Simca Special

Success of the Simca Special

Exner Jr. and Sr. espoused wedge-shaped fins. The Simca Special took the 'wedge look' to the extreme.
Exner Jr. and Sr. espoused wedge-shaped fins. The Simca Special took the 'wedge look' to the extreme.

Exner's achievement in designing the Simca Special was undoubtedly shaded by his father's eminence. By the time the article on the Simca appeared in the April 1959 issue of Road & Track, Exner's father had at last emerged from Loewy's shadow by creating a stunning string of Chrysler show cars, beginning with the K310.

Young Exner had achieved legendary status as the catalyst of the finned 1950s. His "wedge look" catapulted Chrysler from the design doldrums, where the company had languished since its inception, into its first legitimate reign as design leader.

Even though the younger Exner had taken the wedge theme beyond anything yet offered in Chrysler showrooms, both in extent and abstract purity, readers might have nevertheless assumed that he had merely aped his father -- as many stylists already had.

Worse yet, they might have assumed that his father bore some direct responsibility for the Simca's design. Other writers, who chose to feature both father and son in their photos of the car, reinforced this mistaken impression.

The Simca happened to break new ground that no one, including his father, had tread. It represented the simplest, most straight-forward expression of the wedge theme up to that time.

The flat ovoid constituting the basic body form -- especially as expressed in the nose and where it protruded through the fins to create ribs running the car's length -- foreshadowed the Corvette Sting Ray by some three years. (With enough time, Exner had planned to install pop-up headlights that would have presaged the Sting Ray even more.)

The innovative hood scoops, placed above the wheels to provide room for jounce, permitted a lower, flatter hood that seemed to run the full width of the car.

Other critics might have dismissed the car's design as merely irrelevant. By 1959 the short-lived fin era, discredited by flamboyant and excessive attempts by other manufacturers to outdo Chrysler, had about run its course.

So designers like Exner's father, who wanted to grow them large enough to offset the destabilizing effects of crosswinds (by shifting the car's center of air pressure aft of its center of gravity, as an arrow's feathers do), lost their opportunity.

To this day a designer would not dare to propose fins. Fins soon became irrelevant, anyway; as computer-aided design of compliant suspension systems began to solve the crosswind problem by the early 1960s -- with no impact on styling.

While in Korea, Exner arranged to exhibit the Simca and to win some trophies. Simca representatives saw the car at the Henry Ford Museum's Sports Cars in Review and sent word they'd like to borrow it. After refinishing it and installing a more plush interior, they showed it in the 1959 Paris Auto Show with Talbot nameplates (Simca had recently bought Talbot).

Simca shipped the car back to Exner in 1960, soon after he arrived at Travis Air Force Base, near San Francisco, for his next assignment. (As a token of their gratitude, they also shipped him a new Fiat 1500 Osca cabriolet!)

Exner showed the Simca around the Bay Area and won more awards, including one for the most creative car design at the 1960 Oakland Roadster Show. He picked up other trophies at area drag strips.

Exner sold the Simca and the Fiat to a car dealer in 1961 as he left the Air Force and the San Francisco Bay area. He had decided to return to Michigan where, among other things, he would continue design work for Ghia he had begun while in the service as a partner in his father's new consulting business. He is uncertain where the dealer's lot was but thinks it was somewhere in the East Bay, probably Oakland.

Go on to the next page to learn about the changes the Simca Special's current owner has made to the car.

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