An alternate to silica-based glass is acrylic glass. Technically known as Poly-Methyl-MethAcrylate (PMMA), we commonly refer to the material generically as plexiglass. Developed by Rohn & Haas Company commercially in 1933, their Plexiglas product was trademarked in Germany as the world’s first clear acrylic material. Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd. (ICI) registered the product in the UK at about the same time as “Perspex.” In the U.S., E.I. du Pont trademarked Lucite as their acrylic glass product offering. Other companies have trademarked names such as R-Cast, Optix, and Cyrolite.
In 1939, for the World’s Fair, the car below was featured having its exterior body panels fabricated from Rohm & Haas Plexiglas. It was advertised as the first “transparent car” in America. Who was the manufacturer of the automobile pictured, and which major automotive manufacturer showcased the vehicle during the fair?
Often called the PlexiPontiac, or the Pontiac Ghost Car, it is a 1939 Pontiac Deluxe Six. It was built as a collaboration between General Motors, Pontiac, and Rohm & Haas for the GM “Futurama” exhibit and was part of the “Highways & Horizons” display. Built on a 120-inch wheelbase, Pontiac four-door Touring Sedan framework and chassis, the metal structural components were copper plated while the car’s accent hardware was chrome plated. Black rubber moldings were changed to white rubber as were the tires, for contrast. The engine used was a 222.7-cubic-inch L-head six-cylinder that generated 85 brake horsepower for the three-speed manual transmission.
Costing $25,000 to build, the odometer displays only about 100 miles of driving! After being one of the must-see highlights at the World’s Fair, the car toured the U.S. before becoming a feature attraction at the Smithsonian Institute for a number of years. Upon leaving the Smithsonian in 1947, it was displayed in several Pennsylvania dealerships. It was purchased in the early 1970s by a private owner, who had it restored. Sold to another private owner in the late 1970s, it was again sold to a private owner in the 1980s. In July 2011, it was auctioned by RM Auctions for $308,000.
A second car was built after the Ghost Pontiac on the Pontiac Torpedo Eight chassis for the Golden Gate Exposition. It too toured the country, but its status is unknown.