It’s one of just two

Virgil Exener’s swansong within the Chrysler Corporation, the Plymouth XNR prototype, created quite a stir at the dawn of the ‘60s and Ghia thought it would be profitable to turn it into a road car. The Asimmetrica was thus born, but even it was too extreme for the consumer and only two were built, both of which had NASCAR goodies hiding under the hood.

Backstory

1961 Plymouth Asimmetrica Roadster Exterior
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From Harley Earl’s GM LeSabre to the Ford FX Atmos and the Cadillac Cyclone, the 50’s produced some of the most dazzling concept cars.

All drew their inspiration from the space race, stemming from man’s desire to reach into deep space. Back then, designers thought that the customer’s biggest wish is to ride aboard a contraption that looked much like a rocket and Ford even popped up with a nuclear-powered car in the Nucleon. By comparison, the Pinto seems tame.

One of the decade’s most revered designer was Chrysler Corporation’s Chief Designer Virgil Exener who built much of his reputation on the Space Age concept car. The trend was seeing its last days in the late ‘50s and, by 1960, the message from the market was clear: no more wings and acres of chrome! People wanted understated daily drivers like the Ford Falcon, so people like Exener started to be phased out.

1960 Plymouth XNR Concept Exterior
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Before going away, however, Exener came up with his swansong: the cleverly-named XNR.

The car, a strange-looking two-seater was something that Exener was planning on doing for a long time, and he looked at sports car racing for inspiration. The car had a scoop on the left-hand-side of the hood which extended back towards the driver and, as it did, the hump grew larger until it met with the sculptured windshield which rose higher on the driver’s side for protection. The hump continued behind the driver’s head akin to the design of a Jaguar D-Type. The chrome fin at the back met with the rear bumper, their merger forming an X shape.

1961 Plymouth Asimmetrica Roadster Exterior
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Sharply protruding wings and side-mounted exhausts complemented the appearance of the XNR which was powered by a 2.8-liter slant-six which produced 250 horsepower thanks to some NASCAR-borrowed goodies.

It was a lot for the Valiant platform it used, but Ghia, who put the car together, liked it so much that they reckoned a more docile version could actually find buyers.

Thus, one year later, the Asimmetrica Roadster was born. It featured all of Exener’s bold design cues but toned down for a limited-run series production that was on the cards. The interior was redesigned, having now the capacity to seat four, the fin was almost gone, and two of the inboard headlights were moved to the sides disrupting the chiseled lines of the nose.

It still featured the slant-six with added Hyper Pak made for going stockcar racing, and it seemed that Exener’s dream of seeing a sporty open-top Plymouth on the road was finally going to happen. Sadly, it wasn’t to be, and Ghia only managed to put together two Asimmetricas one of which being the car we see here that was sold at the RM|Sotheby’s Monterey event for a hefty sum – not as much as the genuine XNR, which also crossed the block four years ago.

Exterior

1961 Plymouth Asimmetrica Roadster Exterior
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The Asimmetrica Roadster is a good representation of the path a car goes from concept car form to being somewhat ready for production.

As wacky as the front end is, the overall lines of the body are far less in-your-face than Exener’s original design. Granted, I am more partial with his idea to have the two pairs of headlights within the front grille keeping the front rather minimalistic in appearance. This was changed on the Asimmetrica which has two inboard headlights with the other two sitting in unnatural-looking carvings on the wings just ahead of the front wheel arches.

This makes the car look especially frowny with the front wing flares acting as oversized eyebrows. The indicators have also been relocated from their original position above the front wheels as an integral element of the flares to just under the outboard headlights. One may say that the original design felt more modern than what was slated to go into production but, undeniably, the end result is a nose that’s both eye-catching and eerily similar to the 1960 Lancia Flaminia Loraymo.

1961 Plymouth Asimmetrica Roadster Exterior
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Something else that changed from the prototype was the size of the hump on the hood and its aesthetic relevance.

While on the XNR it was an integral part that met with the dash and the windshield and was then continued by the elongated rear fin, the one on the Asimmetrica is there to merely give an explanation for the car’s name.

That’s because the Roadster has a full-size windshield that no longer follows the shape of the hump which does, however, rise just enough to follow the top edge of the dash which goes up to house a big speedometer and other gauges.

Viewed from the side, the Asimmetrica still shines through as different as the wing flare goes almost as far back as to meet with the door handle. One can imagine producing the door panels, even for a 25-strong limited-run production, wouldn’t have been cheap. It does look interesting kindred to a supersized expression of the edge-like fins just above the wheel arches of a Sting-Ray, only moved upwards to the waist of the vehicle.

The rear is vastly different with elongated taillights that follow the car’s edges and a more traditional bumper. The trunk is located to the right of the shrunken fin, no longer punctuated by the presence of a circular plate for the nametag. The car also lost its Indy-style side exhaust pipes, and a single exhaust pipe exiting at the back took their place.

1961 Plymouth Asimmetrica Roadster Exterior
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All this proves that Ghia really tried to make the XNR a car suitable for the road through the Asimmetrica, but it never happened.

