Monterey | Lot 259
1961 Plymouth Asimmetrica Roadster by Ghia
$335,000 USD | Sold
| Monterey, California
25 August 2018
- Design successor to the legendary Plymouth XNR
- Displayed at both the Turin and Geneva Motor Shows of 1961
- Originally delivered to renowned detective novelist Georges Simenon
- Very rare NASCAR-specification Hyper-Pak slant six engine
- Offered from two decades of private enthusiast ownership
VIRGIL EXNER’S CROWNING GLORY
Legendary designer Virgil Exner Sr.’s tenure at Chrysler was nearing an end in the early 1960s, as his flamboyant Space Age tendencies came into conflict with a management and public seeking increasingly less dramatic automobiles, shorn of the excess chrome décor and tailfins upon whom he had relied for much of the previous decade. Nonetheless, Exner went out with a bang, producing one final show car, the Plymouth XNR, with longtime partners, the Italian coachbuilding firm of Ghia. Creatively and slyly named for its outgoing creator, the XNR featured a dart-like asymmetrical shape, inspired by the Valiant’s slant six engine design, with a Jaguar D-Type-style headrest fairing that expanded into a massive tailfin. The tailfin crossed and extended through the rear deck, forming, naturally, an “X.”
Typical of Exner’s later show cars, the XNR was too wild to see production, but it attracted enough attention that Ghia and Exner soon began work on something very similar that could be produced in a small batch for special clients.
Depending upon whom one asks, the Asimmetrica was either begun by Exner very late in his tenure at Chrysler, then completed by Ghia, or was solely a Ghia design project, in the manner of the earlier Chrysler Specials they had independently produced for European clients. Its styling was toned down from the extreme XNR, including a four-passenger interior, a full windshield, and a more conventional tail and rear deck, without the large fin, but was still recognizably a sibling, due to the use of the XNR’s original bucks for many of the body panels. Like the XNR, it was based upon a largely stock Plymouth Valiant chassis, engine, and drivetrain, but with the Hyper-Pack features of cast-iron split headers and a Carter AFB carburetor, similar to the infamous NASCAR Valiants.
Controversy similarly surrounds how many of the Asimmetricas were produced. General consensus is that a run of 25 was planned, but that at most only two roadsters were completed. The first appeared on Ghia’s stand, identified as simply the Asimmetrica (with no assigned manufacturer), at the Turin Motor Show in 1961.
It is believed that the Turin show car was later shown at Geneva, where it was purchased by Georges Simenon, the French author of the Maigret detective novels, as noted in David Burgess-Wise’s Ghia: Ford’s Carrozzeria and Simenon’s own Intimate Memoirs. “On the Chrysler stand I am struck by a splendid flame red car, with a new and unseen line,” Simenon recounted. “I am fascinated by the model and address the seller, who introduces me to the famous Italian coachbuilders Ghia, the creator of this exclusive model. The price is shocking, but . . . I buy it for [my wife] Denyse; I sign a check and Ghia promises to deliver the car immediately after the show closes.”
Simenon’s car was later sold by the Swiss dealers Rob de la Rive Box and Roger Meyer of Villmergen to the well-known Blackhawk Collection in 1989. De La Rive Box featured the car in two editions of his book, Encyclopaedia of Classic Cars: Sports Cars 1945–1975, finished both in green and as he sold it, in a non-original white with red accents and a black interior, both with the same incorrect hubcaps, and identified it as having been owned by the author.
Blackhawk’s restorers spent a year restoring the Asimmetrica to its original condition. The car was finished in its original color of red, with a tan interior and as near the original wheel covers as could be found. After completion the car was exhibited at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 1990.
In 2000 the car was sold by Blackhawk to a collector in the Pacific Northwest, from whose family it is now offered. Aside from an appearance several years ago at the Forest Grove Concours d’Elegance in Oregon, it has not been publicly shown, but rather maintained, occasionally driven, and enjoyed, therefore offering up a world of further possibilities for a new owner willing to return the Asimmetrica to the public eye.
The offering of a special Exner show car is always a rare and special occasion, and with many of his unique designs now ensconced in private collections and not available, the Asimmetrica is certainly bound to stir excitement, wherever its wild and provocative lines appear. Its designer would have had it no other way!