I had some time on my hands recently with the MLK day holiday, so I went up to the Saratoga auto museum. It was pretty much your standard museum until I ran into this little gem, the 1947 Playboy Prototype.
The Playboy was the creation of three gentlemen from Buffalo, NY. Their idea was one that seemed to resurface from time to time, especially during the immediate post-war era: beat Detroit with a lower priced car (about $1000), aiming for the market that needed a cheap car or a second one, like King Midget, Crosely, Davis, Henry J, and a host of others that had tried before and since.
What the museum has is the original Playboy prototype with a rear-mounted Continental twenty-horsepower engine, four-wheel independent suspension, and an automatic transmission. The partners showed this at a hotel in Buffalo and generated enough interest that they decided to go into production.
As you can imagine, the car got a little less complex when that step happened: the motor moved to the front—although horsepower doubled to forty, via a Hercules side-valve four—and a conventional chassis was substituted, reminding me of the quote from Virgil Exner of how a stylist would design a car, and gradually all his work would be trimmed away until only the hub caps remained, and even they would be changed to a standard design to save ten cents a car. But despite the changes underneath, the production-ready Playboy did survive more or less stylistically intact, including its somewhat oddly-humped hood and tiny 13″ wheels.
It even managed to gain a folding steel hardtop (manually operated), and plans were made for a station wagon. But then problems set in: The backers had planned on raising the necessary capital through what we would call today an IPO, a stock offering. This was at the same time Tucker imploded through its own questionable stock floatation, and Playboy failed to raise enough to start. They did manage to put together ninety-odd ‘pilot’ models before reality set in and a trip to the bankruptcy court was in order.
The Playboy did leave one legacy: the company’s Chicago sales rep suggested the name ‘Playboy’ to a young Hugh Hefner for his new venture. And that’s not an empty claim; Hefner later confirmed that in writing. He was obviously smitten with the name, and perhaps the ease with which it went topless. But there’s no record of him giving a pink Playboy to the first Playmate of the Year.
Here’s a brief but quite well done tv story on the Playboy.
(Jana is our first female Contributor to CC. She has this to say about herself: I grew in a small town in Southeast Missouri, and currently earn a living as a contract COBOL (Classic programming language!) programmer for the State of New York in Albany. I split my time between there and Memphis, TN, where my 86-year old mother lives. My other hobbies are Cycling (to an extreme – I used to do Brevets – 120 to 200 miles in one day), and creative fiction, where I currently have two novels going, one on the early career of Elvis Presley, and another on George Rogers Clark’s Vincennes campaign (maybe one day I’ll be rich and famous–ha!).)