Plainsman spent years roaming Australian roads

Did you know that a 1956 Chrysler concept car, the Plainsman, spent many years of hard use in Australia?

How this car came from the glittering turntables and bright lights of American auto shows to cruising the Australian outback is one of those great retro yarns that is well worth telling.

Back in the 1950s one of the fastest growing segments of the automobile market in the USA and Australia was the station wagon.

Chrysler decided to tap into this trend and developed a dream station wagon dream, a concept car called “The Plainsman” which it put on display at auto shows and major dealerships around the USA.

The wagon was designed at Chrysler in the USA and a 3/8th scale model sent to Ghia in Italy for construction as a full-sized, fully-operable motor car.

Finished in a bronze metallic paint with an ivory-white padded roof, the car was given lavish applications of stainless steel and chrome.

Up front the massive chrome bumper had simulated air intakes on the outer edges.

At the rear, cathedral-style tail lights capped long fins.

The petrol cap was hidden inside the left tail light.

The decor was an all-western theme.

The seats were covered in — wait for it — leather made from “unborn” calf skins (the mind boggles).

A rear-facing seat was accessible from the fold-down power tailgate.

This innovative idea would be copied by all American car makers, including our 1970s XA-XC Falcon which could also be ordered with one.

Another innovation was storage of the spare tyre behind a flip-out-panel in the right rear fender.

The Plainsman received rave reviews wherever it was shown.

However, after it had served its purpose, Chrysler had to make a decision about what to do with the car.

Because the Plainsman had been built in Italy, US Customs insisted the car would have to either leave the country, be destroyed or Chrysler pay import duty.

In 1957, the car was shipped to Cuba where it was eventually purchased by Chrysler’s South American Export Manager, Elwood Parrish.

Parrish and his family left Cuba when Fidel Castro took over the country and they took the Plainsman with them to Puerto Rico.

In the early 1960s Parrish was assigned to Chrysler Australia and he brought the Plainsman with him.

During his time here, the car was converted to right hand drive and driven extensively.

Parrish was then moved to Japan and later, Mexico.

When Parrish retired the Plainsman returned with him and the family to the United States where the car driven for almost two decades.

In the early 1990s it was acquired by a private collector who returned it to left-hand drive.

The Plainsman still exists in private hands and you could have seen it at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in March, 2018.


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