by Joe Kelly Jr.
Automodello 1: 24 1938 Phantom Corsair
1: 24 | $299.95
Top left/right: Based on a Cord
chassis, Rust Heinz’s Phantom
Corsair was a wild design that
never saw production. Like the
real car, Automodello’s model
is destined for “instant classic”
status. It’s that good.
Below: Though only one copy of
Rust’s design was ever made, it
did make a splash—in Hollywood.
The Phantom Corsair did a star
turn as the “Flying Wombat” in
the comedy The Young in Heart,
where actual on-the-road
footage of the machine was
sped up to give the car more
on-screen speed. The Phantom
also appeared on the cover of
Popular Mechanics, and was a
queue-inducing attraction at the
1939 World’s Fair.
Rust Heinz’s 1938 Phantom Corsair was a standout machine at a time when streamlining and aerody- namics (or at least styling that looked aerodynamic) were making profound changes to car design—and,
by extension, what folks considered stylish and modern.
As an heir to the Heinz family fortune, and apparently
disinterested in the daily grind of the condiment world,
Rust (pronounced “Roost”) had already successfully
tried his hand at designing (a delivery truck for the family
business), had substantial money on hand and dreamed
of becoming a car manufacturer. That cash would come in
handy. The first Phantom cost $24,000 to build at a time
when a mini-mansion could be had for that sum. Heinz
had penned the car’s shape himself, then engaged Maurice Schwartz of Bohman and Schwartz fame, to finalize
the design, hammer the car up and mount it to a modified
Cord 812 chassis. Those Cord underpinnings were a good
match, and the Phantom retained the 812’s front wheel
drive, Lycoming V8, electrically controlled gearbox and
straight rear axle layout.
The car’s outrageous shape would have been at home
in the secret lair of any number of caped crime fighters—
maybe even a villain or two. There’s no telling what impact
the design might have had on the world, had the Phantom
gone into manufacture; plans were to sell the machine at
around $12,000 each. That would never happen. While
crossing a bridge in 1939, Rust Heinz had a fatal car accident at the age of 25, leaving behind a young widow and
an unfulfilled dream.
The car has long been the object of collectors’ desires
in scale, and now Automodello has stepped up and delivered a world-class replica in 1: 24. We got this production
sample from Jim Cowen, the man behind the company.
Though still unfamiliar to a lot of collectors, Automodello’s
star is on the rise. They’ve been making some solid
calls in 1: 43 (a Griffith 600, a Bricklin, a
Fitch Phoenix and, most recently,
a Packard Twelve, just to
name a few).
This is their first 1: 24.
Like Cowen and company’s 1: 43 cars, this one’s a killer
on display, with a piano-smooth black finish on a heavy
resin body, decorated with beautifully turned out detail
pieces for the headlights, driving lights and bullet taillights.
Everything’s been placed flawlessly, including the photo-etched windshield wiper arms resting on the butyrate
windshield; the coolest detail is the stacked triple-blade
bumpers, which have been acid-etched at their centers
and detail painted, then assembled onto metal bracketry
and installed onto the model. This is a piece in keeping
with the upper levels of collecting … virtually flawless, yet
unmistakably hand built.
Another cool feature, the removable roof panel, makes
looking into the interior easy. The seats have been cast
with a realistic leather pattern and finished in a believable
semi-dull black, and the dash is positively popping with
foil-based and photo-etched gauges and decos. That
removable panel is slick—and it gives proof to the doubters that a resin model can, indeed, be tooled with opening
panels. You can peer into the rearmost section, too (the
Phantom was nominally a six-passenger design), but it’s
hard to imagine what riding in that part of the car must
have been like, with only the split rear window for light.
The car comes on a leather-wrapped plinth in a gorgeous presentation box with a Certificate of Authenticity.
We kept the car on that plinth; you can remove it, but the
chassis detail is mostly limited to that which can be seen
from the front and rear.
In the spirit of exclusivity that’s so much a part of
this segment, the Phantom will see a total run of only
299 pieces. It’ll be joined soon by a Mormon Meteor—a
Duesenberg-powered ’30s supercar—also in 1: 24. Keep
making those great calls, Mr. Cowen. We can’t wait to see
what you do next.