Virgil Exner’s “Forward Look”

Virgil Max Exner Sr. was one of the foremost American automobile designers of the 20th century. He was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and attended the University Of Notre Dame for two years. Exner worked in design for General Motors, Loewy and Associates, and Studebaker before eventually finding a home with Chrysler in 1949. It is with Chrysler that Exner did his most important work.

Few designers in the history of the American automobile were as influential as Exner. He is best known for his pioneering “Forward Look” designs, which single-handedly created a major shift in the American automotive landscape. Leading up to the 1950s, auto body design was handled by engineers, with aesthetics taking a backseat (no pun intended) to functionality. By the late 1940s the public had tired of old-fashioned, boxy cars, and Exner was the man to help usher in a new era in design trends.

1956 Chrysler New Yorker

Exner’s Forward Look concept involved prominent tail fins, which he believed to be aerodynamically beneficial as well as stylish. Cadillac ushered in the fin concept, including small fins in their 1948 models, but Exner took it to another level with the flamboyant fins of his Chrysler designs. Exner’s new Chryslers also featured a lower roof and longer head, making for a sleeker look which stood in sharp contrast to the boxy Chryslers of the 1940s. Not only did Exner’s designs drastically alter Chrysler’s direction, but they also ushered in a trend which was followed by other notable American brands throughout the 1950s.

The Forward Look remained popular throughout the 1950s and into the early 1960s before eventually losing favor with the public. Love it or hate it, it made a major impact

Contributed By Fossil Cars Staff Writer

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