Chysler's financial crises of the early 1950s couldn't stop the string of Virgil Exner's Ghia concept cars


In 1953, Dodge unveiled its first concept car, the Firearrow, a sleek out-of-this-world roadster that provided a glimpse of what everyone's new automobile would look like in just a few years. While this stylish open-top car looked like it was ready to ply the highways of tomorrow, it was just a rolling concept display model and had no running gear. But the public response was strong enough that the approval was given to design and build an actual running prototype; thus was born the Firearrow II.

As with earlier versions of the Firearrow, the Series III coupe was mounted on a regular production chassis from the Dodge Royal, and the running gear was left in stock form, with the "Red Ram Hemi" V8 engine providing plenty of power. Suspension was also taken straight from production models, as was the recently introduced fully automatic Torque-Flite transmission.

Upon delivery to the Chrysler Corporation, the sleek blue coupe was earmarked to be the center attraction at the opening of the company's new Chelsea Proving Grounds in June 1954. Betty Skelton, one of the best aerobatic pilots in the world, took the Firearrow III out on the new banked oval and opened it up all the way. In the process she set a new world record for a woman on a closed course of 143.44 miles per hour, and this while wearing a dress and high heels!

Since that time, the Dodge Firearrow III has been treated to a ground up restoration by the gifted shop of Fran Roxas. The Firearrow III presents a most significant chapter as the only concept/dream car ever to hold a land-speed record, demonstrating that this beautiful blue Firearrow III Concept was not just built for show.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1954 Dodge Firearrow III Concept
Years Produced:1954
Number Produced:1
Original List Price:N/A
Tune Up Cost:$75
Distributor Caps:$19.95
Chassis Number Location:N/A
Club Info:None
Investment Grade:B

This 1954 Dodge Firearrow III Concept sold for $880,000 at the RM auction held in Phoenix, Arizona, on January 16, 2009.

The Harley Earl-designed 1938 Buick Y-Job is credited with being the first concept car created, and as with most of the concept/dream cars that followed, many features of the Y-Job turned up in later production models. Concept cars were and continue to be created for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is to judge the buying public’s reaction to new styling ideas and elements. They also stimulate the thinking of the automotive stylists while creating valuable attention and consumer interest for the particular manufacturer.

Chrysler, even while facing a severe cash flow crisis in the early 1950s, realized the significance and importance of creating public excitement with the creation of striking dream cars. Virgil Exner was tasked with the Mopar efforts and Ghia of Turin, Italy, upon receiving a 3/8-scale clay plaster model, constructed full-size running prototypes.

Certainly influenced the Dual-Ghia

The first of his creations was the K-310 coupe, with a 311 Hemi under the hood and an unusual dummy spare tire outline on the trunk. The Chrysler C-200 convertible followed, and both were briefly considered for production, but lagging sales in the overall car market created financial restraints and the plans were shelved. This did not, however, stop the procession of Exner-inspired concept cars, and the Chrysler Special and a second version that was nicknamed the “Thomas Special” (built for the president of Chrysler’s export division) followed. In 1953, the Ghia-built Chrysler D’Elegance evolved with gunsite taillights and faux decklid spare tire.

The Dodge Firearrow roadster first appeared as a two-seat mockup and was quickly followed by the Firearrow II, a fully functioning car based on the prototype. The Firearrow III, a sport coupe, was a further evolution of the design, and the Firearrow IV convertible, with folding top and roll-up windows, was ready for production. That didn’t happen, but the design certainly influenced the Dual-Ghia.

Other Chrysler concepts followed, including the Plymouth Belmont (intended as a Corvette and Thunderbird fighter) and the DeSoto Adventurer. The public never had the opportunity to see the 1957 Chrysler Norseman concept, with its cantilevered roof without an A-pillar, as it went down in the hold of the Andrea Doria in July 1956 on its way home from Ghia.

Trying to catch the Oldsmobile F-88

Numerous concept cars have come on the market in the past few years, as sellers attempt to catch the wave that swept the Oldsmobile F-88 concept over the $3m mark at Barrett-Jackson in 2005. None have even come close. The 1952 Chrysler Thomas Special realized $715,000 at an RM sale in March 2006, while the Chrysler D’Elegance brought $1,100,000 at Barrett-Jackson in 2006. The Firearrow II and IV were sold at Barrett-Jackson in January 2007 for $1,100,000 each; there were rumors the seller had expected far more.

Most concepts were not built for serious driving. For instance, the Lincoln Boano only had a five-gallon gas tank, and the previous owner of the Chrysler D’Elegance did not feel comfortable driving it across town due to its mechanical quirks. Not so with the Dodge Firearrow III, as evidenced by Betty Skelton’s record-setting exploits. All factors considered, we have to say that this concept could easily have brought a number in line with the Chrysler D’Elegance and the other Firearrows without surprise. However, these are challenging times for the market, so I would call this both well sold and very well bought.

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