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Virgil Exner’s “Forward Look” cars rocket upward in a down market

The story goes that back in 1953, one of Chrysler’s newest hires, designer Virgil Exner, said, “Let’s try giving the quarter panel this treatment.” And he waved his hand through the air in an up-swinging arc. With that, Chrysler’s so-called Forward Look was born. It hit the showrooms for the 1957 model year as a brace of lower and longer cars with elegant towering fins sweeping off the rear. All of Chrysler’s divisions, including Dodge, Plymouth, De Soto, and Imperial got a unique version, and the public went wild. Chrysler’s share of the U.S. market rose from 15–19 percent, market leader GM was forced to scrap its plans and respond, and Exner—his underlings called him “Ex”—would become a legend.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2020/01/24/virgil-exners-forward-look-cars-rocket-upward

An uptick in Forward look or just 300 letter series?

Sounds like these were some of the best of the best 300 series known in the collector world.

How have 300 letter series been doing in the past few years?

How are the plainer model forward look cars doing?

No different than talking about high-spec Corvettes vs. the common runs (or Mustang, etc.). 300 letter series occupy the same kind of place a Stutz or Dusenberg do as a long-percieved high-end collectible --and that space is well above the average person’s means.

The lack of interest among those under 50 is an interesting thing to me. I fit that category and love a lot of the 50s cars --but to most of my peers nothing they would want was made before mid 60s.

Couldn’t agree more with pepperalls here. Lettered 300s are one thing; the rest of the common Windsors and Saratogas and New Yorkers are something entirely different.

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It should be noted that you are reporting prices that include the buyer’s premium, not the actual sale price. Also, the AZ auctions do not reflect reality. They are all about folks with seven and eight figure bank accounts dropping large sums of money on one-off transactions, just because they fall in love with a particular car for whatever reason. Friends that were at this auction report that the 300D and 300E were poorly restored cars. The 300C has some historical importance, as it was the first 300C produced.

I am 27 and have had lots of Exner cars. I have about 7 now. They are the best kept secret of 50s cars. Tri-Fives and camaro/mustang crowds are boring. Drive a dodge!

@ronbo97 - I understand you point of view regarding the hammer price vs the reported sales price which includes buyers premium. I think the key to remember here is the buyer would not be taking the car home without paying the buyers premium, that final amount (hammer price+premium) is the amount it took to take the car home. These fees are not hidden and absolutely factor into the bidding and purchasing of vehicles.

Also, it is not all seven and eight figure sales at Scottsdale, we even talked about some of the better bargains to be had last week. A few in the sub-$10k range, which is not rare in the opening days of the Scottsdale auctions.

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I was the one who purchased the 57 300C convertible. It was Vin 1 for 1957. I also own 1955 Chrysler 300 Vin 1. It was important to me to marry these 2 cars and show them together. There were 3 other bidders up to 250k, 2 other bidders at 300k and finally another bidder pushed me to the final number. There wasn’t a lack of interest. There was a bidder, who would have bid what I bid, that stepped to the side. By luck, he sat beside me at the event and we chatted for a long time. His close friend had connections to the car and ultimately he decided to let me bid as he thought the car would be better off in my collection. If any of you want to see the Vin #1 57 300C, it will be on the HotRod power tour. Don’t want you guys thinking these cars don’t get driven :).

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The Forward Look design theme began by 1953, as it took 4 to 5 years to get to production. Virgil Exner Jr. was at the Concours of America at The Inn At St. Johns a couple of years ago and had a slide show of the actual desktop speed shape that he said was the inspiration for Sr.
ChryslerForwardLookModel2x6x300_4190|690x236 ExnerTalkScreenShot|334x398

The Exner finned Mopars are probably my favorite era. I’ve always loved the styling.

I had the pleasure of seeing a number of these cars at the Iola car show in WI. every year for quite a few years. They had some of the coolest features record players,swivel seats and ten miles of chrome. Alas the gent that owned them passed away and I believe they were sold at auction. I m afraid that the fifties cars an even the street rods are just not going to bring the money they cost to restore or build them any longer.

^This is a really interesting comment.

About 15 years ago where I live was the “Thunderbird rule” which was “a 55-57 TBird will fetch about 50k in our dollars. If you have to restore everything you will easily spend 30-40k. So a 15k basket case is a loss when you flip. A 3k basket case has profit potential. The more professional-level work you can do yourself the more you can make.”

The importance of the Thunderbird rule was "if you chosen make/model/year isn’t worth at least the 50k of the T-bird… you are going to lose money (excepting the do it yourselfer). Around that time we met a guy that was 75K into (no interior yet) a large oddball Chrysler from the early 70s --when done it would likely be the best one of that model around, but he’d be lucky to get 30k for it then (even now I doubt it would be a 50k car). He was totally breaking the T-bird rule and doing a concours level job of it.

However… let’s say people stop doing nice restorations on 50s cars. Demand drops, so prices will drop. Maybe this means some cars that could have been restored end up as parts cars. I think you could see an uptick in interest in those that want to build raw drivers because cost of entry will have gone down.

I said earlier collectable 50’s & 60’s cars are boomercars. These prizes are bought by people with big money. Only reason the Forward Chrysler cars are of any interest is a lower entry point. At this point in time for me, collectables are already out of touch.
A person that just wants one classic in his/her garage just for the weekend run is now moving on. Back yard mechanics all over the country are asking unrealistic prices for poor restores. These are the guys killing the entry market. You will see very soon the boomers are gone along with that trend to buy expensive iron.

Sounds like someone that just makes excuses. The best cars bring the biggest money. There are plenty of opportunities to purchase good cars on a budget.

FYI: The DeSoto from the Staluppi Collection sold. All vehicles were sold fom his collection without reserve.

-Muffy Bennett
Director, Collector Car Sector
Ritchie Bros’ Auctions/Leake Collector Car Auctions