Chrysler styling chief Virgil Exner rocked the Motor City to its core with the Chrysler Forward Look line for 1957. But behind the scenes, he had even bigger ideas.
The career of an auto designer follows a familiar arc, many will say. As the years go by, their work tends to become more refined and restrained. Not Virgil Exner, vice president of design at the Chrysler Corporation through the ’50s and the architect of the company’s Forward Look. As his career advanced, his designs only became more daring and audacious. His 1957 Chrysler family of cars rocked the Detroit auto industry to its core with their low, sleek lines and bold tail fins, throwing GM and Ford back on their heels. And while it never saw production, back within the walls of the Chrysler styling studios, Exner had an even bolder stroke held in reserve: the Chrysler 300C Ghia, also known as Project 613.
The color rendering above and full-size clay model below show the essential elements of Project 613: It’s the car that became the production 1957 Chrysler 300C, more or less, but with some obvious revisions. First, there’s a radically faired-in application of one of Exner’s favorite gimmicks, the faux continental spare tire. (The tack-on tire cover on production Chrysler products was labeled by critics the “washing machine lid” or “toilet seat.”) Next, Project 613 sports the biggest, tallest, most spectacular tail fins ever seen on a Chrysler product, partially blocking the rear side glass. Virgil Exner, unleashed.
Hardcore Mopar enthusiasts will notice that the Project 613 hardtop version uses the Plymouth/Dodge greenhouse with its slimmer C pillars instead of the bulkier roof structure found on Chysler production models that year. A fully functional, running and driving prototype, Project 613 reportedly rode on a 122-inch wheelbase, four inches shorter than the production ’57 Chrysler.
The body for the one-off was constructed by Carrozzeria Ghia of Turin, Chrysler’s go-to Italian coachbuilder for show cars and other special projects. Upon its completion in mid-early 1956, Project 613 became Exner’s daily transportation—photos show it parked in the driveway of his home in the Detroit suburbs, and it was said to be one of his favorite cars. According to Exner’s son, Virgil Exner Jr, the car was then known as the “Chrysler 500.”
The eventual fate of Exner’s fabulously finned Mopar is unknown (to us, anyway) but fortunately, the story doesn’t end here. Chrysler enthusiast Édouard Rodrigue of Québec constructed a faithful replica of the Ghia prototype using a ’57 Plymouth platform and ’57 Chrysler sheet metal components. The recreation took six years, is powered by a 392 CID Chrysler hemi V8 in 300C tune, and, according to Mr. Rodrigue, is “95 percent identical to the original prototype.”
Photo below courtesy of Lemire Media.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.
This for-real, freshly restored 1964 Ford factory lightweight drag car will be crossing the block at the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction on January 11, 2020.
The Motor City’s automakers produced a fascinating variety of low-production, factory-lightweight race cars for drag strip competition throughout the 1960s, but the best known of them all might be the 427-powered Ford Fairlane sedans specially constructed for the ’64 season. That may be due in part to the memorable name Ford chose to give these special cars: Thunderbolt.
The Thunderbolt headed for B-J Scottsdale is reportedly number 35 of the 100 cars built for Ford by Dearborn Steel Tubing, a Dearborn contractor just a stone’s throw from Ford world headquarters. (The company also built 427-powered Comets, Falcons, and Mustangs that year for a production total of 127.) The only visible non-stock items on this example are the five-spoke cast racing wheels, an appropriate, period-correct addition. Except for the first 11 cars, which were finished in Vintage Burgundy, all Thunderbolts originally wore Wimbledon White paint like this one.
Dearborn Steel Tubing was operated by Andy Hotton, a gearhead entrepreneur with close ties to Ford’s racing programs. To create Thunderbolts from production Fairlane two-door sedans, his outfit performed a long list of modifications, guided by a prototype developed by Ford factory racer Dick Brannan. They replaced the front fenders, hood, and deck lid with lightweight factory pieces, partially gutted the interiors, modified the rear suspension with big, beefy traction bars, and rearranged the front suspension to allow the big 427 High Riser V8 to fit in the engine compartment, among other changes.
Originally developed for NASCAR, the 427 High-Riser V8 sported a radical high-flow intake manifold and cylinder heads, generating somewhere north of 500 hp. Note the classic Thunderbolt fresh air system with its cast aluminum airbox for the dual Holley four-barrel carbs, fed by a pair of giant black hoses routed through the (former) inner headlamp bezels. The tall intake setup required an equally tall blister in the hood for clearance, just visible in the photo above—the trademark Thunderbolt teardrop hood bubble.
Finished in Medium Beige Poly paint and trim, Thunderbolt cabins featured lightweight Bostrom truck seats, thin rubber floor mats, and an 8,000 Rotunda tach bolted to the top of the instrument panel. All Thunderbolts also sported a metal tag riveted to the inside of the glove box door warning that the vehicle was intended for competition use only. Forty-nine of the Thunderbolts were built with four-speed transmissions for NHRA Super/Stock competition, while 51 were produced with modified Lincoln Turbo-Drive automatics for the Super/Stock Automatic category.
Campaigned by Mefford Ford, a Springfield, Ohio dealer with an active racing program that included USAC star Jack Bowsher, this particular Thunderbolt was not terribly successful, and at some point the troublesome automatic transmission was swapped out in favor of a four-speed. While Thunderbolts were capable of mid-11 second times at more than 120 mph, this one reportedly never met its potential, and that may well be what saved it. Instead of being campaigned to death like so many race cars, it was tucked away in storage for decades, then treated to a complete restoration, emerging in 2017 to collect several major show awards. Barrett-Jackson has not declared a price estimate for the upcoming no-reserve sale in January, but authentically restored Thunderbolts typically sell in the multiple six-figure range. Photos by Barrett-Jackson.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.