Plymouth XNR concept that survived Lebanon’s civil war goes to auction


One of the most unique concept cars ever created by a Detroit automaker will cross an auction block in Monterey, Calif., next month, the final step in an odyssey that took it from the United States through the Middle East and war-torn Beirut. How much would you pay for the strangest 150-mph Plymouth ever built?

Conceived by Chrysler designer Virgil Exner as a potential rival to the Chevy Corvette, the 1960 Plymouth XNR took styling notes from Indy racers and Jaguar D-Types, where it borrowed the fin behind the driver. Powered by a slant six-cylinder engine tuned to NASCAR specs, the XNR's 250 hp meant the car could hit 150 mph -- which it did at Chrysler's proving grounds. A promotional video made by Chrysler in 1960 calls it a "dream car come true."

But Chrysler executives simply didn't see the business case for chasing Chevy, and decided not to build it. Rather than let the car stay in the United States, where it would have been destroyed as most test vehicles are, Exner let the XNR be shipped back to the Ghia design studio, which had built the car's bodywork. From there it changed hands a couple of times; including a stint in the garage of the Shah of Iran, and from there it disappeared for a couple of decades -- until a Lebanese car collector made the find of a lifetime.

Karim Edde says he discovered the XNR stored in an underground garage in Beirut in the 1980s, and recognized it immediately for what it was. During the Lebanese Civil War, "the last two years of the war were so bad, I had to move the car many times to save it from destruction," Edde says. "We had no flat bed 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."

After that ordeal, Edde had the XNR restored to its original condition; while some of its more exotic parts had to be remanufactured, including the hubcaps made from 35 separate metal pieces, Virgil Exner's wild bodywork had survived intact.

After its display at classic car shows last year, the XNR won several awards, including its inclusion in an update of Sony's Gran Turismo driving game. RM Auctions, which will sell the car next month, hasn't put an estimate on its value -- but given that many of the cars at the auction will command more than $1 million bids, the price to own this singular bit of Detroit history won't be cheap.