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Plastic Fantastic Plymouth on the 1952 Auto Show Circuit

A reader named Tim sent in today’s lead image of a “Kodachrome” slide his father took at an auto show in the early ’50s after viewing other photos of the same or a duplicate 1952 Plymouth chassis posted here in the past. We have included all of the earlier photographs and information below.

Can anyone tell us more about this display chassis, who constructed it, and at what auto show was the photograph taken?

  • A rear view of the chassis posted here in 2015. The model on the left is the same one visible in the picture below.

September 17, 2015 : “Over three years ago we purchased and posted a black and white press photo of this Plymouth display chassis that for the most part was constructed out of clear plastic. Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine that it was highlighted with internal parts painted in such brilliant colors. Matt Novak posted this photo on Paleofuture recently, in color, but with different models.”

  • Enlargeable version of the lead image shows the construction of the front of the chassis in detail. 

  • The original photo with different models was taken at the 1952 Chicago Auto Show.

Posted on April 7, 2012: “This press photo, dated March 18, 1952, from the archives complete with its original press release was taken at the 1952 Chicago Auto Show. No one has been able to tell us more about it or who constructed it. We are left to wonder if it was an in-house job at Plymouth or if was it fabricated by an outside vendor experienced with complicated one-off show displays? The chassis was constructed out of clear plastic except for the steering wheel and some of the internal parts in the engine, and other assemblies.”

“The release with the photograph reads as follows: “Plymouth chassis and operating motor enclosed in clear plastic fascinate models Myra Miller (left) and Josephine Gayton. Plastic enables visitors to see the motor running.”

“We believe it is likely that the internal engine and drive train components were slowly rotated by a speed-reduction gear set powered by an electric motor to dazzle show attendees. Can any of our readers tell us more about this fascinating display?”


25 responses to “Plastic Fantastic Plymouth on the 1952 Auto Show Circuit

  1. The color pictures appear to have been taken in a warm climate based on the attire of the people in the pictures.

    The plastic car looks like it’s on a trailer with a roof in both the color and black & white photographs.

  2. The color photos match the description of the presentation at Pomona in September – note the red-tipped “wands”.

    Sep 30, 1952 Redlands CA “Daily Facts”

    … the closing days of the Pomona fair … at the Chrysler Corporations “New Worlds in Engineering” exhibit.

    Upon entering the door we found that the Plymouth now comes in “a remarkable full-size transparent chassis of clear plastic that reveals the perfect coordination of all the elements.” This
    comes complete with a pair of fluorescent brunettes (with classy chassis) who point their wands at
    pistons, carburetor, etc. as the spieler spiels over a P.A. system.

    We got to wondering what made Chrysler engineers think that a couple of brunettes know a carburetor from a spark plug, especially since their coordination with the wands, got rather sloppy
    as the spieler talked on.

  3. There is sure a lot of difference in the fans on the engine in the color vs black & white pics. Wonder about that little one in the 1st photo … these are great !

  4. I don’t know if it’s the same one because there was no chassis, but a clear plastic “working” engine was displayed at the Los Angeles International Automobile Show a month after the Chicago show and got a small bit of coverage in Life magazine. The colors were enhanced by using fluorescent material and UV lights. The Los Angeles engine was made by Chrysler in Detroit at a cost of $40,000.

  5. Great job! I anticipate looking at the Old Motor any time I can. The strapless Gowns on the models are very different from the rather conservative attire the girls in the black and white photos are wearing. It would seem to indicate either a different location or different time. Did the plastic car display appears in different years?

    Sometimes just lots of questions. Thanks for a great job as always.

  6. We learned an amazing amount of knowledge during WWII in regards to plexiglass. After the war my father fashioned costume jewelry utilizing it. I still have a few pieces that my mother carved.

    • Hi Jack, that’s true, but it took a while for plastic to get into cars. Our 1950 Packard had almost no plastic on the entire car. Window crank knobs, and hood release knobs were the only things I remember being plastic. Dash gauges, dome light, tail light lenses, all were glass. The white plastic knobs were the first to deteriorate. Quite the difference today.

          • Not always, a local club member restored a 41 Packard 160 convertible coupe and it had self destructing plastic dash panels that fortunately were being reproduced although quite expensive

      • As a structural material, certainly, but plastic made it into cars by 1914 (maybe earlier, but 1914’s the earliest reference I have right now), when the Model T’s interior and top were made of leatherette.

        • Wasn’t the actual plastic-like material in the earliest applications actually “Bakelite” – not sure of spelling & probably trademarked name – rather than resins based products of later years?

          • Not for leatherette, but yes, there was a lot of Bakelite in early cars. It is a resin (of phenol and formaldehyde) and the first fully synthetic plastic (celluloid predates it as a plastic isolated from natural sources), but where it differs from a lot of modern plastic is that it’s thermoset, like epoxy, and once it’s molded it can’t be reshaped.

            A 1909 issue of Horseless Age (Vol 23, No 6) mentions Dr. Baekeland reading his paper about the properties of Bakelite and then discusses its potential uses; they suggest its use as an insulator, for handles or buttons near the engine for heat resistance, as a brake lining, and as a replacement for Japanese lacquer on wooden frames and bodies. Depending on its properties, they felt it might also make a good bearing. By 1916 it was used for steering wheels, gasoline tank and radiator caps, lighting and ignition systems, and instrument covers.

            One interesting use that ended up not happening is from WW2. Copper was valuable, and briefly there was thought of issuing Bakelite pennies before galvanized steel was selected instead.

            The inventor, Leo Baekeland, was president of the patent committee of the National Research Council in World War One, and later the president of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the American Electrochemical Society, and the American Chemical Society. Charles Kettering wrote a short biography of Baekeland for the National Academy of Sciences after his death.

  7. Might be the inspiration for that plastic model you could buy for years of a see thru V-8.They also had a see thru man and woman plastic model you could buy.

  8. Reminds me of the Pontiac “Ghost Car,” a plexiglass construction that was exhibited at the 1939-40 World’s Fair. Most of you on this site have probably run across photos of it.

    • The original “Visible” V-8 kit was offered by Renwal models. Today, Revell has the molds.
      Renwal also offered the “Visible” man, woman ( with optional pregnancy feature), dog, frog, and radial aircraft engine.

      A lot of people are interested in the history of old plastic model kits with several books and websites devoted to the topic.

  9. The model in the lead photo is interesting,…with her hair, makeup and dress (not too sure about the gloves though), she looks like her photo could have been taken recently….unlike the women in the last photo.

  10. Whole lotta Lucite goin’ on there. What’s surprising is the crude appearance of the wood blocks in the display in the final photo. Looks like something I might have come up with ad hoc in the garage to do something I didn’t have the appropriate equipment to do.

  11. I graduated from CVS highschool in 1954. In one of the closed auto shops, sat a 1941 Plymouth Chassis. It was done inchrome and Porcerlinized steel. Gray to be exact. Learned a lot from that chassis. Said part, kids were always trying to steel the Chrome plated bolts, nuts and washers from this chassis. That was CVS-Chicago

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