Could Plymouth have benefited from a challenger to the Chevrolet Corvette and Ford Thunderbird in the two-seat sporting car field? Automotive historians could debate that question ad nauseam, but we at least know what such a car might have looked like: the 1954 Plymouth Belmont concept car that will cross the block at the upcoming Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale, Arizona, next January.
By the start of 1954, Plymouth’s sales had fallen to a fraction of rates once considered normal. In an effort to shore up Plymouth’s performance and build some excitement around the brand, Chrysler’s chief of styling, Virgil Exner, led his department in producing a pair of concepts for the 1954 show season, the other one being the six-cylinder-powered Ghia-built Plymouth Explorer Coupe.
The Belmont, built for Chrysler by Briggs Manufacturing Company on a Plymouth 114-inch wheelbase chassis, boasted a couple of firsts for the struggling Chrysler division. It was the first Plymouth to carry a body constructed of fiberglass instead of steel, and it was the first Plymouth fitted with a V-8 engine. The provenance of that engine seems to have caused some confusion over the years: Plymouth didn’t offer its 157hp poly-head 241-cu.in. V-8 in production cars until 1955, so when it introduced the Belmont, Chrysler claimed that a 150hp Dodge Red Ram Hemi V-8, available in production form in 1954 and also measuring in at 241 cubic inches, powered the Belmont. Not so, said Don Williams, who owned the Belmont during the 1990s; he said it has always had a poly-head 241, the same engine that powers it today. Indeed, Allpar notes that the engine’s serial number is P27-1014, which identifies it as the 14th Plymouth V-8 built for the 1955 model run.
Backed with a Hy-Drive semi-automatic transmission and stretching out long (nearly 192 inches from tip to tail) and low (maximum height of just 49 inches), the Belmont debuted at the 1954 Chicago Auto Show in a metallic light blue and exhibited what Exner and his team believed to be an aerodynamic design theme.
Unlike later “show only” concept cars, the Belmont was a functional automobile, as long as driver and passenger were willing to make a few concessions to style. Its windshield, for example, was formed from thick plexiglass, meaning the view ahead was somewhat distorted, especially through the curved portions. It’s unclear how much effort was put into the weather-sealing of the top, as the car was never intended to be driven for any distance in the rain. The car lacked exterior door handles, too, meaning that driver and passenger had to reach inside the car to open the doors, though this would likely have been addressed had the car gone into production.
Following its appearance on the 1954 auto show circuit (and its film debut in the 1954 motion picture Bundle of Joy, starring Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds), the Belmont was retired as “too old” a design to fit the company’s image. At this stage, most concepts either get locked in corporate vaults or stripped of usable parts before being shipped to the crusher, but the Belmont survived as a road car, passing through a string of owners over the years.
The Belmont’s ownership is unclear until 1968, when it was sold to Marie DeAngelo. From there, it was sold to Don Heckler in 1970 and remained in his possession until 1989. Unearthed by Loren Tyron in 1989, the car was purchased for Williams as part of the Blackhawk Collection and underwent a complete restoration (during which Williams had the car sprayed red instead of its original blue). In 2001 Williams sold it at the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction to Ele Chesney in New Jersey, and from there the ownership history is lost, though when it came up for sale on Hemmings.com in 2010, a dealership on Long Island advertised it.
As part of Barrett-Jackson’s Salon Collection, the Belmont is expected to cross the block with a reserve. Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale auction is scheduled for January 12-19, 2014. For more information, visit Barrett-Jackson.com.
Written by Kurt Ernst. Article courtesy of Hemings Daily.