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.