Out of the planned 25 cars, only to rolled out of the Italian workshop which had previously collaborated with Exener on other projects such as the Chrysler Diablo.

Interior

1961 Plymouth Asimmetrica Roadster Interior
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The rugged interior of the XNR – including its strap attached to the interior door panel to pull the door when you get on board – is gone with the Asimmetrica which brings European 60’s luxury under the Plymouth badge.

You get tons of tan leather and plush carpeting that extends all over the transmission shaft cover. Elements of the dashboard like the steering column, the top of the instrument panel are still colored in red like the exterior.

The original drilled steering wheel of the XNR is gone, but that’s no reason for complaints as its replacement is just as classy with a thicker wood rim and three spokes. The interior door panels now feature an armrest, and that’s where you also find a small lever that controls the side half windows.

Uncommonly, the gear shifter is not located on the transmission tunnel but to the left, inside the driver’s bay. Atop the tunnel is only an ashtray, with a chrome cover, of course. The Asimmetrica comes with a radio and, originally, it was meant to fit four people although the car sold in Monterey has what looks like a luggage deck behind the seats. The upholstery is particularly tasteful with oblique lines that point to the middle of the interior. The car comes with a tan hardtop so that your prized interior doesn’t get ruin if a shower decides to darken your day.

Drivetrain

1961 Plymouth Asimmetrica Roadster Exterior
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Despite its air-slashing looks and XNR roots, the Asimmetrica isn’t much more than a relaxed boulevard cruiser.

The red roadster is propelled by the 2.8-liter Chrysler slant-six engine with the Hyper Pak, but it didn’t have all the competition upgrades that more than doubled the power on the XNR.

The Hyper Pak still meant that, unlike on the basic Valiant, it came with a long-ram intake manifold that accepted a four-barrel Carter AFB carburetor, dual cast-iron exhaust headers, a larger Y-shaped exhaust pipe for the headers, a more durable clutch, and manual choke control.

The power output with all those upgrades? A meager 101 horsepower. Not much, especially when you consider that the Hyper Pak as a whole was intended for competition and would prove rough in city driving with extended period of times needed to let the car warm up and far from the smoothest idle. With its Dick Burke-designed nose, the XNR hit 150 mph, but the Asimmetrica was much slower.

Prices

1961 Plymouth Asimmetrica Roadster Exterior
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The Asimmetrica is one of the rarest cars in the world with only two units built. Due to its oddness, though, it did not fetch too much money this year at Monterey where it was sold for just $335,000. The XNR, on the other hand, sold four years ago for $935,000. The car seen here has a storied past having been owned by French novelist Georges Simenon.

Ghia first showed off the Asimmetrica at the 1961 Turin Motor Show where it attracted a large crowd of puzzled onlookers but not many buyers.

Then, at the Geneva Motor Show, Simenon saw the car and decided to make an offer for it right then and there as he recollects in his memoirs. “On the Chrysler stand, I am struck by a splendid flame red car, with a new and unseen line. I am fascinated by the model and address the seller, who introduces me to the famous Italian coachbuilders Ghia, the creator of this exclusive model. The price is shocking, but . . . I buy it for (my wife) Denyse; I sign a check, and Ghia promises to deliver the car immediately after the show closes.”

The car then passed through a few other collections, some owners deciding it would look better in black and then in white before being restored to its original condition. It won’t probably come back to an auction house too soon.

Competition

Lancia Flaminia Loraymo

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A car such as the Asimmetrica doesn’t have competition on the market since it never entered the market as such. With that being said, and having drawn parallels to the Loraymo, I think this car is an alternative if you’re looking for a fixed-head coupe version of the Asimmetrica.

The Flaminia Loraymo was designed by Raymond Loewy, the man behind the Studebaker Avanti. In fact, the car’s name is an anagram of his own name. The car is powered by a 2.6-liter V6 capable of 140 horsepower which sits underneath the coke bottle-like surfaces of the car. This isn’t just an accident, Loewy’s studios being the ones who designed the small Coca-Cola bottle. The recessed front fenders make it seem like an estranged cousin of the Asimmetrica and, just like the Ghia car, it raised many eyebrows when presented at the 1960 Paris Motor Show. It also has one hood scoop on the left-hand-side, although much narrower in shape.

Conclusion

1961 Plymouth Asimmetrica Roadster Exterior
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Out of the many what-could-have-been stories in the automotive world, that of the Plymouth Asimmetrica Roadster is one of the least known. It was heavily inspired by one of the last Jet Age concept cars penned by one of the greats of the era but it never got customers moving quite how builder Ghia had hoped.

The two units built survive to this day, but it’s still an extremely rare car which, thanks to its off-centred styling will not be missed on the rare occasions that it leaves its hiding spot.

  • Leave it
    • The design is a matter of taste
    • Not the smoothest ride out there, even for a ‘60s roadster
    • Could use more powers to aid its sporty physique

Further reading

1960 Plymouth XNR Concept Exterior
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Read our full review on the 1960 Plymouth XNR Concept.

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