The car was designed by Virgil Exner Jr. as his version of an ideal sports car for his master’s thesis while studying fine arts at the University of Notre Dame. While the design fulfilled its purpose it earned Exner Jr. the University’s Jacques Gold Medal of Fine Art and enabled him to earn his master’s. Exner Jr. continued to work on the concept after graduation, turning it into a reality in fibreglass from 1956 to 1958. He based the car on a modified Fiat 1100 chassis, with power from a Simca Huit’s 1.2-litre four-cylinder engine and drivetrain.
The finned body originally used a clear plastic canopy over the two front seats, but SCCA racer Beau Hickory, who would own the Simca Special in two different stints over the next few decades and prepare the car as a daily driver, removed the canopy in favor of a wraparound windshield and T-top system. Over the years, its original Simca engine was replaced with a Datsun four-cylinder engine, but the rest of the car retains much of Exner Jr.’s original styling cues.