Sometimes called the “Flying Wombat” due to it being dubbed such in the Hollywood movie, The Young in Heart (1938), the Corsair was designed by Rust Heinz, heir to the Pittsburgh-based food empire. Envisioned by Heinz as the “Car of Tomorrow”, – the Corsair is a wonderful combination of extraordinary vision, mesmerizing looks, and utter impracticality.
The car was created by none other than Rust Heinz (of the H. J. Heinz family), a Yale dropout that did not want to be involved in the family business. In 1936, 22-year-old Heinz bought a new Cord 810/812 which served as foundation for what was to become the Phantom Corsair. He got in touch with Pasadena coachbuilder Bohman & Schwartz to make his dream come true and then work started based on Heinz’s own sketches.
The sleek fastback body made from aluminum came to life in the wind tunnel and was widened considerably in order to accommodate those fully-enveloped wheels that gave it a clean look. Every single aluminum panel of the aerodynamic body was hand built and the headlights were specifically designed for the car. In addition, the telescopic supports for the chrome fenders also had to be developed from the ground up.
The interior was also quite special, capable of seating six people in a 4+2 configuration and it even had push-button automatic doors and green-tinted windows. The dashboard was home to a series of buttons and knobs with an aeronautical theme and it was designed in such a way as to diminish the risk of injuries in case of a crash.
Weighing more than 4,600 pounds (2,086 kilograms), the Phantom Corsair had the same 4.7-liter V8 engine of the Cord 810/812. However, it was upgraded from the standard 125 hp to 190 horsepower delivered to the front axle through a four-speed automatic gearbox. Back in the day, the car managed to hit 115 mph (185 kph) which was quite a performance for the late 1930s.
However, the car was far from being perfect from a mechanical point of view. For example, the small front louvers restricted engine cooling which is why the 4.7-liter had the tendency to overheat quite fast. Although it looked very cool, the split windshield did not provide great visibility and it was the same story with the rear window.
It is believed Rust Heinz spent more than $24,000 to make his dream come true and he actually wanted to launch a production version with a targeted starting price of almost $15,000. He advertised the car to spread the word and he acquired a full-page ad in Esquire. In addition, the car appeared in David O. Selznick’s movie The Young in Heart and was also promoted as “The Car of Tomorrow“ at the 1939 World Fair.
Unfortunately, Heinz died in a car crash at the age of 25 and the Phantom Corsair remained a one-off. In the 1950s, comedian Herb Shriner bought the car from the Heinz family and he asked BMW 507 designer Albrecht Goertz to make some changes. The front fascia was modified to improve engine cooling, while the windshield was also changed to increase visibility. In addition, the roof received two targa-like panels.
Later on, casino tycoon William Harrah bought the Phantom Corsair and restored it to its former glory. Since then, the one-off has made appearances at various car events, including the Goodwood Festival of Speed and at Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Nowadays, the car can be checked out in Reno, Nevada at the National Automobile Museum.