The Playboy car was a cute little automobile that was built by the Playboy Motor Car Corporation of Buffalo, New York between 1946 and 1949.
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Right after World War II ended in 1945, there was quite a pent-up demand for new automobiles since auto manufacturers had shifted their efforts to manufacturing vehicles and equipment for the war effort during the period of 1941-1945.
Louis Horwitz, a former Packard dealer, Charles D. Thomas, a former Pontiac engineer, and Norman Richardson, a talented garage mechanic, founded the Playboy Motor Corporation with the intention of creating a small, second car priced at less than $1000 for around-the-town errands. This Playboy car was designed with the intention of being that around-the-town second car, and it featured America's first retractable hardtop convertible. The company only made a reported 97 prototype cars prior to closing up shop. None were ever originally offered for sale to the public. The cars were exposed to heavy publicity and were shipped around the country and even around the world in the hopes of generating interest and possible dealer franchise investors. A stock offering that would have provided capital to begin fullscale production failed in the wake of the unrelated Tucker automobile scandal. The Tucker scandal scared off potential investors who were then, albeit unjustifiably, worried about any new start-up car manufacturer.
In early 1950, after failed negotiations with industrialist Henry J. Kaiser to buy out the company, and after a second stock offering didn't work either, the assets of the company were auctioned. Most were bought by a Chinese businessman who produced one larger prototype of the Playboy in 1951 (see the "Mystery Cars" page of this website) before he went belly-up as well. Another businessman, Alvin Trumbull, from Connecticut, tried again to revive the car's interest over the next few years, but, eventually, he also gave up. Finally the remaining inventory was sold in 1964 to Donald Moore from Massachusetts, a collector and previously proposed Playboy dealer.
There are currently only 49 Playboy cars known to still exist in the world. Of those, only about 15 are known to be in roadworthy condition, and less than 5 are known to have the optional windshield-mounted spotlights.
According to an episode of the "Biography" TV series and of "The E! True Hollywood Story," as well as in a 2010 documentary entitled "Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist, and Rebel," a woman who worked for Playboy Motor Cars at the time they shut down suggested to her son's friend that he use the Playboy name for his new magazine. That friend's name was Hugh Hefner!
This story was confirmed by a letter that the Webmaster of this site personally received from Hugh Hefner in June, 2002 which reads, in part:
"The Playboy name was suggested by a friend whose mother had worked at the then defunct Playboy Motor Car Company..." - Signed Hugh M. Hefner
Hefner does NOT own a Playboy car.
This story was further confirmed in Episode #2 of the 2017 Amazon Prime Series entitled "American Playboy: The Hugh Hefner Story."
Copyright Ed Howard All rights reserved.