the view through the windshield
1954 Dodge Firearrow: America Meets Italy

Chrysler products, especially Plymouth and Dodge, of the 1953-54 era were considered stodgy. They were practical, upright designs which lacked the pizazz of competitors' cars of the era. Chrysler's design chief Virgil Exner wanted to change all that and commissioned several swoopy show cars. Asked about his show cars by writer Michael Lamm in the early 1970s, Exner explained: "There was really only a single purpose in all of them, and that was to let the public know that Chrysler was thinking ahead as far as styling was concerned."

Exner's modus operandi was to take a conventional stock production chassis, sometimes shortened, and ship it to Italy where coachbuilders worked on the cheap in destitute postwar Europe. Finished cars were returned to the U.S., where they were exhibited at shows throughout the country.

In 1953 and 1954, Dodge created a handful of concept cars bearing the Firearrow name. In a Special Interest Autos article published in 1996, auto historian John F. Katz reported that, while Exner did indeed commission the last Firearrow, the actual design was done by the 16 year-old Italian son of one of Ghia's woodworkers in Turin.

The last of them, the Firearrow IV shown in the sketch, was a fully-operational four-seat convertible with roll-up windows and trunk. It also had a functional soft top. Flashiest of the series, the bright red Firearrow IV had a bold quilted black-and-white diamond-pattern leather interior, the front seats reclined, while the rear seats could be lifted out, revealing a mahogany luggage platform with chrome skid strips.

The car stood 55 inches tall, had an overall length of 190 inches and rode on a 119-inch wheelbase - a period Dodge Royal chassis. This Firearrow was powered by a 150 horsepower Hemi V8 coupled to Chrysler's Gyromatic Fluid-Drive semi-automatic transmission. It was the most functional and production-ready of the Firearrow concepts.

"I think we could have built that," Maury Baldwin, an Exner colleague who himself designed the 1955 Plymouth, told writer Richard M. Langworth. "But management at that point was very stodgy." Painted bright red, it was probably the most significant of the series because it influenced a limited-production car, the 1956-58 Dual-Ghia.

Eugene Casaroll, father of the-Dual Ghia, reportedly bought the rights to the Firearrow IV design and modified it for production. There is indeed a bit of Firearrow in the early Dual-Ghias - I last saw one of these rare cars at a Pebble Beach auction in 1996:

In 2007, the one-of-a-kind 1954 Dodge Firearrow IV was sold at auction for $1.1 million. (4/30/14)

Remember When: 1954
auto blogIn 1954, a polio vaccine was developed; children in Pittsburgh were received the first shots. A U.S. atomic test on Bikini Atoll in the Pacific went awry, producing a far stronger blast than expected. Prevailing winds spread radiation afar exposing many. One Japanese fisherman died. Further west, the French surrendered Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam.

The Army-McCarthy hearings began and were carried live on TV by ABC and DuMont. In September, Hurricane Hazel, the most severe storm in North American history, killed an estimated 600 to 1,200 people including 95 in the U.S. The B-52 flew for the first time. The first nuclear submarine, the USS Nautilus, was launched.

In auto news, Nash-Kelvinator Corp. and Hudson Motor Car Co. merged to form American Motors. Studebaker and Packard also merged. Ford debuted its Y-block engine, its first overhead-valve V-8 for passenger automobiles. First offered on a few specialty, limited-production vehicles, in 1954 General Motors offered panoramic wraparound windshields on many of its models, including all Cadillacs, Buicks and Oldsmobiles. Plymouths could now be had a with an optional two-speed Powerflite automatic transmission. Ford offered a Skyliner model with a green-tinted transparent Plexiglas roof panel; a corresponding Mercury Sun Valley also debuted as a '54 model. Regular gas was priced at less than 30¢ per gallon in 1954.

New products included M&M Peanuts, Con-Tact Paper, Sports Illustrated magazine, chlorpromazine (the first antipsychotic drug) and Muzak.

Little Matchbox cars arrived in America; they had been introduced in England the previous year. Priced at 25¢ and packaged in distinctive boxes, the upstart faced tough competition from traditional 10¢ diecasts from Tootsietoy, Midgetoy and Goodee. But the detailing on the little Matchboxes won America over and the brand became a '50s and '60s mainstay in the toy field.

Polypropylene plastic was invented in 1954. The same year, Bell Telephone Labs developed a solar battery. Swanson TV dinners debuted - frozen, assembly-line-prepared, mostly tasteless dinners in compartmentalized aluminum trays.

Heat and eat. Quickly. The first Shakey's Pizza Parlor opened in Sacramento, CA.

Comic strip 'Hi & Lois' debuted in '54; so did 'Marmaduke'. New words included desegregation, do-it-yourself, dragster, fallout and sci-fi.

New songs for 1954: 'Shake, Rattle & Roll' (Bill Haley and His Comets), Rosemary Clooney's 'Hey There', 'Stranger In Paradise' (Tony Bennett), 'Mr. Sandman' (The Chordettes), Perry Como's 'Wanted' and 'Oh Mein Papa' (Eddie Fisher). The first Newport Jazz Festival was held that year and, in July, a young singer with the unlikely name of Elvis Presley cut his first commercial record at Sun Studios in Memphis.

Top '54 movies: 'The Caine Mutiny', 'The Glenn Miller Story', 'On the Waterfront', Alfred Hitchcock's 'Rear Window', horror classic 'Them!', '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea' and 'Dial 'M' For Murder'. Movie star Marilyn Monroe married baseball legend Joe DiMaggio in January. In 1954, a movie ticket cost 55¢.

New television shows included 'The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin', 'Lassie' and 'Father Knows Best'. 'The 'Miss America Pageant' was televised for the first time in '54. Ronald Reagan began hosting 'General Electric Theater', now in its second television season. In 1954, a classic, well-remembered live commercial blooper caught everyone's attention when spokesmodel June Graham was unable to open the door of a Westinghouse refrigerator to show its interior features.

Deaths included quintuplet Emilie Dionne, Jacques Brandenberger (he invented cellophane in 1908), Samuel Crumbine (inventor of the flyswatter), actor Lionel Barrymore and football legend Glenn 'Pops' Warner.

The New York Giants win the World Series defeating the Cleveland Indians 4-0. Bill Vukovich won the Indianapolis 500 for the second year in a row, driving a Kurtis Kraft-Offenhauser. Vukovich died the following year attempting to win his third consecutive Indy 500.


More AutoSketch car drawings can be found here.
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Disclaimer

The facts presented in this blog are based on my best guesses and my substantially faulty geezer memory. The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and are protected by the U.S. Constitution. Probably.

Spelling, punctuation and syntax errors are cheerfully repaired when I find them; grudgingly fixed when you do.

If I have slandered any brands of automobiles, either expressly or inadvertently, they're most likely crap cars and deserve it. Automobile manufacturers should be aware that they always have the option of trying to change my mind by providing me with vehicles to test drive.

If I have slandered any people or corporations in this blog, either expressly or inadvertently, they should buy me strong drinks (and an expensive meal) and try to prove to me that they're not the jerks I've portrayed them to be. If you're buying, I'm willing to listen.

Don't be shy - try a bribe. It might help.


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