As I type this, I have one foot out the door and on the gas pedal as I head to the Detroit area for the second weekend in a row. This weekend, my destination is the Concours d'Elegance of America at St. John’s where I'll be judging the show cars on Sunday and covering the RM Auctions sale on Saturday.
Covering the auction will be bittersweet; I'll have a chance to see the famous see-through Pontiac go to a new home, but I'll be reminded that its longtime owner and Old Cars Weekly subscriber Frank Kleptz is no longer with us. I last heard from Mr. Kleptz last fall, just before Hershey. When we spoke, he was lamenting the fact he'd be missing the event due to his health. Earlier this year, we featured an obituary on the news page of Old Cars Weekly.
Mr. Kleptz was always gracious about sharing his cars. His working turbine car appeared at events, as did his see-through Pontiac (it appeared at the Iola Old Car Show the year the event featured Pontiacs) and his Duesenberg. At Auburn one year, I ran into Mr. Kleptz while I was in the company of another Duesenberg owner no longer with us — Mr. Al Ferrara. Al pointed out that the two owners of the only two Judkins victoria-bodied Duesenberg Model J's built were at the same place at the same time, surely a rare occurence.
Hopefully, the see-through Pontiac's new owner will share the car as widely as Mr. Kleptz did. Shortly after that moment comes, I will be sure to post the results on this blog.
Here's a neat ol' pic from the Old Cars Weekly archives from our visit to Mr. Kleptz's collection several years ago:
Mr. Kleptz's Pontiac was featured in longtime OCW staffer John
Gunnell's book. 75 Years of Pontiac. Here's an excerpt on the car:
A unique Pontiac Deluxe Six four-door sedan with a see-through body appeared at the 1939 World’s Fair, in New York City, as part of General Motors’ “Highways and Horizons” exhibit. The idea behind the promotional car was to show people what goes into constructing an automobile. Even a portion of the car’s original seat was clear plastic.
The body was constructed of Plexiglas™, which was a new material at that time. The Rohm & Hass Company, of Philadelphia, had invented this acrylic plastic and helped Fisher Body construct a 1939 Pontiac body using it. The see-through car became popularly known by names like “Ghost Car” and “X-Ray Car” that were used when it appeared in magazines. It was later re-fitted with a 1940 front end (the bodies were the same both years) and displayed at the 1940 version of the World’s Fair in New York. A second see-through Pontiac was hurriedly built for display at the Golden Gate Exposition on Treasure Island, near San Francisco. In July 1940, a British car magazine carried a story about the construction of this second car. The illustrated article pointed out that Fisher Body workers had rushed to build it “on a Torpedo Eight sedan chassis.” Walter G. Arnold, a Chevrolet salesman, visited the 1939 fair in New York and saw the Deluxe Six Ghost Car, which he would come to own years later. Arnold drove a two-year-old Chevy in 1939 and wasn’t much interested in Pontiacs. However, he later bought a DeSoto-Plymouth agency in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, operating it until the demise of the DeSoto in 1960. Another area dealer also had a Plymouth franchise, which he wanted to keep since he sold the full Chrysler line. Arnold changed affiliations and picked up Pontiac in 1961. At a dealer meeting in Gettysburg, in 1962, he heard about a see-through 1940 Pontiac Deluxe Six sedan sitting in an open wagon shed on another dealer’s farm. After the 1939-1940 World’s Fair, this car or both cars went on a national promotional tour and had been displayed in Pontiac dealerships nationwide. During World War II, Pontiac loaned the car to the Smithsonian Institution for exhibition. Arnold’s dealer friend had gotten it back from the Smithsonian and fixed it up to run. Some of the plastic was brittle and cracked and the see-through seat had been replaced with a regular seat.
Arnold was known as an antique car collector and was asked if he wanted to buy the car. He did, keeping it until 1972, when he sold it to Pontiac collector Don Barlup at the first Pontiac-Oakland Club International convention. About six years later, Barlup consigned the “Ghost Car” to a collector-car auction. Frank Kleptz, of Terre Haute, Indiana, purchased the see-through Pontiac at the auction and still owns it today. The second see-through car’s history is unknown and it has never turned up.
Read about Pontiac show cars and dream cars in this book