What color was the car in the movie topper
Many of you know that I have long been fascinated with the cars that influenced the design of the later fiberglass sports cars of the 1950s. To know the subject you are studying, you have to know its heritage. and rick d’louhy and I will not leave matte fiberglass (or custom body metal sports car panel) unremoved.
Today’s story is from glenn brummer and it’s about a car known as the “topper sport custom“. and it has an interesting history, as you will read below. but I’ve always been interested in this car because of its appearance in dan post’s custom car books from the 40’s and 50’s.
dan post was the first to document the custom car movement by word and deed beginning in 1944. It is an incredible story of how he captured the beginning of this movement in southern california during the years of the war. and by mail – correspondence with builders here in america and gis in foreign lands.
dan post was a visionary when it came to understanding the excitement and importance of what was going on in the automotive hobby, even when he was in the military. For those of you interested in the full history of Dan Post’s quest to document customization in postwar America, you can read an excellent article by harold pace that appeared in the issue of rodders journal magazine #45 in 2009.
dan post recognized that these cars were special, and the people who built them, starting in ’44. by ’47 it had captured what is now called the “custom sports movement” that led to the sleekest, most stylish hand-built American sports cars of the late ’40s and beyond. and, interestingly enough, he used the car from the movie “ topper ” to announce this new way of designing.
Let’s see what dan post has to say about custom sports cars, as well as the best custom car in his ’49 custom redesign blue book’. and as you read this, keep in mind that this particular book was originally written by dan back in ’47 in a book titled “california custom car photo album” – just two years after the war and many years before the custom car movement took hold across America.
dan post led the pack in his ability to capture the thoughts, beliefs and outcomes of what was to be a defining moment in the golden years of America’s custom car era.
and here we go…
Dan Post Original:Blue Book of Custom Restyling (1949)Custom Sports Cars: How They Came to Be by Dan Post, Arcadia, California
with its climate of open cars throughout the calendar, southern california, capital of the film industry, center of the best midget races and playing field for almost all sports, has been the natural nursery for custom sport. car.
Across the country coachbuilders have been kept busy since the industry’s infancy with orders for one-of-a-kind formal bodies, touring car enclosures, and the occasional customization treatment on a roadster, or the once-nippy “sprinter,” it wasn’t until the 1930s that the custom sports car took on the form it’s known today.
support for the new trend came from hollywood twice. While scripts for movies like “The Young at Heart” and “Topper” called for custom cars, many of the stars requested models with special styling.
In 1936, prominent Pasadena coachbuilder Maurice Schwartz built the “superior” automobile for Hal Roach on a Buick chassis, following a design by Anthony Garrity of Hollywood. many theatergoers across the country walked out of “topper” remembering little more than the dream speedster.
In one fell swoop, this stimulus spawned a new generation conscious of automotive design and gave youth to the fledgling custom sports industry.
note: dan post published images and a shortened version of the same information above in his ’47 book “dan post’s california custom car photo album”, but the information and images shown are more complete in his book of ’49 shared above.
and with that, let’s review glenn’s article today on the “1937 topper sport custom.”
Go get them, glenn. I have them hot for you…
Sportster Morphed: The Ultimate Sport Custom, by Glenn Brummer
This is a story about one of the first sleek, luxurious, sporty, custom-built automobiles that was originally built for the 1937 black-and-white movie “Topper.” The film was first shown in theaters on July 16, 1937, and starred Cary Grant as George Kerby; Constance Bennett, as Marion Kerby and Rowland Young played the role of Cosmo Topper.
The 97-minute film was produced by Hal Roach Studios and distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. a special car was required for the film because in several scenes the car appears to be driven by a ghost, so the “top” car had to be equipped with special controls including a hidden second steering wheel that could be operated by a stuntman that was out of sight.
Originally, the film director, Norman Z. Mcleod considered using a new coffin-tipped front-wheel drive cable, however, it was quickly determined that space limitations would make that car impractical. That’s why Hal Roach Studios chose the custom body manufacturing company named Bohman & schwartz of Pasadena, California to build a custom car.
a young designer named anthony (tony) gerrity, known as ‘jack’ gerrity, devised the design based on a 1936 buick series 80 roadmaster 131″ wheelbase chassis. they also used the standard 120-horsepower 320.2-cubic-inch inline-eight engine and three-speed manual transmission.
bohman & schwartz built ‘buck rogers’ style bodywork which included a rear center fin, faux stainless steel exhaust pipes protruding from both sides of the hood, two doors, hinged at the rear with one hidden and one exposed hinge on each , independent headlamps, shapely teardrop front and rear fenders with 4″ wide semi-circular fender skirts at the rear.
A truly sporty windshield was devised from two pieces of flat glass, supported solely on the hood and in the center by a chrome vertical support. If you haven’t seen the original version of the “topper” movie, you’ll want to add it to your “must see” list, if only to see this spectacular car!
In 1939, Hal Roach Studios sold the “Topper” automobile to the Gilmore Oil Company. They saw potential for use in advertising and promotion of their Red Lion gasoline brand. they sent the car back to bohman & schwartz to have a new grille made with horizontal chrome bars up to the full height of the radiator to aid cooling when the car is driven at low speeds in parades and special events.
Repainted Gilmore Cream; red lion logos were added to both doors; a very large sound system was added, as well as a trailer hitch to accommodate a newly designed and custom built trailer that housed a live lion cub as part of their promotions. later a second trailer was designed by ‘jack’ gerrity and built by b & s to house additional electrical and sound equipment that was required for certain events.
In 1940, Socony-Vacuum (Mobil Oil) purchased the Gilmore Oil Company of California and around 1948, Socony-Vacuum decided it was time to update the old Buick and asked famed designer W. everett miller, to come up with a new design for the front of the car. he made several proposals and ‘mobil’ chose the one that presented a series of concentric rings on a horizontal rectangular opening with vertical chrome strips.
chris bohman, formerly of bohman & schwartz, was commissioned to do the modifications which included new upholstery, a new windshield frame and convertible top, outside rearview mirrors, hubcaps from cadillac with the center of the pegasus ‘flying horse’ logo, heavy bumpers from oldsmobile and New white paint with Pegasus logos on the doors. The car was used for numerous events, including Mobilgas economy races.
By 1954, the eighteen-year-old Buick’s chassis had driven approximately 300,000 miles, so Mobil hired Bohman & son to renew the ‘topper’ car once again. bought a new imperial newport (235 h.p. hemi engine, 131.5” wheelbase) and sent to the shop from him. the imperial bodywork was removed and the chassis and engine combination was fitted under the ‘upper’ bodywork with some modifications to the steering and frame. The front fenders were merged into the body and the rear fenders received a Cadillac taillight/fin treatment.
Shortly after the final restyling, Mobil sold the car to its retired driver, Leon Wilson, who only held it for a short period of time before selling it to California car collector George Warner. After Warner’s death, his widow sold the car to Jim Brucker, owner of the World Movie Museum, located near Disneyland. It was on display there until the museum closed in the late 1970s. The car remained in the Brucker collection until May 13, 2006 when it was sold by RM auctions. so where is the car today?
great story glenn and thanks for sharing the many design iterations of this car. Did I count 4 or 5 major redesigns? wow!
the topper sports collection was last at the petersen automobile museum in los angeles, california around 2010, at which time it was returned to its owner , where it stays safe and sounds today.
I hope you enjoyed the story and until next time…
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