After WWII, most of Detroit’s dream cars were greatly influenced by jets and rockets. Excitement over extended tailfins and aesthetic wings. While Chrysler Corp focused on performance and gave styling little attention, its Plymouth division did so and was in par with Chevrolet and Ford.
“Every goddamn farmer in America’s heard of Plymouth binder twine,” owner Walter P. Chrysler said to the company president, K.T. Keller. Keller’s preference was evident in the long and boxy shape of the early Plymouth designs. “We build cars to sit in, not to piss over,” Keller reminded his desginers. On the other hand, GM’s extravagant Motorama shows and revolutionary concept cars attracted the public whom were very eager to see more style in their cars.
The bland style of Chrysler evidently resulted in the drop of sales, Keller realized they need more style in the cars to get back up. He needed an expert designer and found Virgil Exner who design the radical concept for the 1947 Studebaker. Raymond Loewy who was Exner’s boss was known for his incredible designs for concept cars. Without the resources of GM’s well equipped design studios, Exner hired Italy’s Carrozzeria Ghia to create flashy concept cars like Chrysler’s Falcon, DeSoto Adventurer, and Dodge Firearrows.
A lot of Exner’s concepts and designs became a part of Chrysler’s production cars. In 1956, a teaser for the brand new Morpars got Bill Mitchell’s team to go back to their sketch boards. Plymouth’s reputation got boosted with its futuristic designs and powerful Fury engine options, the bland designs are over and is now sending Ford and Chevy a run for their money. Plymouth was not planning to stop there, it was planning for a flashier sports car.
Ford did it with its Thunderbird becoming a street cruiser and Chevrolet’s Corvette was also evolving. Chrysler did not yet have a two-seater sports car in its collection and this was the perfect time to have one.
Sports roadster’s need to be shorter than a regular car. The unit-body Valiant compact used by the Dodge Lancer was the best choice to go with. The engine with high revolution 170 cid I-6 had a maximum 30-degree angle and was able to go up over 200 horsepower. It was a great start for the concept car.
Asymmetrica was the original name for this concept car and was later renamed to after the chief designer. The XNR was made from a modified 106.5 inch Valiant chassis that had an asymmetrical shape that would awe anyone who saw it. A large scoop was placed offset that connects to an extending the bump into the hood that supported a curved windscreen for the driver. The body has a smooth profile that ends with a single tailfin with the same offset as the scoop. The passenger’s side is covered by a small folding Brooklands-style flat windshield with a tight fitted steel tonneau cover.
Virgil Exner’s son, Virgil Jr., became a popular designer himself and said that Virgil Sr. always desired Chrysler to have a two-seater sports car. “He was a sports car enthusiast, and he yearned for an up-to-date personal roadster.” Virgil Jr. explained. Virgil Sr. always loved the 1930s Studebaker two-man Indy car he got while he was working in South Bend, this inspired him to design a modern version of the Studebaker. He also got some inspiration from the Waston Offy and other Indy cars. The Valiant slant-six was the best engine to start with his dream car. The XNR’s extended fins was based from the Jaguar race cars, Virgil Sr. enjoyed the look of the Jaguar D-type. The first concept arts were made in 1956 to 1969, and later 3/8ths-scale clay model was made that kick started the progress.
The upper part of the Valiant chassis was removed and after some modifications it was sent overseas to Turin where Carrozzeria Ghia’s crew fabricated the armature. The XNR body was hand-fabricated with steel.
The craftsmanship in the 1960 XNR roadster is evident in its striking appearance that would leave the Corvette owners with envy. A wide extended hood with thin chrome accents the outline of hood and grille that is made with solid aluminum plate shaped into an oblong with drilled holes for cooling. The quad headlights are embedded in the grille. In the rear, a vertical strip popped out from the high dorsal fin and continued down to the lower deck that connects into another slim blade that forms a noticeable cross that acts as the bumper. The XNR’s innovative bumper emphasized the asymmetrical theme. “Functional, beautiful, unprecedented: The entire design is concentrated around the driver.” As written in the Plymouth XNR advertisement flyers.
Another aircraft inspired design is the sides that feature wing like protrusions that has small lights running accors it, this was to give a sexy curve to the boxy body of the XNR. Under the curved outline of the side wings is a full rear-wheel opening. A large rocker trip gave more curve to the XNR’s flat sides. 14 inch steel wheel with thin whitewalls and a complicated slotted hubcaps adds to the charm of the XNR. The external exhaust pipes run through the left side of the XNR.
The low riding roadster measures 43 inches high, 195.2 inches long and 71 inches wide. Exner says that the protruding find is not just for looks but also improves the aerodynamics of the XNR. The team wanted to push the XNR to exceed 150 mph but with the stock slant six, it was not something that can easily be done. The initial tests for the XNR made a top speed of 145 mph which is not too far out. A high performance package was needed including a four-barrel carburetor installed on a ram-style intake manifold. A better camshaft, high compression, improved exhaust, and a new streamlined fiberglass nose was specifically made to improve performance eventually propelled the XNR to go past the 150 mph mark and reach a record of 152 mph. Exner and Chrysler management were really thrilled with the results of the XNR.
The XNR was featured in movie theatres across the nation, the XNR roadster is shown driving around the Chrysler’s test track on a snowy day. This is first public teaser to tell the public that the XNR may soon be in full production. The XNR was shown in black leather interior, twin bucket seats, deep door cavities with zipper pockets, and a storage area. The passenger seat is 4 inches lower than the driver’s seat that had comfy headrest. Fully equipped with race car style instruments to monitor the lifeline rest behind the wheel.
Initial estimates for the cost of the XNR was under $3000 that probably got the fans excited but unfortunately it never came to production. Chrysler’s business plans made it clear that XNR was just to grab the attention of the public and was never intended to go into full production due to the low marketing value. After Chrysler’s final decision, Carrozzeria Ghia’s Luigi Segre used the basic designs and later in 1961, Ghia was able to create a more viable version. Named the Asymmetrica, it was featured in several car shows in Europe together with a steel hardtop design called the St. Regis. Unfortunately, Ghia did not have enough financial support to get both into full production. Ghia claims to have 25 units but some say there are only 6 fully functioning Asymmetrica.
We can only speculate that success the XNR would get if it into full production, what we do know is that it would’ve been the first flashy roadster by Chrysler.