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Concept Car of the Week: Plymouth XNR (1960)

Fri, 22 Feb 2013

In the early ‘50s, both GM and Ford offered attractive and exciting sports cars, symbols of a proud post-war America. Ford had the Thunderbird and GM the Corvette, but Chrysler's approach was more pragmatic, producing cars that were practical and robust but also slow. After commissioning a long series of concepts designed by Italian carrozzeria Ghia, Chrysler gave a free hand to its design chief Virgil Exner to inject some life into its lineup.

Named after its creator, the XNR was originally called Asymmetrica. The dramatic style of the two-seater roadster polarized opinion when it was unveiled at the 1960 New York auto show. A vertical fin runs from the front hood scoop all the way to the tail, a nod to Jaguar's D-Type, much admired by Exner.

The entire design is driver-orientated, which accentuates the asymmetrical construction. The driver's windshield is tall and curved, different from that of the passenger's, which was much smaller and flat.

Exaggerating the sporty character of the concept, the sculpted fenders convey both lightness and speed. A solid perforated aluminum grille with quad headlights ornaments the long oval nose.

It is from the rear view, however, that the XNR is the most impressive, with a bold chrome cross flowing from the fin, which acts as a rear bumper.

The passenger sits lower than the driver for aerodynamic performance and even the door panels are different from the left to the right. Exner, an avid photographer, designed the bezels and lenses around the gauges to mimic camera lenses.

Based on a modified Plymouth Valiant platform, the XNR's steel body was built by Ghia from Chrysler's design drawings. The engine, a fittingly asymmetrical design, is a 170 CID, slant six engine equipped with the famous Hyperpak tuned ram intake, a four-barrel carburetor, a ported cylinder head, special cam, pistons, and twin-tuned exhausts. The same design was built for the 1960 Daytona NASCAR compact class race program, which with 260bhp reached 152mph on Chrysler's test track.

After touring around motor shows, the unique XNR began a strange odyssey. It was first claimed back by Ghia and returned to Italy before being sold to a Swiss owner, who then sold it on to the Shah of Iran. A Kuwaiti collector then bought it before moving to Beirut prior to the Lebanese civil war. It was then hidden and found by another Lebanese collector who did his best to protect it, moving the car around the city on many occasions.

Despite all the odds, the car survived, relatively well preserved. In 2007, he met the staff from RM Restoration whose enthusiasm convinced him to restore the car to its former glory. Finally, in August 2012, the car was sold at RM auctions for $935,000.

Designer Virgil Exner
Length 4,958mm
Width 1,803mm
Height 1,105mm
Wheelbase 2,705mm
Engine 2,790cc OHV I-6, 1x4-bbl Carter AFB 3083S carburetor
Power 250hp @ 7,000rpm,
Torque 200lb-ft @ 5,000rpm
Top speed 152mph
Drivetrain Three-speed manual, RWD

Your author, Flavien Dachet, is a UK-based, French-born car designer. You may know him as the purveyor of KarzNshit, a photo blog that if isn't already in your bookmarks, certainly should be.

By Flavien Dachet