- An unusual and very rare American post-war microcar
- The 88th of 97 examples produced
- Equipped with retractable hard top
|Vehicle:||1948 Playboy A48 convertible|
|Original List Price:||$985|
|SCM Valuation:||$132,000 (this car)|
|Tune Up Cost:||$100|
|Chassis Number Location:||Passenger’s side firewall|
|Engine Number Location:||block|
|Club Info:||Playboy Motor Cars|
|Alternatives:||1951–54 Muntz Jet, 1951–54 Kaiser Henry J, 1952–53 Allstate|
This car, Lot 157, sold for $132,000, including buyer’s premium, at RM Auctions’ sale in Hershey, PA, on October 11, 2018.
If there’s one great claim to fame for the Playboy Motor Car Corporation and its 97 orphaned children, it’s that Hugh Hefner got the inspiration for the eponymous men’s magazine from the car. Hef confirmed it himself in 2002. Everyone knows the magazine, but most of us would have to look up the Playboy automobile to tell you anything about it.
Here’s the setup: In the immediate post-World War II period, automakers were cranking out as many cars as they could to satisfy demand after four years of building no consumer cars whatsoever. Remember that a car was only supposed to last about five years at that point, so the whole country needed new cars and most people had some money in their pockets.
While the Big Three were still producing 1942 models, a Packard dealer named Louis Horwitz and a Pontiac engineer named Charles Thomas formed the Midget Motor Car Company in Buffalo, NY. The idea was to make a new kind of car. Together with a mechanic named Norman Richardson, they changed the name of the company to the Playboy Motor Car Corporation and developed the first prototype of the Playboy in 1946. It was a rear-engine setup, which was quickly abandoned. But the overall Playboy car design was important for several reasons.
What’s the big deal?
First, the Playboy looked different than other cars of the day. The major automakers were still making cars with big fat pre-war fenders, but the Playboy had smooth sides that predicted the designs that were about to come out of the big studios. After the Playboy, the refreshed Packard Super 8 and the Step-Down Hudson came out in 1948, followed by the Airflyte Nash and Shoebox Ford in 1949.
Second, the Playboy is thought to be the first retractable hard-top car built in America. The metal top can be folded down level with the rear bodywork. The retractable hard-top idea didn’t show up again for 10 years, until Ford made the Fairlane 500 Skyliner in 1957.
Third, the Playboy used a unibody design with coil springs at the front and hydraulic brakes and shock absorbers all around. Engines were sourced from several companies, along with the transmission and rear axle, so the car had some of the latest technology while still using off-the-shelf parts.
Finally, the Playboy was smaller than most cars of the day, but bigger than microcar oddities such as the Crosley lineup. You could seat three people across the single bench seat of a Playboy, but it was designed for two. The fundamental idea of the Playboy was to provide an affordable second car for prosperous post-war families. Horwitz and company proposed to sell the Playboy for just $985. In 1947, the cheapest Ford you could buy was $1,154, and the least-expensive Chevy was $1,160.
Nuts and bolts
The first Playboy prototypes made in 1947 had a 2.2-liter (133-ci) Hercules flathead 4-cylinder engine rated at 48 horsepower, paired to a column-shifted 3-speed transmission with an optional overdrive. For 1948, the company went with a smaller Continental flathead 4, displacing 1.5 liters (91 ci) and offering 40 horsepower. With a curb weight of 2,035 pounds, the Playboy had a top speed of about 65 mph, according to the 1948 sales brochure. In 1951, a final engine change was made to a 2.2-liter (134-ci) Willys engine with 72 horsepower.
Throughout its pre-production life, the Playboy used a Warner 3-speed transmission with an optional overdrive and a Spicer rear axle. Brakes were sourced from Wagner and the steering gear from Ross. That means that parts for the engines, driveline and running gear can be found.
All told, 97 Playboy cars were completed, all technically prototypes. The cars were never offered for commercial sale and the company ultimately folded for lack of investment in the wake of Preston Tucker’s spectacular failure. According to the website set up by the current owner community, 51 Playboys have been identified and about 15 of them are roadworthy.
A big sale for a small car
The subject car looks great in the auction photos. The only obvious deviations from originality are in the engine compartment. Someone should tell sellers that if you must use modern hose clamps, at least take the time to get the right size so they don’t leave a long strip of loose metal hanging out. Also, do tidy up your Teflon tape on fuel line connections. However, if those are the only bones to pick with a 70-year-old vanishingly rare car, things are okay. It should take about $10 and 10 minutes to put it right.
The problem with analysis is that there’s nothing to compare with this sale. There are no other recorded sales of Playboys in the ACC Premium Auction Database, and there’s just about nothing out there that’s quite like a Playboy. It’s the ultimate orphan car.
So what is a Playboy worth? Well, the market said $132,000 for this one, but the next one could easily go for a fraction of that price depending on who showed up to buy it. With an owner community small enough for everyone to be on everyone else’s Christmas card list, these cars simply do not show up at auction. Hemmings is a good start, but if you really want a Playboy, you should contact the owner community and start looking (and waiting) for one to come up for sale. The next sale price is anyone’s guess, but it’s safe to say asking prices just went up by a lot.
(Introductory description courtesy of RM Auctions.)