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How A Chrysler 'Dream Car' Survived Revolution And A Civil War in Beirut

August 03 2012 00:00  2002 views
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A would-be Corvette beater goes to auction after being owned by the Shah of Iran and found in war-torn Beirut.

RM Auctions will sell the 1960 Plymouth XNR next month in Monterey, Calif. around the festivities of the annual Concourse d'Elegance, perhaps adding another adventure for the storied car with a fascinating history. The concept car penned by legendary Chrysler designer Virgil Exner was meant to take on the likes of the then-new Chevrolet Corvette. It's high performance six-cylinder engine could create 250 horsepower and had a top speed of 150 mph.

But Chrysler never saw the market for a one-seat roadster with a unique asymmetrical fin behind the driver – a design element taken from Indy cars. Instead of sending this so-called "idea car" to the scrap heap, it went to coach-builder/design studio Carrozzeria Ghia in Italy. That was just the first leg of an odyssey that would span six decades.

Ghia then sold it, and the XNR eventually landed in the garage of Mohammad Reza Pahlevi, an avid car collector and, at the time, the Shah of Iran. Pahlevi later sold it to a Kuwaiti businessman, and then the car disappeared for more than a decade.

In the early 1980s, the XNR was discovered by Karim Edde in an underground garage in Beirut during the middle of a brutal civil war. Edde says he knew what it was immediately because it was had been featured in a book he cherished about "dream cars." Hardly believing what he was looking at, he bought it immediately. But keeping the car safe was problematic, especially with gunfire and explosions going off everywhere. "I hid the XNR in an underground warehouse," Edde told RM Auctions, "that seemed safe at the time, but ... the last two years of the war were so bad, I had to move the car many times to save it from destruction."

More than 20 years went by before Edde took the car to RM Restorations in Canada to begin having the car restored. Some of the pieces on it, such as the hubcaps, had to be fabricated by hand. "When we received the XNR in 2008, the body shell was intact and, considering its history, in surprisingly good condition," said Mario Van Raay, general manager of RM Restoration. The XNR will be sold on Aug. 18. No price estimate has been giving for this one of a kind car. It's difficult, after all, to put a price tag on a dream.

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