The Zippo Car began life as a 1947 Chrysler Saratoga New Yorker.Over the years, numerous specially constructed automobiles have been built with the express purpose of bringing a non-automotive manufacturer’s product line boldly into the public eye. Usually incorporating a vastly oversized replica of a particular product melded into a vehicle’s body, perhaps the most memorable for many is the Oscar-Meyer Wiener car of the 1970s.
Long before the hot dog on wheels hit the streets though, Bradford, Pennsylvania’s Zippo windproof lighter car took to the roads to tout the company’s guaranteed-for-life lighters. Company founder George G. Blaisdell had seen product-theme autos and recognized their unique promotional abilities.
Two massive Zippo lighters complete with striker wheels, simulated neon-lit flames and closing tops rose out of a squared-off base that looked more like an armored car body than a passenger sedan. Emblazoned with the Zippo name on the grille, body sides and even hubcaps, there was no mistaking what this car was all about.he Zippo car made cross-country appearances with local salesman Dick O’Day behind the wheel in the late ’40s and early ’50s. With its public address system, radio and record player that featured a wire recorder and playback mode, it was a natural for parade duty. Unfortunately, the additional weight of the lighters exceeded the abilities of the car’s tires and several blowouts occurred. To address this problem, the car was brought to Toohey Motors, a Pittsburgh Ford dealership, where it was decided that a sturdier Ford chassis would eliminate the problem. Before the alterations were finished though, it was discovered that the car’s height would exceed DOT regulations for vehicles of its type. The additional work necessary to make the car legal would cost $40,000 and it apparently was never completed.
The Zippo promotional car was largely forgotten by Blaisdell until the 1970s. When he inquired about it, he found that Toohey Motors was no longer in business, and all traces of the car had vanished. Even today, information on the original car’s whereabouts is still sought by Zippo. However, a replica Zippo car, commissioned by the company in 1996 to commemorate its 65th anniversary as well as the 50th anniversary of the original car, was constructed on a 1947 Chrysler Saratoga by Joe Griffin of Memphis, Tenn.