1960 Plymouth XNR Concept Car | Virgil Exner Sr.
Another one-off concept car from the fertile minds of the Exner clan – Virgil Exner Sr.’s 1960 Plymouth XNR – will cross the block next month at RM’s Monterey auction. Designed and built to explore the idea of a driver-centric automobile, the XNR could carry two people, but Exner – inspired in part by contemporary Indy cars – meant it to be primarily a single-person monoposto of sorts, leading to its severely asymmetric shape. The driver’s seat sat higher than the passenger’s, which could be covered with a hard tonneau when not in use, and the hoodscoop, gauge cluster, windshield, headrest and stabilizer fin all occupied the driver’s side of the car in a tip of the hat to the excesses of the jet age.
Appropriately, Exner – then Chrysler’s vice-president of styling – chose to power the XNR with a 170-cu.in. slant-six engine built to NASCAR specifications with a Hyper-pak intake manifold, four-barrel carburetor, ported cylinder head, high-performance camshaft, and split exhaust. To get a short, sporting wheelbase, he chose to base the XNR on Plymouth’s new Valiant chassis, upon which Ghia then draped a body made entirely of steel. In initial tests by Chrysler, the XNR hit 146 MPH; not bad, but Exner had hoped it to be capable of 150 MPH, so Dick Burke added a fiberglass nose cone that enabled it to hit 152 MPH (perhaps laying the foundation for the Daytona and Superbird a decade later).
Even more remarkable than the XNR itself is what happened to it after it completed the show circuit: Though Exner wanted it for himself, Chrysler sent it back to Ghia to avoid U.S. regulations that would have forced the company to destroy it if it remained in the States. Ghia then sold it to a Swiss businessman, who in turn sold it to Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran. By 1969, it made its way to Kuwait, and then in the mid-1970s to Beirut, just in time for Lebanon’s devastating 15-year civil war. Beirut resident Karim Edde, who bought the XNR in the 1980s, said he had to go to great lengths to keep it from being destroyed during the war. As he told RM:
I hid the XNR in an underground warehouse that seemed safe at the time, but when the conflict became more global, I had to move it to a different location. In fact, the last two years of the war were so bad, I had to move the car many times, to save it from destruction. We had no flatbed trucks, so we used long arm tow trucks to lift the car and put it on a truck and move it around. It was a delicate operation, but we had no choice, we had to move the car to safer locations.
After the war ended, he eventually had RM’s restoration facility perform a two-year restoration on the XNR before debuting it at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance last March and showing it in the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance last August.