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I BELIEVE I’ve identified Black Beauty, the car used by the Green Hornet—the real old-time-radio Green Hornet, not some latter-day phony-schmony counterpart in a rudely customized Chrysler, for goodness sake.
No, a car worthy of the daring young publisher/crime-fighting masked-hero Britt Reid/the Green Hornet and his faithful valet Kato would have been the Phantom Corsair.
The 1938 Phantom Corsair owes its existence to Rust Heinz, second son of H.J. Heinz of 57 Varieties fame. Rust had a talent for design and, living in Pasadena, California, he became friends with automotive coachwork specialists Christian Bohman and Maurice Schwartz. B&S had designed cars for the likes of Jeanette Macdonald, Barbara Hutton and Clark Gable (see http://wp.me/p2ETap-4k).
Rust aimed high in his ideas for special automotive designs. The family back in Pittsburgh didn’t think much of his getting into the automobile business, though Heinz Company did underwrite B&S coachwork for his design of a Comet delivery van.
Fortunately, an aunt living in Pasadena provided funding for the Phantom Corsair. Rust had plans of producing the car, with a 1938 list price of $14,700 (think $343,000 today). This business model did not augur well with the prototype’s estimated cost of $24,000 to $35,000; Rust never had much concern of the bottom line.
Alas, Rust Heinz’s death in a 1939 auto accident precluded any production, and the Phantom Corsair remains a unique example.
But what an example.
The Phantom Corsair’s 810 Cord underpinnings give it a Lycoming 80-degree V-8 producing 125 hp, a Bendix Electric Hand preselector gearbox, independent front suspension and front-wheel drive.
Operation of the Bendix Electric Hand four-speed preselector gearbox is noteworthy. Each gear is preselected by toggling the key-like lever on a gizmo growing out of the steering column. Once preselected, the actual shift takes place through vacuum operation with depression of the clutch pedal.
Bodywork of the Phantom Corsair is all-aluminum, with cork insulation beneath for noise control. The Phantom Corsair’s styling is devoid of exterior protuberances, even to having electric switches in lieu of door handles.
Outward vision from the Phantom Corsair is evidently not a high priority, particularly to the rear. (With regard to rear vision, I was once told “What’s past is past.”)
Despite the aluminum, and because of its cork insulation, extensive electrics and features like the rear beverage cabinet—complete with spun-aluminum tumblers and decanter—the car weighs a hefty 4565 lb.
The Phantom Corsair had a brief notoriety. It made the cover of Motor Age, March 1938. And it starred as the Flying Wombat in a 1938 movie, “The Young in Heart,” with Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Janet Gaynor and Paulette Goddard.
Check out a neat video clip from the film at http://goo.gl/0Wuyuv.
After Rust Heinz’s death in 1939, the Phantom Corsair went from owner to owner, not all of them preservation-minded. Refurbished by Harrah experts in 1970, it now resides in the National Automobile Museum, the Harrah Collection, in Reno, Nevada (http://www.automuseum.org).
The association of the Phantom Corsair with the Green Hornet’s Black Beauty is not far-fetched. The Black Beauty is sleek, super-powered and streamlined. With Britt Reid’s faithful valet Kato behind the wheel, the Black Beauty speeds into the darkness to hunt “the biggest of all game! Public enemies that even the G-Men cannot reach!”
Kato’s doing the driving allows Britt to advance the narrative through instructions and observations. I also like to fantasize that only Kato has mastered the Bendix Electric Hand. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2014