MotorCities National Heritage Area
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By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Zippo Manufacturing Corporation
Published 8.16.2023

Original 1947 Chrysler Zippo Advertising Model Zippo Case Museum 1The original 1947 Chrysler Saratoga Zippo promotional car (Zippo/Case Museum)

In 1947, the Zippo Manufacturing Company of Bradford, Pennsylvania constructed and built a promotional Zippo Windproof Lighter car using a 1947 Chrysler Saratoga model. The company that built and designed the car was the Gardner Display Company of Pittsburgh. The Chrysler became a key part of a successful advertising and promotional campaign and was made to look like a pair of the company’s world-famous Zippo windproof lighters.

The post-war era was a time when it was still very fashionable to smoke cigarettes, so Zippo invested $25,000 to launch the campaign. George G. Blaisdell, the inventor of the Zippo lighter, also loved automobiles and wanted to create a product-mobile that would look like his iconic invention. His product was a reusable metal lighter, and he founded the Zippo Manufacturing Company in Bradford, Pennsylvania in 1932.

Another view of the Zippo Car Case Museum 2A side view of the Zippo Car (Zippo/Case Museum)

Throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s, the Zippo promotional car traveled through towns and cities across America, often participating in special events and parades and creating a legion of fans. The 1947 Chrysler featured two lighters that were elevated above the roof of the car with the word “Zippo” on top. The lighters could also snap shut when the vehicle was not moving. The car also offered a public address system with a radio and tape recorder that would play music. The car played an important role in advertising the popular Zippo lighter products.

A front end view of the 1947 Chrysler Zippo car Case Museum RESIZED 3The front end view of the 1947 Chrysler Zippo car (Zippo/Case Museum)

Unfortunately, due to the huge weight of the lighters upon the chassis of the automobile, the Zippo promotional car began to experience many tire blow outs and required other repairs.  The company sent the car to a dealership in Pittsburgh for service. Ultimately, the high cost of maintenance for the vehicle led to the promotion being placed on hold indefinitely. The 1947 Chrysler Saratoga would remain at the dealership for many years.

1947 Chrysler Zippo Car 4The 1947 Chrysler Zippo car

On a historical note, after World War II had ended, the 1946-1948 Chrysler models were all new designs and remained unchanged for all three model years. In 1947, Chrysler produced 109,195 units, and many of their models were popular.

1947 Zippo cigarette lighter Case Museum CROPPED 5A commemorative 1947 Zippo car lighter (Zippo/Case Museum)

Many years later during the early 1970s, Blaisdell wanted to revisit the dealership where he had sent the Zippo promotional vehicle for repairs, since he was considering reintroducing the popular promotional vehicle.  However, the dealership had gone out of business and the car was nowhere to be found. The fate of the original Zippo promotional car still remains a mystery today.

New version of the 1947 Zippo Car Case Museum RESIZED 6The new 1990s version of the 1947 Zippo promotional car (Zippo/Case Museum)

In 1996, Zippo purchased a gray 1947 Chrysler New Yorker looking to restore it and create another Zippo promotional car that would be a direct copy of the original from 1947. This time, additional features were added, and the restoration took 18 months to complete. The price tag for the complete building and restoration cost $250,000. In 1998, the new Zippo promotional car began touring the United States, going to parades, car shows and corporate events. This new model offers twin five-foot removable fiber glass flames, electric windows, a 250-horsepower 350 cubic inch Chevrolet small block V8 engine, and, most importantly a heavy-duty suspension system.

The new Zippo Car at the Visitor Center Case Museum RESIZED 7The new Zippo car (Zippo/Case Museum)

When the Zippo advertising car is not traveling around the country, its home is the Zippo/Case Museum in Bradford, Pennsylvania.

The new Zippo car Case Museum 8An aerial view of the 1990s Zippo car (Zippo/Case Museum)

       

Bibliography

Dammann, George H. “70 Years of Chrysler.” Crestline Publishing, 1974.

Zippo Manufacturing Company. “The Zippo Car.” Zippo website 2023.

Crowe, Paul. “Zippo Car - Another Great American Product mobile.” Horsepower Sports.