MotorCities National Heritage Area

By: Robert Tate, Automotive Historian/Researcher
Images: Courtesy The National Automotive History Collection
Posted: 04.22.2015

During the early 1950's, the Chrysler Corporation introduced an amazing line of concept cars that excited the public. They were called the “prototype cars” or, as some would call them, the “idea cars”. Mr. Tex Colbert, President of Chrysler said, “You have expected and received great things from Chrysler Corporation in the past. There is no visible limit on the things you may expect and receive from Chrysler Corporation in the future”. The concept models were designed under the leadership of the late Mr. Virgil Exner. Mr. Exner brought with him an impressive record of automotive styling when he joined Chrysler Corporation in 1949. He was recognized in the United States and Europe as one of the most outstanding figures in the world of design. Exner's advanced styling group was a three man operation which included Mr. Cliff Voss, Mr. Maury Baldwin, and Mr. Paul Farrago.

file 20150422102703 1950s Chrysler Style Influenced FutureChrysler K-310 Concept
The Chrysler K-310 model was introduced with the show circuit in 1951. It was both a show car and experimental 5-passenger coupe concept design. The letter K stood for company President K. T. Keller and the 310 was the result of the alleged horsepower of the engine. The K-310 sports car, designed by Chrysler, used a modified firepower engine. The model was built by Ghia of Italy and the body offered a characteristically continental look with a low flat hood. The model was very stylish with a designed usage of a spare wheel impression on its trunk deck area. The model also featured chromed wire wheels with flush-mounted door handles which consumers were fond of. The taillight design also gave consumers a look at futuristic styling for Chrysler design models which were later used on other Chrysler models.

file 20150422102845 1950s Chrysler Style Influenced FutureChrysler K-310 ConceptAnother great looking concept model was the 1952 Chrysler C-200 model. This concept was the ultimate convertible conceived and designed at the styling and engineering headquarters in Highland Park. Ghia, the famous custom body builder of Turin, Italy, executed the body aboard, working with scale drawings and painted and trimmed scale models that were created by Chrysler engineers and talented designers. The C-200 model captured the feel and look of the European Sports car designs in the sweep of its new long, sleek lines that offered great new styling features. Advertising called this model “A prototype of the dramatic new convertible”. The C-200 show car was powered by the Chrysler “FirePower” V-8 engine and was painted in pale green and black and upholstered in black leather. The 1951 and 1952 Chrysler K-310 along with the C-200 concept models were among the first Chrysler future concepts under Mr. Virgil Exner and were considered achievements for the Chrysler Corporation during the early part of the 1950's.

file 20150422102950 1950s Chrysler Style Influenced FutureChrysler C200 ConceptOne of the most popular designed show cars to be introduced to the public in 1953 was the Chrysler D'Elegance. The Chrysler D’Elegance was a very popular two-passenger sports car designed model, it was called the “the newest prototype Sports Coupe”. The model offered a bold new design with a bright sprit of new ideas. The tire cover design on the rear deck introduced a new idea. By pushing buttons that were located inside the doors at the passenger side the driver could automatically lift the cover and the spare tire with it. The spare tire would then automatically move rearward and downward until it would come to rest behind the rear bumper for easy removal for the consumer. The interior was produced in hand-sewn black and yellow along with a top grain leather material. Chrome rimmed instruments were set in a great looking finished panel to match the yellow leather interior. The Dash was covered with a beautiful black leather design. Note that the door window was fitted with an unframed tempered glass and that the rear quarter window could be rolled back for ventilation.

file 20150422103052 1950s Chrysler Style Influenced FutureChrysler D- Elegance 1953

The 1953 Chrysler D'Elegance concept model was so popular that the Volkswagen Company copied the design which was later used for the Karmann-Ghia production model during the early 1960's. The model was designed by Ghia of Turin. Although, it was not advertised in the United States until 1961, the Karmann-Ghia went on to become a great Volkswagen success story that will always be a part of automotive history along with the popular designed models from Mr. Virgil Exner’s past achievements within the auto industry.

A special thanks to Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher, for donating the story to the MotorCities Story of the Week program. Photographs are courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection. (Bibliography: Dammann H. George . “70 Years of Chrysler” Crestline Publishing 1974. Langworth M. Richard. “Chrysler and Imperial: The Postwar Years” Motorbooks International 1976. Westrate Leonard . “Chrysler Looks Ahead” Automotive Industries December 1, 1951.)

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