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May 9, 2013 - Bill Vance | Motoring Memories

Early in 1942 the North American automobile industry stopped producing cars and turned its expertise to the military needs of the Second World War. This would result in an almost four year pent-up demand for new cars.

When war demands ended in 1945, the established automobile makers returned as quickly as they could to building slightly revised versions of their 1942 models. They also set about designing new models.

Not surprisingly, this created a post-war seller's market that attracted many upstart companies trying to cash in on a situation where motorists would buy almost any kind of car. The most successful of these was Kaiser-Frazer which lasted until 1955.

Radio and appliance maker Powel Crosley's tiny Crosley car was another. Although Crosley made a few basic little cars before the war, he was really a post-war manufacturer. But in spite of a fine, overhead cam, four cylinder engine, and even the use of four-wheel disc brakes for a while, Crosleys were just too small. It left the car business in 1952.

There were others too, such as the radical rear-engined Tucker, the Bobbi-Kar, which became the Keller, and the imaginative three-wheeled Davis. None enjoyed success.

1947 PlayboyAnother was the Playboy built in Buffalo, N.Y., from 1947 to 1951 by the Playboy Motor Car Corp. The Playboy was an attractive and sporty three-passenger steel-bodied convertible. The Playboy name had already been made famous in the 1920s by Ned Jordan and his Jordan Playboy car which he promoted by pioneering what we now call lifestyle advertising.

The most interesting feature of the new Playboy was the fold-down steel top. This was hinged in the middle above the passengers and the seam was sealed with a rubber gasket that company engineers swore would not leak. It was counterbalanced and manually operated and could be raised and lowered from the driver's seat.

When folded, the top formed part of the rear deck. In this endeavour, Playboy joined a few others such as Peugeot in the 1930s and Ford's retractable Skyliner of the '50s. Several manufacturers now offer true hard-top convertibles.

Apart from the folding steel top the rest of the Playboy was pretty conventional. Its 40-horsepower Continental (and a few Hercules) four-cylinder, side-valve engine drove the rear wheels through a three-speed manual transmission.

The car was quite small with a 2,286 mm (90 in.) wheelbase, width of 1,473 mm (58 in.) and over-all length of just 3,962 mm (156 in.). And the tiny 6.00 by 12-inch tires must have been taxed to support the Playboy's 862 kg (1,900 lb) weight. The body and frame were welded together to form a kind of unit construction.

The Playboy was an "assembled" car in that major components like engine, transmission and other parts came from outside sources. The company turned this to its advantage by advertising that "all standard automotive parts are used, thus facilitating servicing." Suspension was conventional, being independent A-arms and coil springs in front and a solid axle and leaf springs at the rear.

Tom McCahill of Mechanix Illustrated magazine put a Playboy through its paces for the February, 1948 issue. He reported that the Playboy's 40 horsepower engine gave it "the snap of a rubber band," (a typical McCahillism). In numbers, this snap translated into a zero to 48 km/h (30 mph) time of six seconds and zero to 80 (50) in 17 seconds. Although company engineers stated that it had a top speed of 121 km/h (75 mph), Tom could only get 114 (71), but felt that when it was fully broken in it may have reached the claimed speed. Fuel economy was good but McCahill's numbers were less favourable than the company's: the manufacturer claimed 35 miles per (U.S.) gallon and Tom reported 30. As far as handling was concerned, McCahill wrote that: "As long as the road is reasonably smooth, it hugs it like a leech. Naturally when bumps or ruts occur this light, short, 90-inch wheelbase job will not sit as well or give you the feeling of security you get in a larger, heavier car."

A rarely achieved dream in those days was to offer a sub-$1,000 car (Crosley did it). Playboy was able to reach this by pricing the Playboy at $985, f.o.b. Buffalo, meaning buyers paid the freight. The Playboy, like the other American post-war upstarts, didn't survive. The usual under-capitalization meant that proper development and marketing could not be carried out. And in the meantime, established car manufacturers were preparing their appealing new models and the seller's market was being satisfied.

Also, Nash Motor Co.'s new compact Rambler arrived in 1950 and became quite popular. The company struggled for four years during which an estimated 97 Playboy cars were built.

Bankruptcy came in 1951, and with it the close of another interesting but brief and ill-fated chapter in automotive history.

Article submitted by Chuck L. • Reprinted with permission from Bill Vance
Original Article: http://thechronicleherald.ca/wheelsnews/1128580-wheels-classic-cars-the-playboy

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