After a tussle with Raymond Loewy over who was to be credited for Studebaker’s groundbreaking 1947 Starlight Coupe, Exner landed at Chrysler in 1949, in the advanced styling studio. It took a bit of time for him to exert his influence over the conservative Design Department there. His strong interest in European design led to a number of prototypes that were designed by him and a small team and built by Ghia in Italy (Ghia was cheaper than Farina). The first significant one was the K310 of 1951, which previewed a number of design features soon to be seen in production Chryslers:
Flush door handles, open wheel wells with wire wheels, egg-crate grille, free-standing bomb-sight taillights, and that irrepressible Exner signature spare tire imprint on the rear deck. To my knowledge, this is the first appearance of Exner’s long-lived “toilet seat lid”. Built on a 125″ wb Saratoga chassis, the K-310 it also featured Chrysler’s superb new 180 hp Hemi engine.
The K310’s mission in life was to tour dealerships around the country to show that Chrysler was not totally stuck in a box.
In reality, the K310 and its successor Ghia built specials’ influence was limited, at least for a few more years, until Exner’s influence in the conservative company finally took hold for the new 1955 line. But the series of design specials that originated at this time in Exner’s studio are some of the best of his work, especially the ones that followed the K310. Tomorrow night’s dreams will be good ones.