Strange Nostalgia for The Future - 1960's Plymouth XNR
Image: The 1960 Plymouth XNR Sport Roadster | Legendary Concept Cars
Have you ever been nostalgic for a time or a place or a thing that came and went before you were even born? Wait, what am I saying, of course you have. You've been walking down a sidewalk in one of the older parts of Chicago and wondered longingly what it would have been like to have given the password at a speakeasy's hidden door. You've been wandering across 53rd and 3rd in lower Manhattan and wanted to see the ghost of Dee Dee Ramone hanging around the corner. You've rolled by rusted through ruins of some once classic automobile and longed to have been behind its wheel in its pristine prime. Like all of us, the triggers that produce those strange nostalgic pains in you are specific to you.
For me, it's design artifacts that reflect "the future" as imagined during the rocket age and early space age.
For those of you don't already know, during the 1950s, everything from furniture to gadgets and car design adopted a curiously rockets in flight inspired aesthetic. Automakers launched vehicles ornamented with tailfins. Businesses lured customers in by incorporating futuristic elements in their offices. The trendiness of rocket aesthetics encouraged and exploited our enthusiasm for the future, and fed into the turnover of products and was the beginning of our current aesthetics-based consumerism.
In retrospect, many remnants of those designs look too gimmicky by half, but they honestly reflect the 1950s fascination with rocketry and space flight. Cars sprouted vestigial wings because society knew, collectively, that commercial space flight would take a while. Because people knew that they could have domed chairs, saucer-shaped buildings and cars that evoked space-ships instead. Historians generally date the moment when the Rocket Age became the Space Age back to Sputnik's 1957 launch. Me, I say it happened at the exact moment in 1959 when Chrysler design guru Virgil Exner first imagined "Asymmetrica" - the car that became Plymouth's XNR Sports Roadster Concept, a possible answer to Chevy's Corvette.
It was or rather would have been functional, beautiful, unprecedented ... with a design entirely concentrated around the driver. Which is to say that visually, Exner's ambitious XNR concept was so simply stunning, that I frankly think it left the by then bland looks of its corvette competitor in the dust.
Roughly 43-inches high, the low-slung two-seat roadster was 195.2-inches long and only 71-inches wide. The XNR's hand-formed body, was built by Italian coachbuilder Ghia, is all steel, not fiberglass, which most manufacturers used to use for their concept cars. Which is evidence that the XNR was designed to be driven, not just look pretty at auto shows. In its interior, the XNR sported round gauge dials that had individual, inverted lenses meant to evoke camera optics. A design theme that continued into its glove box, which came with a shoulder strap that could detach from the car's dash to be used as a camera bag.
The XNR was been built on a modified 106.5-inch Valiant chassis and featured an apt asymmetrical design that while not exactly revolutionary, was captivating in the way it offered an alluring view from virtually every angle. There was a large offset hood scoop, an extended blister fairing into its cowl and a low, curved, driver-side windscreen. A slender reveal on both sides was fronted by a little running light tucked into an aircraft-like nacelle. It had a bold, extended nose had a solid aluminum grille with drilled holes for cooling and quad headlights. A vertical fin, similar to the Jaguar D-type's, ran from hood to tail. A daring chrome cross served as its bumper. Its fashionably thin whitewalls sat on 14-inch steel wheels and were adorned with slotted hubcaps. And special headers directed exhaust to double external pipes. Its fin, besides being eye-candy, aided high-speed stability and the XNR was capable of exceeding 150 mph.
Unfortunately Chrysler's executives didn't see the logic of chasing Chevy, and didn't decide to build it.
The was XNR shipped back to Ghia's design studio, changed hands a few of times; even spending awhile in the garage of the Shah of Iran and then disappeared for decades. Eventually a car collector discovered the XNR stored in an underground garage in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War, recognized it for what it was - an almost fully realized chuck of strange nostalgia for the future. Despite the bloody war raging around it and him he moved it to save it from destruction and later had it lovingly restored by Canada's RM Auctions. Virgil Exner XNR once again reflects the epitome of design styling from the age of rockets.
By Dirk Lester, an exotic automobile enthusiast from Montway Auto Transport, an award winning,five star rated car shipper and vehicle mover based in Chicago, IL. They've worked hard to earn the trust and respect of classic car collectors, dealers, sellers and everyday automotive aficionados alike by providing safe and secure, door-to-door vehicle delivery services.
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