by Michael Lamm
Back in the early 1970s, I edited and co-owned a magazine called Special-Interest Autos. My partners were the principals of Hemmings Motor News.
As SIA editor, I regularly flew from California to Detroit to research articles and gather photos for future issues. In doing that, I’d typically drop by as many Detroit research facilities as time allowed. They usually included three or four libraries at General Motors (GM had 37 active libraries at the time), the Henry Ford Museum archives, the auto history collection of the Detroit Public Library, the AMA library and the Chrysler archives.
In those days, Detroit’s research facilities were open to just about anyone, and visitors were free to roam and browse at will. I could choose photos, and the car companies would nearly always make dupes for free and mail them to my office—very different from today.
On one such trip, I stopped by the Chrysler archives looking for pictures of experimental cars of the 1930s and ’40s. In a file of styling photographs, and I stumbled across a series of 8×10 glossies of a 1936 scale model that looked to me like a Bonneville streamliner. Interesting, I thought, and I tried to find out why this model was built, who made it and what became of it. No one seemed to know.
Then, about a month ago, I happened to be watching a movie called Speed. The movie, released in mid 1936, starred a very young Jimmy Stewart. The plot revolved around his work for a mythical car company. Stewart’s character had invented a new type of carburetor, and to test its performance, the company entered a car in the Indy 500 and also built a streamliner to set speed records at Muroc.
Some of the stock footage in Speed clearly came from Chrysler: scenes of assembly lines and executive offices. Also, most of the passenger cars in the movie were 1936 DeSotos, so apparently Chrysler Corp. had a hand in making this film.
More to the point, the significance of that streamlined scale model finally dawned on me. The clay must have been a study for the shape of the movie streamliner, a car called the “Falcon.” I have no proof, but the similarities between the 1936 Chrysler scale model and the 1936 Falcon are remarkable: the envelope body, the glass canopy and the large, single tailfin.
I’m not sure I’ve actually solved a mystery here, but I’d like to present the evidence as a possible theory. And I’d very much appreciate hearing from anyone who knows more about the connection (or lack thereof) between the Chrysler model and the movie streamliner. –Michael Lamm