The Forward Look Lineup and the Little Known Designer
In the race to build the biggest tail fins, Chrysler designers created the lineup of cars they dubbed “The Forward Look.” This style lasted from 1955-1961 and was created by Virgil Exner, who studied car design with the master, Harley Earl. These cars have a signature look that sets them apart from their General Motors competitors and continues to make them popular collectibles today.
The Forward Look collection of cars includes the Plymouth Belvedere and the Dodge Matador. Before Exner took over as top designer, Chrysler’s designs were boxy and meant for men wearing bowler hats and cravats. Once Exner took control, he lengthened the cars, making them look sleek and modern. He added tail fins that started small on the 1955 Chrysler 300, but eventually grew to epic proportions on the 1960 Dodge Matador. Sadly, the Dodge Matador was one of the last Mopar cars to wear fins, because as soon as the decade changed, fins quickly disappeared. (Ironically, the Dodge Matador only lasted for one year, too.)
Taking a look at the Forward Look designs, it is easy to see two influences. It appears that Exner was not only looking forward to the Space Age designs with his tailfins, jet-pod lights, and torpedo tail lights, but that he was also designing cars that were really looking forward. Each of Exner’s cars appeared to be moving, even when standing perfectly still because the angles he designed. The front of each of his cars was no longer boxy and flat; but, he managed to design a forward facing angle that stuck out slightly more at the top and angled in at the base of the grille. This design feature really made the cars “look forward.”
One of the most innovative designs in the “Forward Looking” lineup was the concept car Exner called the XNR, as a speedy play on his name. This car had all of the design elements that Exner was famous for – open wheel wells, forward facing front fascia, and one massive tail fin, that many people called the wedge. This car never made it to production, but it was an inspiration for the Batmobile from the early days of the television show.