1953-1954 Dodge Firearrow

The Firearrow II and Firearrow III
The Gyro-Torque shift selector came from the parts bin.
The Gyro-Torque shift selector came from the parts bin.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The Firearrow II did manage to stay on U.S. territory. After finishing the 1955 round of car shows, it was sold in Hawaii, possibly to a member of the Hearst family. There it remained for about 20 years. "A California collector then got it, and offered it to me in the mid-Eighties," Joe continues. "He had it apart, a basket case. It would need heavy restoration, but he wanted it to join the family. He knew about the dream car collection and wanted it to be there. That's the chief reason why owners of these cars come to us. Our goal is to preserve a unique heritage: to ensure that 200 years from now, people will still be able to experience these examples of automotive sculpture."

Another Firearrow now under restoration by Marc and Joe is the 1954 sport coupe, Virgil Exner's further step toward a production Dodge sports car -- as indicated by its door handles, roll-up windows, fully-framed windshield, and rearview mirrors. Handsomely finished in metallic blue with gray side molding and a blue and white interior, Firearrow III sported a huge, new grille cavity with concave vertical bars, flanked by quad headlamps. Though the chassis/drivetrain was initially stock Dodge, the coupe body aided streamlining. After engine modifications, Betty Skelton took the Mark III around Chrysler's new Chelsea, Michigan, banked test track at 143.44 mph, setting a new ladies' closed-course world speed record.

The small factory photo shows how faithfully Joe and Marc Bortz restored the Firearrow II, right down to the original pale yellow paint and black grille bar.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Last of the Firearrows was a late 1954 convertible, another practical car with roll-up windows, trunk, and conventional door handles; it also had a functional soft top. "I think we could have built that," Maury Baldwin, an Exner colleague who himself designed the 1955 Plymouth, told this writer. "But management at that point was very stodgy. A lot of people attributed it to the old Airflow disaster. They were afraid to make any new inroads." Flashiest of the series, Firearrow IV had a bold quilted black and white diamond-pattern leather interior; the front seats reclined, while the rears could be lifted out, revealing a mahogany luggage platform with chrome skid strips. Painted bright red, it was probably the most significant of the series, because it influenced a limited-production car, the 1956-1958 Dual-Ghia (of which 177 were reportedly built). "There are no interchangeable panels [between the two]," says Joe Bortz, "but it is long established that this car was the Dual-Ghia's inspiration."

A novel feature was the twin-trunks.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Unfortunately, Firearrow IV has thus far eluded the Bortz net.

Since Joe Bortz is now probably more familiar than any person alive with the myriad curves and contours of two dozen dream cars, I was interested in his opinion: How do Exner's creations compare, say, with those of General Motors, which had 10 times the staff and 50 times the money? "Exner's cars were more finely executed as 'sculpture,'" Joe said after reflection. "As pure 'expressions,' GM had the edge. But Exner was taking sheetmetal, chrome, leather, and glass and combining it in different values to make a statement, an automotive sculpture. In his early years at Chrysler he was a one-man band."

What music Virgil made. . .

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