1958 Plymouth Tornado, A One-of-a-Kind Concept Car With a Colorful History, To Be Sold by Red Baron's

1958 Plymouth Tornado, A One-of-a-Kind Concept Car With a Colorful History, To Be Sold by Red Baron's  
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on 10/21/2006

Source: Red Baron

1958 Plymouth Tornado1958 Plymouth Tornado

A true one-of-a-kind concept car built in 1958 by Plymouth and featuring a sleek, futuristic design will be sold November 11th at Red Baron's in Atlanta, the Southeast's premier auction house. Called the Plymouth Tornado, and built on the frame of a 1958 Plymouth Fury, the car reflects the burgeoning space age, just dawning at the time.

"This car, like many custom cars built during that era, resembles a space ship, with its winged back, rocket exhaust and curvaceous body," said Robert Brown, president and owner of Red Baron's. "Obviously, it was influenced by space travel, a theme that had gripped the public's imagination. This spilled over into automotive design."

Brown purchased the car about a year ago from a Hollywood director and car aficionado for $60,000 -- a bargain, except for its condition, which was dreadful. The vehicle had been left to rot in a Utah field for more than 20 years before being acquired by the director, for $50,000. He sold it to Brown after abandoning plans to restore it.

That job was left to Brown, who enlisted the services of Moses Lunden, a Chrysler-Plymouth guru who has written more than 20 books on the company and its products line. Lunden, based in Reno, Nev., lovingly tended to every bolt and screw until the car was brought back to its original luster and glory. Total cost: about $150,000.

"I'll either sell it for $100,000 and lose my shirt or get a million dollars for it and walk away happy," Brown said with a chuckle. "You never know with vintage cars, especially concept vehicles like this one." He acknowledged the car has already drawn interest from at least one high-profile celebrity collector, plus several auto museums.

The buyer will certainly be getting a car with a colorful past and interesting provenance. Built in Detroit at the height of America's "dream car" era by the best and the brightest at Chrysler-Plymouth, the Tornado was unveiled amid much fanfare to a fascinated public. Not for sale (and originally painted gray), it soon went on tour.

For the next six years, the car was exhibited worldwide, a symbol of American automotive excellence and a possible sneak-peek at jet-powered cars (a promise that was never fulfilled). In 1964, it took second place for Radical Custom Design at the Sabers' Auto Show in Denver. It was also featured that year in Car Craft Magazine.

In 1974, a Utah-based sports figure purchased the car and actually tagged and drove it for the next two years. Following his death, and the death of his wife, the vehicle literally sat -- unattended -- in a field at the late owner's home, for the next 28 years. "It had hornets' nests in the seats and mice living in the manifolds and hoses," Brown said.

Luckily, a neighbor who was aware of the vehicle sent out feelers to potential buyers. That's when the Hollywood director -- a veteran of many films, including at least one Clint Eastwood "spaghetti western" -- came forward and bought it from the present-day landowner in Utah, for $50,000. That was in 2004.

Since acquiring the car last year, Brown has rebuilt the original engine (the dependable 8-cylinder 318 cu. in.); rebuilt the push-button automatic transmission (at a cost of $22,000); and indulged in a complete and extensive ground-up, frame-off restoration. Every nut and bolt is original equipment; no aftermarket parts were used.

Other features on the car include an aircraft-style steering wheel; tuck- and-roll upholstery on the dashboard; Plymouth red burgundy upholstery; custom-made windows (safety glass with chrome trim); an additional louvered hood; and a removable hardtop. "It's basically a roadster with a pop-top," Brown said. "They thought of everything."

Vintage automobiles are a staple at most Red Baron sales, and this one is packed with marvelous examples. The Tornado promises to draw the most bidder interest, but also on the block will be another highly desirable prototype: a 1966 Jaguar XJ13, considered by many to be the Holy Grail of Jaguar collectibles. Only seven were made.

Of those, only two are known to exist. One is housed in the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Museum in Britain. The other one will be sold at Red Baron's. The car was conceived by designer Malcomb Sayer as an attempt to rejuvenate Jaguar's presence at LeMans. But it never saw production, and five of the seven were destroyed in crashes.

Other vehicles to be sold include a pale yellow 1948 Packard Super Eight convertible, completely restored, with wire wheels, brown interior and whisper-quiet ride; a black 1960 Ford Thunderbird convertible, also restored, with wire wheels and automatic transmission; and an exotic black 12-cylinder 1984 Lamborghini Countach.

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