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Exner not included: Chrysler’s Firearrow II and Belmont flaunted outside design

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Photos courtesy Blackhawk Collection.

It’s easy to credit (or blame, depending on your tastes) Virgil Exner for designing just about every production and concept car Chrysler built in the Fifties, but that’s just not the case, as one can see from the pair of Chrysler concept cars from 1954 – the Dodge Firearrow II and the Plymouth Belmont – that Mecum will showcase during its Monterey auction.

The first Dodge Firearrow concept car of 1953 may not have had a working drivetrain – relegating it to pushmobile status – but it did carry styling distinct from what Exner had previously displayed with the voluptuous K-310, D’Elegance, and other early 1950s concept cars. Indeed, according to multiple sources, Ghia’s stylists (possibly even a 16-year-old son of a Ghia woodworker, according to an account in Special Interest Autos) came up with the prominent wraparound-beltline-bisecting-the-grille design, one that Exner reportedly offered guidance on but never took credit for.

The first Firearrow debuted at the Turin Auto Show in 1953 and generated enough demand for Chrysler executives to start thinking of how they could put it in production. As David Fetherston and Tony Thacker wrote in “Chrysler Concept Cars, 1940-1970,” magazine writers started reporting that production cars were forthcoming – reporting bolstered by the appearance of the Firearrow II in 1954.

Built on a 119-inch-wheelbase 1954 Dodge chassis with a 150hp 214-cu.in. Red Ram Hemi/Gyro-Torque four-speed semi-automatic drivetrain, the Firearrow II could actually move under its own power. It also displayed a more toned-down version of its predecessor’s styling. The prominent beltline and bladed fenders over slab sides remained, as did the big oval bisected grille, but this time the headlamps got pushed out to the extreme front corners.

Without windshield wipers or door handles or even a convertible top, the Firearrow II still wasn’t quite road ready, but in quick succession, Chrysler introduced the Firearrows III and IV later that year – the former a coupe, the latter a convertible – both with all the amenities customers expected from a road-going car. To casual observers, it looked like the magazine writers’ predictions might actually come true.

And they did, in a way. While Chrysler ultimately passed on putting the Firearrow concepts into production – likely as a Corvette competitor, despite the size difference – Detroit businessman Gene Casaroll liked the concepts enough to want to purchase the rights to their design. He had to get those from Ghia, which built the four concepts, rather than Chrysler, and once he did he set about revamping them as the Firebomb, the car that eventually evolved into the Dual-Ghia.

Separate from the Firearrow series of cars, Chrysler executives wanted to explore a Corvette competitor for budget brand Plymouth, so K.T. Keller asked Al Prance at Briggs to build him one. Prance, in turn, had Bill Robinson design a low, long roadster, one that Briggs would be able to manufacture out of fiberglass.

Like the Firearrow II, the resulting Plymouth Belmont was a driveable, if not road-legal, car. Unlike the Firearrow series of cars, it debuted more as a far-out concept car with little hype for a possible entry into production. Robinson, unimpressed with the way his design translated to a full-size car, allowed Exner to take credit for it for many years afterward.

Both the Firearrow II and the Belmont (along with the Firearrow IV and the Firebomb) have survived the decades and have ended up in the Blackhawk Collection. The former made its way there in 2007, after collector Sam Mann sold it for $1.1 million at Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale auction, while the latter re-joined the Blackhawk sometime after it came up for auction in 2014.

(The Firearrow III does still exist and last sold at RM Sotheby’s Monterey auction in 2011 for $852,500.)

For this year’s Mecum Monterey auction event, the Blackhawk will place both in a special exposition sale alongside a number of other Blackhawk-owned cars, including the Ford Thunderbird Italien concept car and a 1965 Ford GT40 prototype.

Mecum’s Monterey sale takes place August 15-17. For more information, visit Mecum.com.