Automobiles of Arizona

21 - 22 January 2010

Friday

Lot 257

1956 Chrysler "Plainsman" Concept Car

To be auctioned on Friday, January 22, 2010

High Bid of $160,000

  • Chassis no. 9999760


375 hp, 440 cu. in. overhead-valve V8 engine, Chrysler automatic transmission, Coaxial power steering with independent ball-joint front suspension, leaf springs with live axle rear suspension, “Safety-Power” hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 119"

During the hay day of Detroit’s “Dream Cars,” the annual auto shows were must-see events and the best place to witness just what tomorrow would hold for motorists of the future. The American buying public was treated to the latest styling trends, innovations, technologies and advancements in engineering, as well as a vast array of gadgets that could do anything from automatically parking one’s car to offering a place to cook a meal and wash dishes.

As Vice President of Styling for the Chrysler Corporation, Virgil Exner created a new school of automotive design. His “Forward Look,” as it was termed, would guide the design of all passenger car marques under the Chrysler corporate banner. Moreover, the post-war sales boom essentially gave Exner carte blanche to transform his visions of tomorrow into reality. Across the country and even around the world, Exner’s cars became the highlight of many stops on the auto show circuit as crowds would gather to see for themselves just what the future held.

One of the fastest growing segments in this automotive market in the mid-1950s was that of the station wagon. Exner’s response to this trend was the dream car he called “Plainsman.” The task of transforming Exner’s designs to a finished product fell to the famed Italian coachbuilders, Ghia. The actual car was crafted on a fully functional chassis with a complete drivetrain, so that it could be as practical and usable as any production Chrysler.

Finished in a captivating bronze metallic paint with an ivory-white padded top, the car was accented by extensive stainless steel and chrome. Headlights were sheltered in exaggerated reverse canted housings while a split front grille allowed for plenty of cooling air to the engine. There was a massive chrome bumper in front with simulated air intakes on the outer edges. To the rear of this modern wagon was a set of beautiful cathedral-style taillights, mounted into the peaked quarter panels. The gas filler tube is concealed under one of the taillights.

Factory promotional material stated the Plainsman was designed to reflect the “colorful and casual way of life that typifies the nation’s westward movement.” Unlike most of the station wagons available at the time, the Plainsman is a two-door model featuring a wide B-pillar, decorated with a hand-crafted steer’s head badge which provided a focal point for the Southwestern theme of the interior. There is comfortable seating for up to eight in a combination of leather bolsters, with genuine unborn baby calf-skin inserts, to help carry the motif throughout the vehicle. Up to six adults could sit comfortably on the front and center bench seats, while a rear facing power seat was accessible from the fold-down power tailgate. This trendsetting seat could accommodate a pair of youngsters in what would later be known as the “Spectator Seats.”

As stunning as this dream car was to behold, it was still a test bed for proposed production details that would eventually find their way onto the station wagons offered by Plymouth, DeSoto, Dodge and Chrysler. In addition to the rear-facing seats, another innovation first seen on the Plainsman was the unique storage of the spare tire, which was concealed under a flip-panel that comprised the lower portion of the right rear quarter panel and blends in with the design of the car.

A functional and utilitarian vehicle, the Plainsman offered over 106 cubic feet of load space with the tailgate lowered and the center and rear seats folded down. With the tailgate down, it provided just over seven feet of depth for storage and a width of five feet. All told, there was plenty of room for sports equipment, picnic gear, groceries, gardening supplies and more.

The effect was magnificent and the buying public was in love. The western-style Plainsman won rave reviews wherever it was shown, but as so often happens with one-of-a-kind vehicles of this type, it had to be retired from the limelight. Unlike a number of show cars that were destroyed after their show life was over, the Plainsman was more fortunate. Due to the fact that the body had been crafted in Italy by Ghia, Chrysler was told by US Customs that the car would have to either leave the country or pay the duty in 18 months. In 1957, the car was shipped to Cuba where it was loaned to the president of the Cuban bank who used it as a family wagon. The wagon was eventually purchased by the Chrysler Export Manager who was living in Cuba. This gentleman was later forced to escape Cuba in order to avoid being arrested by Castro’s government and took the Plainsman with him.

In the 1960s, he was assigned to Australia, during which time several modifications took place. First, in order to comply with local laws, the Plainsman was converted to right-hand drive. While it had originally been powered by what was described as a “Chrysler Special V8,” a modern 440 cubic inch V8 was installed with plenty of power. For many years, the legend of the Plainsman circulated around Australia and came back to the United States when this Export Manager retired.

It was enjoyed for nearly 20 years as a family car, driven on many occasions in the United States. A private collector eventually acquired the car and converted it back to left-hand drive. Presented in unrestored and “as-found” condition, this car is a tribute to the skill and craftsmanship of a bygone era of show cars. The details of its remarkable history and escape from Cuba have been obtained from conversations by the owner with the Export Manager’s family. It retains the 440 cubic inch V8 engine and automatic transmission and continues to be very drivable and street legal. The consignor does, however, encourage a complete cosmetic restoration.

This is a remarkable, trendsetting and one-off station wagon in the grand tradition of the American West. Its offering represents a unique opportunity unlikely to be repeated.

Addendum

Please note that this lot is being sold on "Bill of Sale Only"

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alain Squindo


Detroit, Michigan

Alain Squindo joined RM Auctions in 2007, after graduating from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., with a degree in History. R... read more

Alex Classick

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United Kingdom

Alex Classick joined RM Europe in 2011 as a car specialist, after graduating from Nottingham University with a degree in Business Mana... read more

Alexander Weaver

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California, USA

Alexander Weaver joined RM Auctions in 2011 as a car specialist, after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born into ... read more

Annette Abaci

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Germany

With post-secondary degrees in Economic Science and Mechanical Engineering, Annette Abaci initially worked part-time at Mercedes-Benz ... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

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+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a senior car specialist, after more than a decade in the collector car hobby... read more

Dan Warrener

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Ontario, Canada

Possessing a degree in Economics from Brandon University, Dan Warrener spent the initial stages of his career working around the globe... read more

Don Rose

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United States

Don Rose joined RM Auctions in 2006, after many years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputatio... read more

Donnie Gould

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Florida, USA

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

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Ontario, Canada

Gord joined RM Auctions in 1998, initially responsible for the transportation and logistics of the company’s auction and restora... read more

Ian Kelleher

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New York, United States

Ian Kelleher began his automotive career immediately following his graduation from Oberlin College, with a B.A. in Politica... read more

Jack Boxstrom

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+1 818 703 2816
Ontario, Canada

Jack Boxstrom joined RM Auctions in late-1996 to assist with the recently acquired, and subsequently record-breaking, auction in Monte... read more

Max Girardo

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+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Max Girardo started his career in the vintage automobile industry in 1998, joining Brooks Auctioneers (now Bonhams) as a car specialis... read more

Mike Fairbairn

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+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Auctions, Mike Fairbairn has a longstanding interest in the classic car industry. Graduati... read more

Peter Wallman

pwallman@rmauctions.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Peter Wallman joined RM Europe in 2007, following nearly two decades in the international advertising industry, read more

Rob Myers

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

As chairman and founder of the RM Group of Companies, Rob Myers’s entire career has been devoted to the classic car industry. Ro... read more

Shelby Myers

smyers@rmauctions.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, USA

Shelby Myers literally grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to w... read more

Vinnie Mandzak

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California, USA

Vinnie Mandzak joined RM Auctions’ California office in 2012 as a car specialist, following more than 30 years’ experience... read more