The 1951 Chrysler K310 was the first Concept Car Virgil Exner designed after K. T. Keller had hired him away from Raymond Lowey Studios. The purpose of the car was to showcase Chrysler's new for 1951 Firepower Hemi engine. While it was Exner who designed the car, it was Ghia who built the body in Italy and shipped it to the US. It was the beginning of a long relationship between Chrysler and Ghia.
The inside joke was that the car got its K from Keller and the 310 from his weight.
Many of the styling ideas found their way on to the 1955 and 1956 Imperial.
In 1952 there was a convertible version called the C200, and that was followed by the Chrysler D'Elegance. Those dream cars solidified Tex Colbert's confidence in Exner and he was promoted to Chief of Styling and designed the Chrysler Corporation's cars for 1955. Some of the K310's features to make it to the 1955-1956 Imperial was the egg crate grill, rear kickup, and gunsight tail lights.
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Background of The Exner Era Dream Cars
Quick History of Exner
In 1932, A 23-year-old Virgil Exner was hired by GM's Art and Color Studio. Boss, Harley Earl immediately recognized Exner's design talent. Two years later Enxer was put in charge of the entire Pontiac Studio, a job he kept until 1939 when Raymond Lowry hired him to work on his studio's design contract with Studebaker. Exner worked with Lowry and Studebaker all through WWII, and when the highly advanced 47 Studebaker's were shown to the public in 1946, they were touted as "The First By Far With A Post War Car. It would be the 1949 Model year when the "Big Three" would catch up.
A dispute between Lowry and Exner over credit for the design of the 52 Studebaker caused Exner's firing. Studebaker wasnt impressed with the Lowry proposal for the 52s, and Exner showed them a design he'd been working on at home on his own time. Studebaker liked it and Lowry wanted credit for his employee's work. He was fired when he refused, but Studebaker picked Exner up for their in-house design team. There was little love between Lowry and Exner for the rest of each of their lives.
In 1949, Chrysler President K. T. Keller hired Exner away from Studebaker for the purpose of designing cars that would improve Chrysler's stodgy image. The Chrysler Corporation was well known for its engineering firsts, but not its styling. The Chrysler Corporation's "Small on the Outside - Big on the Inside" designs looked ancient when compared to the 49 Ford and GM offerings. Keller wanted the cars designed to where a man could drive with his hat on. This made the cars appear too tall.
At first Exner worked secretly on Advance Designs, but was soon promoted to head the studio. The model year designs were already locked in through 1954, so Exner began work on the 1955 model, the first year of the "Forward Look" designs.
Keller and Exner agreed that they should step up Chrysler's showing of Dream Cars to compete with Harley Earl's million dollar dream cars displayed in the Motorama shows. They felt this would create excitement with the public on updated designs that would hit the showrooms in the future. However, they would have to do it on a budget no where near the size GM had given Earl.
Exner and Ghia
While working on his first of the Chrysler Dream Cars, the K-310, Exner and his design team were at an impasse. On a previous trip to Italy, K. T Keller commissioned both Pininfarina and Ghia to each build a car of his loose design specs, but allowed them design creativity. The purpose was not to test their design skills, but to test them for quality, fit and finish.
Knowing that the Exner team was having trouble with K-310, Keller invited the team to view the cars that had just arrived from Italy. Pininfarina had closely followed the specs, while Ghia took great liberties with their allowed creativity. Ghia's car was very impressive. The Ghia submission was also far better in quality, fit an finish than the submission from Pininfarina. It was to became the Plymouth XX-500 show car. In addition to Ghia's craftsmanship, their design abilities were a pleasant surprise.
This began the long relationship between Chrysler and Ghia, and more importantly - collaboration between their designers.
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