Collector Car Corner – ‘Topper’ movie car most memorable

Collector Car Corner - ‘Topper’ movie car most memorable

Here’s the Topper movie car after undergoing several transformations as it appeared at the Pete Petersen Auto Museum in Los Angeles back in 2010. (Courtesy Pete Petersen)

Collector Car Corner - ‘Topper’ movie car most memorable

The Topper movie car in its original design for the 1937 hit movie “Topper.” Actually, the car is one the “stars” of the movie. (Hal Roach Studios Publicity Photo).

Q: Hello Greg, I enjoy your columns very much and I can tell you’ve “been around” for a very long time. However, I’m now 82, so I probably have a few years on you.

I’m hoping you can do an article on the “Topper” movie car. In this movie, they had a custom and very sleek personal vehicle that looks custom made. It had a speedboat style back with a fin and a windshield that looked like a ’38 Studebaker. I also felt that it might have been a Buick “8” or a Graham or a Lycoming. I just could never figure out which car it was as it had Cord like hood pipes, too.

Perhaps this car is lost in a museum somewhere and I’d like to know if you can help in locating it and letting your readers know what kind of car it actually was. Any information is appreciated, and please keep those interesting columns coming. Curt N., Alex, Minnesota.

A: Curt, I sure do remember the “Topper” movie car, which starred Cary Grant and Constance Bennett and was produced by Hal Roach back in 1937.

My brother and I used to watch the 30-minute TV “Topper” series shows during the 1950 decade as we grew up, along with Ramar of the Jungle, Lone Ranger, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, Tombstone Territory, and the other popular series of the day.

As for Topper’s car, it was indeed at the time the most famous movie car ever to hit the screen. It was actually a 1936 Buick Chrysler – yes, a combination of the two cars built by Pasadena Coachbuilders Bohman and Schwartz. Built specifically to be featured in the “Topper” movie for the “always out for a good time” ghosts, it did include as you note styling cues from Cord (exhausts), Graham (shark-like front end), along with Buick and Chrysler styling.

After the movie, Mobil Gas purchased the roadster and had Bohman and Schwartz do some updates to the body. They re-christened the car “The Gilmore Special,” and later the “Mobilgas Special.” Mobil owned Gilmore, and fans of A.J. Foyt will quickly recognize the name Gilmore, as the company sponsored many of his championship Indy cars.

Originally built on a 1936 “Straight-8” Buick chassis, the car received Chrysler underpinnings in 1954, including Bohman re-fitting the body and interior on a new 1954 Chrysler Imperial chassis powered by a 235-horse Chrysler Hemi V8.

After a few more updates, the car was purchased by Jim Brucker as part of his “Movieland – Cars of the Stars” collection in Buena Park, Calif. The car was then auctioned off in 2006 by RM Auctions/Sotheby’s when Movieland closed. It sold for $132,000 and ended up at the fabulous R.E. “Pete” Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, he the founder of Hot Rod Magazine back in 1948. I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Petersen prior to his passing in 2007 and he mentioned the Topper movie car to me.

I’ve attached photos of the car as it appeared in the movie and as the Movie World car as displayed in 2010 at Petersen’s museum. Hope this all helps, as the “Topper car” was a huge part of the 1937 movie, and now gives reason for all my readers to watch.

Thanks for your letter Curt, and here’s to many more years of enjoying the cars we all grew up with.

(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist who welcomes reader questions on collector cars, auto nostalgia and old-time racing at 116 Main St., Towanda, Pa. 18848 or email at