1951 Playboy Base
4-cyl. 134cid/72hp 1bbl
With an experienced team and a lot of data.
Among the many new automotive ventures that sprang up and faded away after the Second World War, the Playboy may have been one of the most promising. Conceived by former Packard dealer Louis Horwitz, former Pontiac engineer Charles D. Thomas, and mechanic Norman Richardson, the Playboy was intended to be a smaller second car that would appeal to American families. Although 97 Playboy cars were produced, none were ever sold to the public. All were employed as examples to secure financier and dealer interest.
The primary feature of note on the Playboy is that it was the first American car to boast a retractable hardtop. The car was billed as “America’s New Metal Top Convertible”. The Playboy was introduced a full decade before Ford came along with the much larger Fairlane 500 Skyliner hardtop convertible.
In 1947, the Big Three were still using their 1942 tooling to meet pent-up demand, while the Playboy was introduced with a sleek, rounded body that was a couple years ahead of competitors. With its flat-sided fender-and-body design, the Playboy resembled models that Ford, Hudson, and Nash introduced in 1949. The Playboy company logo was a dashing set of stylized wings with a top hat, cane, white gloves, and the word “PLAYBOY” across the center.
The Playboy offered seating for three adults in a single-row bench configuration. The convertible hardtop was manually stowed and erected, and was invisible when stowed. The car looked modern and well-designed with the top up or down, and the 1947 Playboy carried a suggested retail price of just $985. Whether the car could actually have been mass-produced for this price is an open question.
Engine power came courtesy of a Hercules four-cylinder flathead, displacing 133 cubic inches and developing 40 hp. The transmission was a three-speed manual from Warner with all gears synchronized. An optional overdrive was available with a .70 ratio. The rear axle ratio was 3.73, with an optional 4.10 final drive.
Brakes on the Playboy were four-wheel hydraulic drums and the suspension was coil spring in the front and leaf springs in the rear. Hydraulic shock absorbers were fitted on all the wheels. The Playboy rode a short 90-inch wheelbase on 12-inch wheels.
In 1948, the primary engine was changed to a Continental flathead displacing just 91 cubic inches and rated at the same 40 hp as the Hercules. This engine was used through the 1950 model year. The transmission and rear axle remained unchanged, however, including the optional overdrive and axle ratio.
For the final year of production, the Playboy was fitted with a Willys four-cylinder flathead engine displacing 134.2 cubic inches and producing a much-improved 72 hp. The proposed retail price had risen to $1,600, and just a few were produced in this configuration.
After 1951, the company’s assets changed hands several times and the idea never caught on. Any Playboy would be considered extremely rare and collectible in almost any condition, but although it’s rare, the Playboy’s use of standard sourced engines and transmissions will be a tremendous advantage to the restorer.