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What A Concept! RM To Offer Five American Prototypes In Monterey

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On: Thu, Aug 18, 2011 at 3:22PM | By: Andrew W Davis

What A Concept! RM To Offer Five American Prototypes In Monterey

Lots of show cars have been built between 1932 and 2005, but only a fraction of them were constructed by American car companies themselves as showcases of their design and engineering prowess.

It’s no wonder that they are highly sought-after today—especially considering the fact that most were destroyed once they outlived their “usefulness”—and have price tags that reflect their rarity.

Speaking of rarity, to have five of them come up for sale at once—especially in one place—is nearly unheard of, but that’s what RM Auctions is offering August 19th and 20th at its Monterey sale, held at the Portolo Hotel & Spa and Monterey Conference Center.

Now let us go back... to the future!

Lot 147 —1932 Marmon HCM V-12 2 Door Sedan Prototype — [estimate: $800k - $1M]

It is standard practice among car-obsessives like yours truly to consider the 1938 Buick “Y-Job” as the first true “concept car” as we now know it. Semantics aside, however, this 1932 Marmon can make a serious case for beating infamous GM design head Harley Earl’s creation to the title six years earlier. Whether or not it’s the earliest, the story behind the creation of this concept/prototype is certainly among the saddest. Despite building the car that won the first “Indy 500” in 1911 and the world’s first V16 engine in 1927, just 30 years after its founding the Marmon brand was—like many of the early 20th century’s most famous car makes—about to die, thanks to the Great Depression. As a last-ditch effort to save his company, Howard Marmon spent over $25 million of his own money in 1932 to construct this unique and advanced prototype to “show off” what Marmon could do if only they had the money. Unable to find investors, the car-making side of Marmon died in 1933. As for the HCM, after being “gifted”—yes, as in given away—among four owners, the first actual paying owner bought and restored the (fully-functioning) car in 1999. It has gone on to win multiple awards at all the major car shows, including a “perfect score” and First-in-Class at Pebble Beach—where this sale is taking place—in 2001.

Lot 163 —1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt Concept Car — [$900k - $1.2M]

Starting with the last part first this time, this creation has earned perfect scores and awards at Concours events as well, including—bear with me—the “Camille Jenatzy Award for the Car with the Most Audacious Exterior” at the 2009 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. I mention this up front because, well, look at the thing. To modern eyes this green-and-copper bar of soap is more weird than wonderful, but I’m surprised that this convertible with the first-ever disappearing-hardtop didn’t spark UFO talk six years before the famous “craft” was said to have crashed outside of Roswell. In addition to the one-button electric hardtop, the Thunderbolts—there were five made in various colors—had retractable headlamps, push-button door switches and more within their grille-and-scoop-free smooth aluminum “envelope” bodywork. This particular car—known as “The Copper Car” for its roof and trim—was restored to the highest standards in a color that was guesswork based on an artist’s rendering in-period. Once completed in 2009 it went on the show circuit, winning the award mentioned and many more. Even though it’s fully functioning, it’s not my cup of, well, anything. But, as the auction company states, it IS “arguably the most significant Chrysler available on the market today and the only Thunderbolt to be offered in the near future.”

Lot 121 —1954 Dodge Firearrow III Concept Car — [$800k - $1M]

In an age when car makers were displaying the atomic-powered flying cars of the future at auto shows, it must have been refreshing for the buying public to come across a car that was really a car and, better still, one that they might have a chance at buying that century. In 1953, Dodge introduced the Firearrow, a futuristic-looking but semi-realistic roadster. Problem was, it was just a shell. Public demand was great enough, however, for Dodge to actually build one that actually ran, and thus the Firearrow II was born amid rumors that it would see limited production. That didn’t happen, but Dodge nonetheless thought enough of the design to commission Italian design house Ghia to build a fully-functioning vehicle, only this time with an aerodynamically-superior closed coupe design. Starting with regular-production underpinnings taken (basically-unchanged) from a 1954 Dodge Royal—including its “Red Ram” Hemi engine—Ghia created the Firearrow III you see before you. As you might expect, this car, too, has received a cost-no-object restoration, making it as close to as-born as possible following its long life as a test vehicle. [Among those “tests” at Chrysler’s Chelsea Proving Grounds, by the way, was Betty Skelton’s drive to “set a new world speed record for a woman on a closed course of 143.44 mph, while wearing a dress and high heels!”]

Lot 119 — 2001 Ford Thunderbird Sports Roadster Concept Car — [$125k - $175k]

Though it isn’t on par with the three cars I’ve just covered, this is still a factory-prepared show car. Offered straight from Ford Motor Co.’s own collection at no reserve to benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the “Thunderbird Sports Roadster Concept Car” was first unveiled at the 2002 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Built—as all of those “11th Generation” T-Birds were—to mimic the styling of the originals, this show car in particular featured a molded fiberglass tonneau with built-in headrests that covered the rear seats like the one found on 1962-63 production Thunderbirds of the same name. This car appears to be a “runner,” but it is not legal for road use and is sold on a “bill-of-sale only,” meaning it’s basically garage art. Call me crazy, but I’d spend that money on three $50k originals—or 15 of the $10k “normal” 2002-05 T-Birds—but that’s just me….

Lot 120 — 2005 Ford Shelby GR-1 Concept "Platform Model" — [$150k - $200k]

Welcome to the modern Dodge Firearrow. Not the “III”, mind you, but the first one, the one that was basically an empty shell. That’s because, no matter how they gussy it up with the term “Platform Model,” that’s basically all you’re getting. When introduced to the world at the Detroit auto show in 2004, this Shelby Daytona Coupe-inspired show car got almost as much attention as old Shel’ himself. Based on a Ford GT platform—though without any engine, drivetrain or interior—it was an impressive sight to see (I was there). But it didn’t presage any production model, nor did its styling or anything else appear on any future Ford. That relegates the GR-1 being just an interesting automotive footnote, though with Carroll Shelby’s name attached to it, it’ll be an expensive one to be sure. But spend as unwisely as you like as this is the only one of its kind, it comes directly from FoMoCo’s own collection, it’s being sold at no reserve and it benefits the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. [Shelby butt-prints (see photo) sold separately!]

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