Throughout his career, Exner expressed a fondness for certain classic elements of automobile design, particularly for those that highlighted the mechanical functionality of a car. He liked round, open wheel arches; he liked upright grilles; and he especially liked fast, powerful cars. So by the early to mid-1950s, after Exner became Chrysler’s first director of styling and when he felt it was finally time to design a car for himself, he didn’t design just another sedan or luxury car; instead, he designed a two-seat convertible sports car. As Peter Grist wrote in his biography of the designer, Virgil Exner: Visioneer, Exner wanted “a car that embodied everything that he wanted to see in a classic automobile; sports, thoroughbred styling and power to match.”
Nevertheless, more than one Falcon was built; just how many is up for debate. The original one, finished in black, went to Exner, who competed with it at SCCA races, but a number of sources have pointed to a May 27, 1954, letter from Ghia’s Luigi Segre to Chrysler’s C.B. Thomas mentioning two different Falcons (designated A-488 and called “Chrysler Sports Roadster”) as well as a near-identical De Soto Sports Roadster (designated A-489). Exner’s black Falcon has gone missing and wasn’t recorded as destroyed, and the third one – reportedly painted red – was apparently never photographed, but the second one, a light blue example, wound up in Joe Bortz’s collection in 1987, and will make its way to Amelia in March.
That prototype then went to auction a couple of years later to help pay down the company’s debts and ended up in the hands of collector Sam Schwartz of Long Island, who displayed it for a number of years in the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum. Bortz said that he first met Schwartz in the early 1970s and even got Schwartz to agree to sell it to him then, but it wasn’t for another 30-plus years that Bortz and Schwartz actually completed the transaction. According to Bortz, it retains its original paint and interior, and has benefited from a recent tune-up and sprucing to ready it for show.
With these two cars, the Amelia Island Concours will be one of two major U.S. concours events to highlight Exner cars next year; the Concours of America has also announced that it will spotlight Exner’s automotive designs with a special class.
Next year’s Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance will take place March 7-9. For more information, visit AmeliaConcours.org.
Article courtesy of Hemings Daily, written by Daniel Strohl.