Your cart is empty

1938 Phantom Corsair

by Vincent De Rossi | Dec 01, 2020

PWOAR, not sure if that expression was used back in 1938 but in 2020 it’s more than appropriate for a car of this type.

Conceived in the streamlined era of the thirties the Phantom Corsair was a car dreamt up by Rust Heinz. Despite having no experience in automotive design or business, he still managed to persuade a rich aunt to fund the car in the face of protest from the rest of the "57 Varieties" Heinz family. Unlike their food for the masses, this car was envisioned for limited production only.

Rust Heinz designed the Phantom along with Maurice Schwartz of the California based Bohman & Schwartz coach building company. The design was quite diverse from contemporary car design of the day as it did away with many mainstream features like running boards, long bonnets, exposed grilles and standing headlights.

Bohman & Schwartz started with a custom chassis from the AJ. Bayer Company then used a donor Cord 812 drive train complete with its complex front-wheel drive system, Lycoming 4.7-liter V8 engine and four-speed gearbox. They then fashioned a steel tube lattice frame and draped it in hand formed aluminium.  

Inside the curvaceous coupe is a compartment large enough to seat six adults in comfort. The dashboard has an array of aeronautical instruments with an overhead switch panel. Other unique features include push-button automatic doors, thermostatic temperature control, green-tinted safety glass and hydraulic bumpers.

Looking like its mother may have been a horseshoe crab, the front-end featured characteristic louvers and sculpted headlights that blend into the bodywork. Chrome was reserved for the front and rear triple-blade bumpers. The split windscreen was dramatically low while the side windows extended higher into the roof.

Despite the prototype costing $24,000 to build, it didn’t deter Heinz from using it as his daily driver but at the age of 25 Rust Heinz died. The family stored the car until 1942, before TV personality Herb Shriner bought it then commissioned Albrecht Goertz, to modify the car’s front end to increase engine cooling. Additionally, the front windscreen was raised to increase visibility and the roof modified to include two targa top-style panels.

In this modified configuration, the car was auctioned and purchased by William Harrah. He restored the car back to its 1938 specification and the Phantom Corsair has remained in the National Automobile Museum, formerly known as The Harrah Collection, in Reno, Nevada.