Pontiac “Ghost Car”: the first transparent car made in America
Visitors to the 1939 New York World’s Fair Highways and Horizons exhibit by General Motors were dazzled by the display of a one-of-a-kind 1939 Pontiac Deluxe Six Plexiglas car. This specially fabricated see through vehicle was constructed of acrylic plastic (quite an advancement at the time) which made visible the many parts that created the vehicle.
Unveiled in the same year, the “Ghost Car” was the first completely transparent car made in America, and eight decades later, photos of it are still a wonder to see.
Designed to showcase everything that goes into making an automobile in a time when the automotive industry was thriving, it was built by General Motors in partnership with Rohm and Hass, the company that invented Plexiglas. The revolutionary material essentially replaced the sheet of metal out of which the car’s body was usually made of, thus offering a clear view of the inner workings of the vehicle. To add something else to its striking appearance, the metallic structure featured a copper wash, the hardware was chrome-plated and the tires were white, instead of the usual black. It reportedly cost $25,000 to build – an astronomical figure in those days.
“A transparent motorcar, the first ever constructed in the united states, is the most striking of the Fisher Body Division exhibits at the GM highways and horizons building at the New York world’s fair,” a 1939 General Motors press release read.
“Created to show the rigid interior bracing and other features complete with windows that can be raised and lowered, doors that can be opened and closed. The only material lacking being the insulation normally applied to the inner surface working with a new material, a synthetic crystal-clear plastic.”
In 1940, a second Pontiac Ghost Car was built for the 1940 Golden Gate Exposition on Treasure Island, near San Francisco, an together with the original one toured different Pontiac dealerships in the United States. The eye-catching vehicles were also featured in Pontiac promotional material as well as in automotive magazines.
After its World’s Fair appearance the Smithsonian Institution kept the Pontiac show car on display from 1942-1947. By the late 1940s, however, the styling on the car had been deemed old and obsolete by the viewing public and the exhibit was changed. Later, the show car would be old and resold to a number of Pontiac dealerships – mostly for the promotional value.
Eventually, it was auctioned for $308,000 in 2011.