Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


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. Image from R&T, January 1990.

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

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.


The 1938 Heinz Comet delivery van was based on an Autocar chassis. Image from Hemmings (, the Charlie Beesley Collection.

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.


A promotional brochure for the Phantom Corsair displays its four-abreast front seating, rear beverage cabinet and other features. Image from R&T, January 1990.

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.


The Phantom Corsair’s interior. The lever to the right of the steering column operates the Bendix Electric Hand gearbox. Image from R&T, January 1990.

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.


The driver of the Phantom Corsair has little interest in happenings to the rear. Image from R&T, January 1990.

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.


Trick photography created an entire showroom of Flying Wombats in the movie “The Young in Heart.”

Check out a neat video clip from the film at

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 (


Wouldn’t this be the perfect transport for the Green Hornet? Image from the National Automobile Museum.

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,, 2014


  1. Naes
    January 18, 2014

    the modern car/movie are both an insult…tho the 1966 car is a good tv show car star.

  2. Lindsay Brooke
    January 27, 2014

    Hi, Dennis,
    It’s been a while since I checked in, but follow your excellent blog regularly. The Phantom Corsair topic is particularly interesting to me, having fascinated me since the first time I read about the car. Even more, the Heinz Corsair Delivery Van further intrigues me due to its Autocar chassis and my deep family roots in the Philly area. My late father worked at “The Autocar” (as the Ardmore, PA-based truckmaker was known locally) as a welder on the halftrack assembly line before joining the Navy in 1942. He told many stories of various special chassis built up for custom bodies, but never mentioned the Corsair. It’s first I’ve heard of it.

    Simanaitis Says is a gem, keep up the great work.

    Lindsay Brooke

    • Bill Urban
      January 27, 2014

      Lindsay, we are kindred spirits. I was an Autocar salesman for much of my sales career. For an extremely complimentary Autocar testimonial find Leno’s 1916 Autocar video. And there is a “Friends Of Autocar” annual luncheon every September near Phila. Check this website:
      You will be interested to know that a lovely lady named Fran Flannery worked at Ardmore and attended FOA until 2012. She passed last year at 106.

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This entry was posted on January 15, 2014 by in Classic Bits and tagged , .
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