Virgil Exner, the designer behind the clean "Forward Look" styling of Chrysler's 1955 models and the spectacular fins of the 1957 that caught General Motors off guard, is born on Sept. 24, 1909, in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Exner is credited with crafting a new shape with innovative designs that made many American cars of the 1950s true "dream machines." Exner displayed artistic talent at a young age and studied art at the University of Notre Dame in the 1920s, before dropping out of school. He began his career in 1928 as an illustrator for Advertising Artists of South Bend, Ind., where he created illustrations for Studebaker catalogs.
His work caught the eye of Harley Earl, head of design at GM, and he joined the automaker's Art and Color Section, becoming, at 24, the youngest head of a GM styling division.
Exner served as chief stylist for GM's Pontiac studios from 1935 to 1938.
In 1938, noted industrial designer Raymond Loewy recruited Exner to join his design studio, where Exner was placed in charge of the Studebaker account, creating designs for some of Studebaker's most popular models. They included the first Champion in 1939, a new line of Champion, Commander and President models in 1941, and the 1947 Starlight coupe.
The first postwar car to come from a U.S. automaker was the 1947 Studebaker, with panoramic glass from B-post to B-post. It was designed by Loewy and Exner, and it propelled Studebaker to record sales.