Courtesy of Mecum Auctions
  • Among the most historic 1950s Bonneville racers
  • Built by Art and Lloyd Chrisman and Harry Duncan
  • Multiple Bonneville record-setter in 1953
  • Featured on the cover of the February 1954 issue of Hot Rod as “The Most Fantastic Coupe”
  • Third place in the Historic Hot Rod Class at Pebble Beach in 2001

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1930 Chrisman Bonneville Ford coupe
Years Produced:1930, 1953
Number Produced:23,067 DeLuxe coupes; 79,816 standard coupes
Original List Price:$525
SCM Valuation:$484,000 (this car)
Tune Up Cost:$350 (estimated)
Chassis Number Location:Stamped on the frame rail near the firewall, driver’s side
Engine Number Location:Varies, as does the engine in this coupe
Club Info:Goodguys, National Street Rod Association (NSRA)
Alternatives:Any other ’50s-era hot rod/competition coupe
Investment Grade:A

This car, Lot S149, sold for $484,000, including buyer’s premium, at Mecum’s Kissimmee, FL, auction on January 3–13, 2019.

In the early days of the Bonneville Speed Trials, there were many classes, but only a few cars actually competed.

Racing legend Art Chrisman tried his hand at Bonneville in 1951. His car was a 1934 Ford Highboy 3-window coupe, and on his first attempt, he set a class record. In 1952, he returned in Chet Herbert’s “Beast III” and set a record in the D Streamliner Class at 235.991 miles per hour. That made him a charter member in the 200-mph club.

In 1953, Art returned for a third attempt, this time driving the copper coupe profiled here.

Building a racer

The main drive behind the competition coupe was an ability to switch engines to compete for different class records. Art Chrisman, his brother Lloyd, and his father, Everett, worked together to make the plan a reality, starting with a 1930 Ford as the basis for their creation.

This car was picked as “Hot Rod of the Month” in the February 1954 issue of Hot Rod magazine, appearing in a Rex Burnett cutaway drawing which showed its tubular frame, shaped and welded with crossmembers in key locations to provide the framework for the mid/rear-engine location. Bolted directly to the early Ford rear end, the chassis had a Halibrand Quickchange center section.

Junkyard origins

The car they started with was a junkyard-sourced 1930 Model A coupe. They chopped it significantly and added a cowl from a ’35 Ford, complete with its A-pillar section, yielding a severe windshield rake. Art mated a pair of ’40 hoods for the tapered race-car nose.

The drivetrain, including the engine, transmission and rear axle, could be unbolted as a unit. The body lifted and rolled forward for complete access to all of the running gear. With this setup, it was easy to change engines to run other classes or to repair any nitromethane-blown parts.

Fueling was handled by a seven-gallon fuel tank mounted behind the engine and above the ’40 Ford side-shift transmission. Two war-surplus five-gallon jerrycans filled with coolant pulled heat from the engine. When he was driving, Art’s nose was just inches from the windshield.

Controls included a brake handle for the rear brakes, a fire extinguisher, a hand-operated fuel-pressure pump and a mag switch. A single push-pull lever shifted the gearbox, which used a 28-tooth Lincoln Zephyr cluster running only second and high gear.

Records galore

At Bonneville Speed Week in 1953, the team ran for class records with three different engines — each a different-sized flathead. One ran a set of Ardun OHV cylinder heads.

With a Class C 304-ci Mercury V8 out of Art and Lloyd’s dragster, the coupe ran 163.63 mph one way, but vented the pan on the return run. Switching to Harry Duncan’s Ardun, the car qualified at 156 and set the B class record at 160.187 mph. They installed Ed Losinski’s 304-ci Merc for another shot at the C record but couldn’t get it to run right before time expired.

In 1954, they had two new Hemis — a 243-ci Dodge for Class B and a 276-ci DeSoto for Class C. They took both records: 180.87 mph in B and 180.08 mph in C.

The team went to Bonneville in ’55 with a fresh 331 Chrysler for Class D, hoping to set a record to add to their B and C marks.

Chrisman qualified the coupe for the record run in Class D at over 190 mph, then set the record with the fastest time of 196 mph. The Chrysler was running 5% nitro. They planned to up that by 20% and try to go 200.

Before Chrisman could run again, John Donaldson, who was a good friend of Chrisman’s and was racing the Reed Brothers’ belly tank, flipped his car at speed and was killed. Upset over the incident, Chrisman parked the coupe and never raced it again.

After several owners, the coupe was transformed into a show car by George Barris, with gullwing doors, a Caddy engine and fake scoops. It was painted White Pearl with red accents.

Eventually, ISCA promoter Bob Larivee acquired the coupe and commissioned Chrisman to “put it back exactly like it was” during its Bonneville days.

Nitro fumes at Pebble Beach

When the 2001 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance featured “Famous Hot Rod Coupes,” they invited the Chrisman Brothers car. Then-owner Joe Macpherson agreed to enter. Art prepared the car to run (on 50% nitro — a first for a car at Pebble), and detailed the coupe for the show.

“I knew going in we weren’t going to win… I just knew it,” Art Chrisman later told me. “When we were picked along with the Pierson Coupe and the So-Cal Coupe as finalists, I thought maybe we have a chance. Then they called me up first, which meant we got third place. I thought about tossing the ribbon back to them, but that would be showing no class. Instead I fired up the engine, ripped the throttle and smoked the tires off of the platform. The nitro made all those stuffy folks’ eyes water and the ladies’ mascara run.”

A multiple-class Bonneville record holder, an HRM feature car, with TV history and a Pebble Beach trophy, the Chrisman coupe is an iconic mid-century hot rod. Nearly half a million dollars for it, in my opinion, represents a damn good deal, especially if the Pierson or So-Cal coupes ever cross the auction block. I’d call it both well bought and well sold.

(Introductory description courtesy of Mecum Auctions.)

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