom of the plate.

  4. For a while in the 1950’s this car drove around promoting the stag play The Drunkard. I’ve seen one fuzzy photo of that. I’d love to see more photos and get more info on the car and it’s travels.

  5. The scene with the American Bantam Speedster was cut out of the U.S. version of the film. It was considered too satirical and in bad taste.

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