Show a picture of the Plymouth XNR to an artist and one word you’re likely to hear in return is “asymmetric.” That’s because the car violates one of the fundamental rules of good design: that opposing sides such be proportional, or “symmetric.”
Had the vehicle been designed by anyone other than Virgil Exner, this fact alone might have doomed it to the dust bins of automotive history. But there’s another rule of art that goes something like this: you can break all the damn rules you want as long as you’re good at what you do. That describes the automotive visionary perfectly.
The XNR was a prime example of what Exner referred to as “the way forward.” It was an approach to auto design that stressed low profiles, curves, and, perhaps most important, fins. Exner had been a fin fan since seeing them on the ’48 Caddy. He liked them both for aerodynamic and aesthetic reasons; i.e. they cut wind resistance and they looked cool. The single fin on the XNR’s rear section ended in the oversized headrest. This was meant to emphasize the role of the driver, or “pilot” as Exner might have said. He was a big aeronautics fan as well as a master car designer.
Novel looks aside, the XNR was blessed with a helluva engine: the Valiant slant-six 225. A beast for its size, it pumped out 1.11 hp per cubic inch, or a total of 250 horses. Test drivers took the XNR up to just over 150 mph, not bad given the motor’s size and number of cylinders.
On a side note, the slant-six, also known as the Chrysler G-engine, was one of the best motors Detroit ever turned out. But that’s a topic for another day.
The XNR had four headlights nestled in its substantial grille/front bumper. The interior was crafted from aluminum and black leather. In designing the vehicle, Exner later said he was trying to “avoid the static and bulky, which is ugly and not what an automobile should look like.” He gave the front end an aggressive wedge shape because he felt that it emphasized a sense of motion– the road ahead, the destiny that the car was racing towards. In short, Exner was a man ahead of his time, and his amazing concept car remains a symbol of the future even today.