Of the legions of teeny,
tiny cars roaming Europe in the 1950s and 1960s, who knew that one of them was
produced by BMW? Well the wise gentlemen at What’s My Car Worth did. In
tonight’s 8:30p E/P episode, they are at Amelia Island considering some unique
I’d say the BMW Isetta fits
the bill as being unique.
This one-of-a-kind concept car from Chrysler designer Virgil Exner is one of the most beautiful and unique cars out there. It’s back in the States after a long strange trip from Detroit through the Middle East where it was plucked up in one of the world’s strangest “barn” finds.
Let’s talk about how gorgeous this car is. Built by famed Chrysler designer Virgil Exner, it was intended to take on the Chevy Corvette. If it had ever made it to production it might have been a contender.
The car was built with imagination and risk – Exner went out on a limb with what was called an “asymmetrical styling.” A giant fin rose out behind the driver’s side – a nod to Indy racing cars like the Jaguar D-Type. The driver was encased behind their own private windshield.
Let’s watch it in action:
So, um, what about the passenger you ask? Well, there was a passenger seat but it was completely covered with a metal tonneau. The cover kept the overall design sleek and wedge like with the front grill doubling as the bumper and the fin behind the driver dramatically reaching out to form an “X” with the rear bumper on the passenger side.
It had close ties to the Valiant – Plymouth’s successful car du jour that was also designed by Exner. The shapely XNR was fitted over a Valiant chassis and had a Valiant slant six-cylinder engine tuned to racing specs under the hood. It could reach 9000 rpm and gave a generous 250 hp, and in tests it hit 150 mph.
In a word, wow.
Speed and offbeat beauty. That seems like a winning combination but the executives at Chrysler weren’t so sure. The asymmetrical look – which Exner believed gave a feeling of “built in motion” and “sense of direction,” was just a little to wacky for the suits. Between the risky look and the very tough competition they faced with the Corvette, they decided against moving the XNR to production.
So what happened with the one production model? Traditionally they are trashed in Detroit, but Exner had the XNR shipped to the Ghia design studio where the body had been built.
The coachbuilder Ghia never did anything with the car and it apparently changed hands and sat in many a garage - including some famous garages like the Shah of Iran's - gathering dust over the years. It just shows it doesn't matter how posh the garage is, your car will stil gather dust if it is hidden away.
Fortunately, the XNR is back on the car scene after languishing for many years. Lebanese car collector Karim Edde apparently stumbled over the car in and underground garage in Beirut in the 1980s. How it got there from the Shah's collection isn't exactly clear, but probably better not to ask. Knowing he had found something special Edde rescued it and kept it safe from the civil war that rooted Beirut in the 80s, and eventually restored it to mint condition.
These days the car has been making the show circuit, visiting places like Amelia Island and Jay Leno’s Garage, and is headed for auction soon. Odds are this strange, singular gem out of Detroit will not go cheap.
It’s a bonanza of Chasing Classic Cars goodness tonight! Starting at 8:30p E/P, it’s Rolls vs. Rolls as Wayne brings a 1927 Rolls Royce Phantom Kenilworth, previously owned by Hollywood Director John Ford, and a 1930 Rolls-Royce Phantom Newmarket with an intriguing past to auction in Pebble Beach California.
On Tuesday 12/11, you'll get to see a classic episode of Chasing Classic Cars where Wayne Carini goes through his plan to market and then sell th Porsche Special Hill Climb Car. He takes it to the Hershey Hill Climb race to put it through its paces and has a darn good time doing it. But that doesn't stop him from taking it to auction.
THough the Hill Climb took place back in June, we were lucky enough to have Kenneth Visser - automobile fan, blogger and photographer extraordinaire on site and reporting back on the action. Take a walk down memory lane below, and don't forget to tune in to Chasing Classic Cars starting on Tuesday 12/11 starting at 9p.
Another fine tradition has been reignited with the second running of the The Grand Ascent Hillclimb held on the grounds of the Hershey Hotel. This is a VSCCA sanctioned hill climb exhibition and features a wide variety historic racing cars thundering up a five turn three quarters of a mile long course. A unique opportunity to see, hear and smell vintage race cars slamming gears. This event was reignited with the start of the Elegance At Hershey. We'll talk more about the Concours later. Let's take a look at some of the neat machinery that was attacking the hill.
Wayne Carini was selected as the Honary Grand Marshall of the Grand Ascent. He brought his smile and his driving skills to the hill.
Wayne Carini of Chasing Classic Cars took the Bill Rutan VW* special with a 356 four cam motor up the hill. Wayne spoke about the rides up later "I had a blast" And his sub 57 second times were reflective of his blistering pace.
One can find it challenging to define an automotive “golden age”. For someone growing up in before WWII, it might have been the roaring twenties and the rise of custom bodied cars. That sun settled with the depression and the start of WWII. After which gave rise to the nimble sports car which in turn gave birth to the “golden age” of the American muscle car.
In the fifties, the big 3 were focused on profit and marketing strategies. Big was in as suburbia ventured out on the exponentially increasing highway system. Even as the bean counters sought sturdy profits in comfortable sedans, there was an undercurrent coming from the youngsters.
GM introduced the Corvette in 1953 to focus on the youth market. It may not have been obnoxiously powered, but the Corvette used fiberglass to lighten the load of the 150 hp Blue Flame 235 cubic inch straight 6.
Beyond the gaze of management, there were guys tinkering with bold ideas and even bigger horsepower. Zora Arkus-Duntov led a team of engineers to create the ultra light 1957 XP-64 SS concept. The 1850 pound Corvette was powered by a 307 horsepower, fuel injected V-8. Using the Mercedes 300SL as a template, the featherweight Magnesium bodied Corvette was created with the 24 hours of LeMans in mind.
The XP-64’s first test was to be the 12 hours of Sebring. Juan Manuel Fangio, the winner of the 57 Sebring, came on board to test the XP-64. In his virgin runs the Corvette was 4 seconds faster then the competition. But the program fell victim to the American auto making industry uniting to ban the factory racecars. Can't you just see Racer X running down the road in this ride?