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Visionary car designer honored

Theresa Civantos | Monday, October 1, 2007

Notre Dame hosted a car show Saturday featuring the work of the late legendary Chrysler designer Virgil Exner.

Exner was Chrysler’s first vice president of styling and worked for the Studebaker Corporation, which was based in South Bend.

The event, coordinated by Notre Dame’s industrial design program, included a show at the Stepan Center from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and a 7:30 p.m. lecture at the Snite Museum of Art delivered by Peter Grist, author of “Virgil Exner: Visioneer.” “Visioneer” is the first written biography of Exner.

Virgil Exner, Jr., also an automobile designer, spoke about his father’s vision and legacy.

Pictorial histories and presentations on Exner’s iconic achievements were presented throughout the day at the Stepan Center.

“The spirit of this event was Virgil Exner, Jr,” Paul Down, a Notre Dame professor of art, art history, and design said, who played a key role in bringing the Exner exhibit to Notre Dame.

Virgil Exner, Jr., a Notre Dame alumnus, contributed to Notre Dame’s being chosen to host this event because of his personal connection.

“The No. 1 reason for this event,” Down said, “is that this is an opportunity for the University to give back for all it received in the 1940s and ’50s. We owe it to Virgil Exner. He made a grand investment in Notre Dame.”

Notre Dame students primarily staffed the car show, which featured 13 of Exner’s designs.

“There’s never been a celebration of Virgil Exner before,” Robert Elton said. “I’ve been a fan of [Exner’s] work since I was nine.”

Exner’s visionary designs include trademark tailfins and curved window glass, which has since become an industry standard. He foresaw with prophetic accuracy that cars of the future would be wedge-shaped, Exner, Jr. said.

“Virgil Exner believed in beautiful designs with a practical function,” Grist said. “He created what people wanted in a car in two or three years, not twenty.”

Grist gave a book signing on stage during the car show.

“We live in a world of mediocrity and blandness,” Grist said. “That’s why we have to give our congratulations to Virgil Exner for creating these iconic masterpieces that are still beloved today.”