1960 Plymouth XNR concept car

Chrysler ‘batmobile’ targets Chevrolet Corvette


Wild Plymouth XNR Concept Car was Chrysler’s answer to the Corvette

Legendary Chrysler styling supremo, Virgil Exner, was always trying to convince his bosses to green light a limited production sports car to match the Chevrolet Corvette.

His first attempt was in 1955. Big and bold and called the Falcon, it was more of a luxury personal “sporty” car – similar to a Ford Thunderbird – than a threat to the ‘Vette.

In 1960 he unveiled his second attempt, the XNR (get it?).

This was no ordinary concept car and ranks as one of his best efforts

The bright red speedster was drivable. Actually, it was more than driveable – it was ”raceable”, having been clocked at over 240km/h on Chrysler’s test track.

Mechanically it was based on the then new Valiant platform.

Engineers extracted 185kw from the 2.8 litre (170 cubic inch) slant-six engine by modifying the intake manifold, strapping on a four-barrel carburettor, porting the cylinder head, inserting a high performance camshaft and splitting the exhaust.

Ghia, in Italy, shaped the asymmetric steel body, which was styled to resemble an offset, Indianapolis roadster.

Although it looks like a single-seater, the passenger seat was placed lower in the car and concealed by a metal tonneau cover.

The thick one piece chrome grille established an enduring design motif which would reappear in various forms on many Chrysler corporation cars including the 1970’s Australian Valiant.

But it is the rear end which caught everyone’s attention.

A large chrome cross slashed through the body, with the vertical line starting at the top of the fin and reaching down below the exhausts outlets.

The horizontal line formed the low slung bumper bar.

It was both elegant and striking and, had they produced it, Chrysler would have had a style icon equal to the split window on the 1963 Corvette.

The XNR was paraded around the US motor show circuit and graced magazine covers.

Meanwhile, back at Chrysler’s HQ, the bean counters were doing their sums, evaluating if it was feasible to sell and make some money out of the car.

The answer, they said, was NO. So, the project was terminated.

Exner wanted to buy the car for himself, but Chrysler sent it back to Ghia to avoid US customs taxes.

Ghia then sold it to a private buyer in Geneva, Switzerland, who later sold it to the Shah of Iran.

By 1972 it was in the hands of a Kuwaiti car dealer and then it went to Lebanon, just in time for the civil war there.

The XNR was hidden in underground facilities for over 15 years while the war raged and then slowly restored.

It re-emerged in the USA in 2011 at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

Ghia also made a few copies to sell for itself, but these were not as stylish as the original.

They called it the Asimetrica and a coupe version was called the St Regis.

David Burrell is the editor of www.retroautos.com.au

David Burrell is the founder and editor of Retroautos.com.au, a free online classic cars magazine. David has a passion for cars and car design. He's also into speedway, which he's been writing about since 1981. His first car was a rusted-out 1961 Vauxhall Velox. Prior to starting the magazine, David worked as an international executive in a Fortune 500 company, in Australia, NZ, Asia, Latin America and the UK.