Forgotten Concepts: the Dodge Deora

A design legend immortalized in toys was created by outside experts

If last thirty years, Chrysler’s business was alternately successful, half a century ago, one could say about the concern that it “blossomed and smelled”: the automobile giant regularly acquired shares in European companies, planned world expansion… It had enough money for everything. Including concept cars of different calibers.

In general, bright cars (and concept cars, too, naturally) Americans needed in those years – the country was embroiled in the Vietnam War, and many felt an acute need for something bright. Something that had nothing to do with militarism and reeked of a happy future. When in 1964, almost simultaneously with the Gulf of Tonkin incident, Dodge Trucks marketing people approached Mike and Larry Alexander Alexander, who owned Alexander Brothers Workshop, with a big order. The assignment was simple and complex at the same time – to build a show car that could be presented at a top-tier show like the Detroit Autorama.

The choice in favor of such “executors” seems strange only at first sight – probably, this name does not tell you anything, but by the middle of the 1960s, the Alexander brothers had built many hot-rods, which became famous all over the America. The quality of construction was the highest. This is probably why the Alexander Brothers’ workshop still exists today, although hot-rods are extremely rare.

As an aggregate base for a concept car, Alexander Brothers got a brand new Dodge A100 Pickup of 1965 model year. Since the brothers had no desire or possibility to design a concept from scratch, they went the proven way and asked Harry Bentley Bradley, a young designer who drew cars for Hot Wheels, General Motors and Alexander Brothers, for help. Most of AB’s hot rods were designed by him.

Bradley fairly quickly drew a fast, futuristic pickup truck, the main features of which were a cargo compartment “flowing” out of the cab, and a front half-door that opened upward. In the second half of 1965, preparations began – modeling the cab, welding the tubular frame, and reworking the frame to match the design.

While “molding” the concept car creators faced two problems. First, the engine and gearbox were in the frame in place of the future cabin, so they had to move them back by almost 40 centimeters. In the process of modifications the six-cylinder 2.8-liter engine was forced from 145 powers to about 165, and the standard gearbox gave way to a three-speed Hurst, custom-made.

The second problem was the common front door that Bradley was so proud of. In its original form it turned out to be too heavy and uncomfortable (to comfortably leave the car, it had to be opened upward at a huge angle), so the Alexander brothers divided it in half: the upper section still went up, and the lower section rotated around its axis, like the carousel doors in government offices and shopping malls. Harry Bradley didn’t like this option very much, but he understood that it was the only sensible and sufficiently futuristic solution.

Other parts of the concept car were pieced together by thread: the windshield was the rear window from a Ford Country Station Wagon, the rear window was taken from a Ford Galaxie sedan, the chrome trimmed exhaust pipes were made from the frame of the Mustang, and the steering wheel was carved from an ordinary Oldsmobile Toronado steering wheel. A special gold paint job completed the picture.

Already at the design stage, an agreement was signed that the concept would be produced as a Hot Wheels toy. But hardly any of the guys would brag to their friends about “Mom and Dad bought me XTAB”, which was the name of the car during the development (eXperimental Truck Alexander Brothers). AMT, the company that is directly related to Hot Wheels, organized a contest for the best name for the car. The winner was a 13-year-old boy who suggested the name Deora, a somewhat romanticized version of the Spanish Dorado (“gold”).

The final version of the pickup, ready in early 1966, pleased the Chrysler management so much, that Deora was proudly presented at the Detroit Autorama of 1967 among other company concepts, and a year later the super pickup was immortalized in Hot Wheels models. After the 1967 show, the fully operational car was sold to Al Davis, the famous American soccer coach.

At the end of the twentieth century, Deora was in the news again – Davis’ son found the car in the garage in dismal condition. Upon learning of this, Harry Bradley immediately contacted Davis Jr. and offered to restore the car, which he considered one of his best creations.

The restored concept car was presented in 2002 at the 50th Anniversary Detroit Autorama – the car was part of the Alexander Brothers garage display. Key elements of the car were retained, except for the engine – its place was taken by a standard Dodge 2.8-liter engine with about 100 horsepower.

The last time the Deora was in the news headlines was in 2009, when the car sold at auction in California for $324,500. Surely the buyer was a passionate Hot Wheels fan.

In 2003, renowned customizer Chip Foose created the Deora II with Hot Wheels and disc manufacturer Five Axis. The car commemorated the 35th anniversary of the original Deora toy and was powered by Cadillac’s V8 Northstar engine. However, this pickup didn’t get half the love that its ancestor did. The reasons, one must assume, are obvious.

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